See most recent working group notes here (from May 2020) and consider how your synod (or just your congregation) may follow their lead:
As part of the Sustainability/Environment Table workgroup to implement the Earth Charter, the Delaware-Maryland Synod Creation Care Ministry decided to focus on principles 7.a. and 7.b. under II. Ecological integrity.
7. Adopt patterns of production, consumption, and reproduction that safeguard Earth’s regenerative capacities, human rights, and community well-being.
a. Reduce, reuse, and recycle the materials used in production and consumption systems, and ensure that residual waste can be assimilated by ecological systems.
b. Act with restraint and efficiency when using energy, and rely increasingly on renewable energy sources such as solar and wind.
These were recommended because we believe these goals can be embraced and achieved by our congregations and because energy efficiency and adoption of renewable energy sources is critical to address our climate crisis.
As such, we developed an Eco-Resolution (see here) that was to be presented during this year’s Delaware-Maryland Synod Assembly in May 2020. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our assembly was cancelled, however we continue to share our message via digital means including videos we have produced.
Our Synod Council will vote on whether to pass the resolution and Larry Ryan produced a video to explain our objectives: YouTube link
Awareness of the ELCA’s longstanding support of Creation Care and specifically the 1993 ELCA Social Statement on the Environment.
2. Awareness of the Earth Charter that was endorsed during Churchwide Assembly in 2019.
3. Implementation of portions of the Earth Charter working in cooperation with the ELCA Sustainability/Environment Table.
4. Engaging with congregations to help them be better stewards of creation as defined in our project “New Hope for Creation” that received funding from our Synod Connectedness Team.
In addition to our video on the Eco-Resolution, we asked Delaware-Maryland Synod Bishop Bill Gohl to produce a video that explains the Earth Charter at a high level : CLICK HERE
And as part of our outreach to congregations with our New Hope for Creation project, Charlie Bailey produced a video for his congregation that invites them to become better stewards of creation by becoming a covenant congregation, modeled after LRC’s Covenant for Congregation.
The Delaware-Maryland Synod Creation Care Ministry would be happy to engage with other Synods in implementing the Earth Charter and other creation care work.
During this time of patchwork efforts as we navigate new tools and ways of being together I offer this “place” for now to keep adding tools so that you can take what you wish and utilize for an at-home worship/meditation. I hope that it helps to hear Pastor’s voice, know that the piano music comes from Lenae’s fingertips, and Kristen’s consistent efforts are still guiding us through worship every week in the attached bulletin. Our efforts in the community will only continue to be needed – and YOU are a part of our strength. Keep feeding your spirit so that you can be a help to others. Even apart, we are at work together through the body of Christ.
Below are this week’s (March 22. 2020) resources to pick/choose from. Just click on each and it should open automatically. Please contact me if you need help opening something. – Phoebe at firstname.lastname@example.org
Since there are so many members of our ELCA community who live in agricultural areas and we all depend on food to sustain us; let’s explore how we can deliberately share the spectrum of ways our churches can inform members of opportunities, practice mindful eating, and love the wide array of neighbors who help feed us.
Compared to the idealized image of a farm, how do these images reflect the difficult and risky labor that goes into feeding others? How can you take these images with you to make decisions at the grocery store or next time you pray before a meal?:
While many are anxious and isolated during this time of response to a pandemic, we offer these reflections on this week’s readings. (If there are other recordings you wish to share as a balm to soothe and inspiration to act for the common good please submit them here.)
Some Lutherans Restoring Creation have decided to take on a challenge of inviting at least 50 Congregations in their synod to make a Covenant with Creation in honor of Earth Day turning 50! Want to take take the challenge? Follow these steps below and let us know how it goes!
Mail/e-mail it directly to ELCA churches in your area or create a spreadsheet to share the task with others (go to the ELCA Directory to get addresses in one place).
Call their office within a week to ensure it was received and ask who in their church would be the best to follow up with personally. That person should make a date to present the Council with the Covenant (that process may take months – but a great way to get everyone thinking about this ministry!)
Send your contact the Congregational Self-Organizing Kit if they are responsive to the idea. (A printed version would be good to share with their Council, but the whole kit is online too.)
Prepared by Pilgrims Caring for Creation Pilgrim Lutheran Church, St. Paul, MN in response to a request from Mary Beth Nowak, ELCA Churchwide Assembly Coordinator, January 22, 2009.*
Adapted for events in observance of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation by David Rhoads, Founder Lutherans Restoring Creation.
*please note some resources may need updating – if you find anything we should alter please let us know!
Publicity about sustainability efforts; through planning, implementation, and beyond:
• Use your website, event program, press releases, opening, signage and post-event publications to tell the story of the green event.
• Put together a brochure with actions taken by your organization to make the event green. Print a limited number for attendees and the public and make it available electronically. Include green actions that individuals can adopt at the event, in their congregations, and beyond. For example:
• Adjust the thermostat in the hotel rooms (and at home) when not there so the heat or air conditioning is not running unnecessarily. Take advantage of hotel policies for less frequent washing of linens.
• List other relevant information related to getting around in the location of the event.
• Set up an onsite sustainability booth to provide information about the event’s greening initiatives. Items at this table could include: transit passes; transit information/maps; bike rental/bike trail information; tips included in the above brochure.
• Invite the local and national Lutheran creation care organizations to have booths and provide consultation to congregations regarding their greening goals.
Procurement of services and products
• Purchasing staff can keep in mind the environmental, social, and economic impacts of purchased goods or services—throughout its lifecycle. Favor goods and services that result in minimal environmental impacts and create good social and economic development. Use environmental criteria as well as quality and price.
• For example, if speaker platforms are created by staff, the wood could be sustainably grown and harvested. If rugs or fabrics are used to soften the areas, they could have minimal adhesives and be reusable or recyclable.
• Develop contract riders to hold suppliers accountable to sustainability commitments.
• For example, ask subcontractors and vendors to consider the lifecycle of the products they use and create.
• There is a precedent for event sponsors to calculate the energy used by the whole event—services, transportation, venues and so forth—and then purchase carbon offsets to cover their energy use. They can choose to ask participants to help bear the costs. There are several calculators to use for this. Consider http://www.nativeenergy.com, but browsing “carbon calculator” on the internet yields comparisons among several. For carbon offset groups, try http://www.co2offsetresearch.org/consumer/OffsetRatings.html .
Communications to participants prior to the event
• Provide opportunities for sending conference information electronically.
• Reduce the use of paper and the need to mail that paper by providing as much pre-event information electronically.
• Allow for and encourage electronic registration.
• Whenever paper is used: Decrease the margins around printing to one-half inch, copy on both sides of the paper, use 100% post-consumer recycled paper, print using soy/vegetable ink, avoid bright colored paper.
Travel to the Event
• Ask attendees to think about others living in nearby communities who will also attend the event and encourage them to consider renting a van or bus and traveling to the event together.
• Encourage each attendee/vendor/presenter/staff person flying or driving to the site of the event to consider purchasing carbon offsets to help mitigate the environmental impact of their travel.
• Encourage people to bring their own water containers or mugs that they will rinse themselves. No Styrofoam or plastic bottles, please.
• Encourage delegates and others coming to the event to consider bringing their families and making the location of the event a vacation destination rather than taking a second trip and thereby emitting additional greenhouse gas emissions. Come early or stay later.
• Consider providing videoconferencing options to individuals who do not need to be physically present at the event.
Lodging for Attendees
• Inquire about the environmental practices of hotels, including their waste and resource management.
• Are bulk dispensers for shampoos and soaps used in hotel rooms?
• Are low-flow water-conserving fixtures used in sinks, toilets, and showers?
• Are paperless check-in and check-out available?
• Are post-consumer recycled paper products used?
• Negotiate room blocks with hotels that are within walking distance, are on the transit line, and/or have green policies.
• Ask guests to participate in linen re-use programs at their hotels. Ask them to shut off lights, TVs, and heat/ A/C when they leave their rooms.
• Ask that the hotel staff to put the thermostat up/down when the room is empty. This is already the standard practice in some hotels.
Transportation around the Event Site
• Discourage the use of single rider rental cars, and encourage carpooling.
• Encourage the use of local transit.
• Inform attendees that bike rental is an option for local transportation.
• Inform attendees that idling is prohibited in many areas, unless the car is in traffic. Avoid idling for more than three minutes.
Event Site Amenities
• Inquire about the environmental practices of the site where the event is being held, including their waste and resource management: Do they employ energy- and water-efficient equipment and practices? Do they minimize the use of harmful chemicals when cleaning? Is recycling available in all common areas Are recycling receptacles readily available and clearly marked? Is staff trained to ensure that recycling and garbage are not co-mingled? Are food-rescue, food-to-animals, or food composting practices followed? Ask if they could schedule heat/ A/C resources around meeting requirements. Can the temperature be changed a little, keeping the halls comfortable but conserving energy?
• Encourage the event site to purchase wind energy during the period of the event. If not, consider purchasing carbon offsets for the event itself.
• Do not distribute plastic water bottles. Instead each table should have a pitcher of water and glasses.
• If you choose to use disposable products such as cups, and cutlery, consider purchasing compostable products made from cornstarch or similar materials. If this option is chosen, then provide for composting services and education to attendees to ensure success.
• Be sure not to put compostable waste inside large non-compostable plastic bags for disposal.
• Encourage attendees to bring their laptop computers and then provide wireless internet service to them. Make all printed materials available electronically so participants can choose to read the materials from their laptops rather than receiving handouts. Individuals may also choose to take notes on their computers rather than on paper.
• Compost food waste.
• Request that food providers use organic, locally produced food and beverages (contract with the site to use local food as much as possible). If it is not possible for all meals to be from local sources, have one or two meals designated as locally grown and publicize them that way.
• Provide only Fair Trade organic coffee and tea throughout the event.
• Direct event staff NOT to pre-fill water glasses at meals. Allow guests to fill their own glasses with pitchers at the tables.
• Do not use disposable water bottles. Provide for glasses and pitchers of water.
• Eliminate disposable items, including containers, plates, bowls, cups, cutlery, napkins, and tablecloths. Earth-Centric has cups that are compostable: http://www.Earth-Centric.com
• Arrange to donate leftover food to local charities. Local charity organizations may be able to assist with this effort. Individuals or groups can volunteer to assist.
• Ensure that any seafood served is harvested responsibly.
• Provide vegetarian and vegan meals or options.
• Choose reusable centerpieces and decorations.
• Make on-line registration an option and encourage attendees to use it.
• Encourage attendees to bring their own name-tags if they have them. Encourage them to be reusable.
• Provide lanyards that are made from recycled materials. Ask participants to return them after the event to be used again later, and provide an incentive for them to do so. For example, if there is a drawing at the end of the event, let people know that their name will be entered only upon the return of the lanyard.
• Give everyone a reusable event bag. The bag can be made of organically grown cotton or canvas, or recycled plastic. Put a logo on it that people will be happy to reuse. This reduces waste and is good advertising.
• Consider the environment when determining giveaways. Provide giveaways that are useful and sustainable, like a bicycle (LED) flasher, keychain with light on end, 3” x 3” recycled leather paper pad.
• Encourage vendors and exhibitors to consider the environment when making choices about giveaways, banners, displays, paper, post-conference waste, etc.
• Encourage them to provide giveaways that are made from recycled materials, or will biodegrade, or are reusable, or are consumable (e.g. note pads made from recycled paper, coffee mugs, Fair Trade chocolate).
• Request/require exhibitors to use recycled and recyclable paper.
• Invite people/companies to exhibit who can sell potentially green things to congregations (eco-friendly Good Friday palms branches, organic communion wine, etc.).
• Encourage exhibitors to reduce waste (and cost) by reusing or recycling displays and other materials, rather than disposing of them after the event.
• Request that exhibitors use sustainable design and construction of their exhibit booths, if possible.
• Attempt to hire “green” display/decoration/production companies for décor (banners, cutouts, platform decorations, posters). Can you reduce? Do you really need everything you think you need? Using less is good for the environment and good for the budget. What are displays and decorations made of? Do they emit Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s)? Can they be reused?
• Use organic communion wine and locally produced communion bread made from organic ingredients, at large group meetings. Practice intinction to avoid plastic communion cups or washing glass ones.
• Encourage presenters to provide their presentations in advance on discs or on the Assembly web site. Remind attendees that materials will be available on a designated website after the event.
1. The environmental state of the world—basic principles of ecology, information about critical issues (such as global warming, ozone depletion, loss of diversity, deforestation, desertification, waste, toxic waste, and overpopulation), the human/ natural causes of these conditions, and the potential consequences of their continuation.
2. The human justice issues involved in every aspect of environmental degradation: environmental racism, impact on the most vulnerable, rural/urban issues, global dynamics of poverty and underdevelopment, and neo-colonial exploitation of peoples and earth.
3. The systemic changes we need to make in the social, cultural, political and economic structures of our nation, corporations, institutions, and global patterns of interaction in order to address environmental crises and to create conditions for a sustainable world.
4. Familiarity with national laws and policies (Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, etc.) and global conferences and treaties (Montreal Treaty, Rio, Kyoto Protocol) and effective means to advocate for strengthening these measures so as to give voice to the human/non-human beings most affected by these matters.
5. Knowledge about environmental ethical issues, the movement to create a global ethic (The Earth Charter), and the means to become part of this effort. Familiarity with the commitment of other religions and of secular organizations as partners in Earth-care.
6. Awareness of Lutheran and other denominational traditions that have contributed to Earth’s problems, what biblical, theological, and ethical resources in the Lutheran traditions that might help us, and how we can think creatively about environmental situations.
7. What congregations can do to incorporate care for the Earth into their identity and mission—worship, education, property, discipleship at home and work, and public ministry—and the organizing tools and leadership skills to bring about those changes.
8. How congregations can be places of moral deliberation for issues that face the larger community, assisting people to work together to address social conflicts over choices of justice and ecology—and to model how this might be done.
9. What lifestyle changes are necessary to counter the consumer culture and to live simply—in ways that minimize our impact on the earth and serve to restore creation.
10. How personally to work though fear, guilt, grief, and anger so that we are fed by God’s grace and love, which enables us to make environmental choices with joy and commitment.
11. How to get in touch with nature so that a foundational experience with the natural world leads us to love creation. We will save that which we love.
Living Earth Reflections from ELCA Advocacy offers writing from staff and guest writers on a variety of issues. Search on the ELCA Advocacy site to download reflections and use for Adult Forums or Bible Studies or as a preaching resource.
Green the Congregation through Worship Reflections and Ideas by David Rhoads
Worship is the central recurring event in the life of a Christian community. Worship is a ritual. In ritual, we participate by immersion in a communal process that changes us by placing us in right relationship with God and with our fellow human beings. Worship is also an event. The call to worship, the proclamation of the Word, and the offer of Christ’s body and blood in bread and wine are actions of God that generate changes in our lives. They are events by which we as a church are transformed and renewed.
It is in the gathered community at worship that we celebrate our life together and affirm our identity as children of God and followers of Jesus. Worship is the place where we can be transformed anew each week as we seek to return from the struggles and vicissitudes of life in the world to restore our spiritual and moral rooted-ness in the life of God. Worship is also a central place where we articulate our fundamental beliefs and values. Therefore our love of God’s creation and our commitment to care for God’s creation should play an integral role in our worship life.
Worship as Re-Orientation .
One way to look at worship is to say that it is the place where we can express with the larger community the Christian life we have nurtured at home and work throughout the week. Another way to look at worship is to say that it is about reinstating our proper place in relation to God, ourselves, and other people when we have had difficulty maintaining these relationships through the week. It is like being lost in the woods and then stopping to orientate ourselves to the directions by means of a compass and our nearness to the edge of the forest—and then finding our way home. It is like being lost at sea and then stopping to locate ourselves from the stars in the sky so that we know where we really are—and then returning to solid ground. It is like using a global positioning locator to know just where we are in relation to everything else—and then being moved into the right position. Worship is a matter of getting/keeping our bearings and being situated in our rightful place in the universe. In this process, it is important to emphasize that it is not we ourselves who get our bearings. Rather, we put ourselves into a position to allow God to give us our bearings, to restore us to our rightful relationships.
Restoring relationships with God and one another : Through the rituals and events of worship, we find ourselves restored to right relationships. Through worship we are oriented to wholeness and our true purpose in life by being brought back into proper relationship with God, ourselves, and others. For example, by praise of God, we restore God to God’s rightful place in our lives as the one who created and sustains us. By thanksgiving, we recognize our human dependence on God for life and health. By confession and forgiveness, we seek to overcome our self-alienation and the brokenness of our relationships. By hearing the word of grace and challenge, we rediscover a proper sense of direction and our purpose in life. Through the offering, we give ourselves and our resources to this renewed vocation. Through prayer, we express a longing for all people who are lost or broken to be restored to a place of wholeness in relationship. By communing together, we return from alienation to a harmonious connection with others of the human community. With a blessing and a benediction, we go out with a renewed sense of who we are, where we are, and where we are going. We have become orientated. We have found our bearings, and we have reaffirmed who we truly are and whose we truly are—and, in so doing, we have found our home, our place of belonging in the world. Of course, it is our responsibility to seek to remain in these relationship from communal worship to communal worship.
Restoring our Relationship with nature . Unfortunately, our restoration/reorientation to place often leaves out an important and, indeed, crucial relationship. We reorient to God, self, and others, but often without restoring our relationship to nature. Yet nature is the web of life out of which we have come and where we will go. Nature is the inextricable matrix in which we live and move and have our being. We are a part of nature. Along with all other living beings and non-living things, we are nature. And if we are out of sorts with the rest of nature, if we are displaced from harmony with the creation of which we are such an integral part, if we are sinning against the natural world from which we ourselves have emerged, then we cannot fully find our bearings or our place.
If God created the world as a place in relation to which human life is inextricably woven, then we need to make the whole natural world an integral and important part of our worshipping experience. If worship is restoring ourselves to our proper place in the world—to recall who we are, where we have come from, the things upon which we depend, and that for which we are responsible—then worship must be a celebration of all life and an orienting of ourselves to our proper place within it. Nature can and should be such a fundamental dimension of the Christian life that we reflect the triad: Love God, Love your neighbor as yourself, and Care for creation.
Worshiping with Nature . To be fully into right relationship, we are called not only to restore our relationship with nature, but also to experience our solidarity with nature in relationship with God. That is, we humans are to worship and praise God with nature. Remember that the Psalms call for the hills to clap their hands and the trees to shout praises, along with animals and sea creatures, the seas and the soils, the trees and the grain—thus calling: “All creation, praise the Lord.” Hence, we can think about nature as our partners in worship. Nature itself is part of our worshiping community. It is important then that we are both in nature and with nature in our worship.
Worship as Counter-Cultural . Restoration to relationship with God, others, and nature is not the same as accommodation or assimilation into the society and culture around us. In fact, it may be quite the opposite. Reconciled relationships with God will orient us to values, actions, and structures that may go against the grain of the world around us. Reconciled relationships will place us in an alternative community that reflects the vision of God for human life. Reconciled relationships with others may set us at odds with the injustices, oppression, neglect, and discrimination of groups and individuals not sharing the values of the church. Similarly, reorienting ourselves to love of nature and care for creation may lead us to resist and oppose the practices of local and national government, businesses, corporations, and others who may contribute to the flagrant degradation of Earth’s natural systems and life. Worship can be quite radical in its call for discipleship. Worship can be subversive of the culture and an expression of counter-cultural thinking and acting. It can lead us to advocate for public policies and laws that foster love of neighbor and care for creation. At the same time, our re-orientation in worship may lead us to affirm many movements and actions in the culture that further the values and behavior fostered by our Christian way of being in the world.
Care for Creation in Worship.
There are many ways in which we can enhance our experience of nature, our connectedness to it, our solidarity with it, and our advocacy for it. It is helpful to think about the elements of worship and the seasons of the church year as contexts for incorporating care for creation. Following here are some reflections about this process.
Elements of Worship . The rituals of worship can integrate the place of all God’s creation with every part of worship and thus help to restore us fully to our place of health and wholeness.
Invoking the Presence of God: We can name not just the church but the whole of creation as the sanctuary wherein we worship. “The whole earth is full of God’s glory.”
Call to Worship: We can call to worship not only the human community but also we can invoke all creation as part of the worshiping community.
Praise: In worship we can celebrate the wonder of creation and marvel at God’s handiwork. We can praise the God who created the blue jay and the raccoon, the poplar and the gardenias, the mountain spring water and the rich soil of the field. There are many Psalms that celebrate creation. These Psalms also invoke the praise of all creation in worship of God.
Thanksgiving: We can give thanks for the air we breathe and for the water we drink and for the provision of food—and for the beauty and majesty of it all. We can give thanks for the whole of nature upon which humans depend. We can delight in all plants and all creatures for their own sake. We dare not take the rest of nature for granted.
Hymns: We can include hymns that express praise for God the creator and our relationship to the rest of nature. There are many traditional hymns as well as new hymns and hymnals that deal with the love of nature.
Litanies of confession: We can confess the greed and indifference by which we humans have despoiled and exploited the earth and other human members of earth community. We can incorporate into our litanies some specific confessions concerning our pollution of water, our defiling of the air, our arrogant use of creation without respect and limitations.
Litanies of concern: these can always include expressions of our longing for creation to thrive, as surely as we pray for peace among human creatures.
Declaration of Forgiveness: We can seek pardon for our violation of the hills through mining or our degradation of the air and water through pollution or our threat to the ozone layer and to the species whose survival is uncertain because of our human actions or for the human contributions to the global warming that may change the cycles of nature upon which we have come to depend. We can acknowledge how our actions have affected vulnerable human communities. Forgiveness can free us to act out of compassion rather than guilt.
Scripture Reading and Preaching: Through the Word proclaimed, we can announce the love of God for creation, the grace that God offers, and the mandates that God gives as means to address the eco-justice problems of our age. We can see the human harm we do when we exploit the earth, we can be reminded of the common graces of nature, and we can be summoned to the challenge to care for the Earth.
Prayer and Petition: We can pray for the capacity for all God’s creatures to thrive together on earth. We can intercede for endangered species, threatened eco-systems, and changing global conditions. We can grieve nature’s losses and destruction. And we can pray for the courage and wisdom to act.
Offering: In the offering, we can offer ourselves to the care and redemption of all that God has made—as agents of God to be guardians of nature, stewards of its resources, lovers of life, earth-keepers, and caretakers of the land.
Blessing: We can go out from worship with a blessing to till and tend this garden Earth on which we “live and move and have our being.”
Hence, in order for us to be truly oriented by our worship, we can incorporate love for, celebration of, concern for, prayer for, and a commitment to care for all creation into each dimension of worship. If worship is a transformation restoring us to wholeness by restoring our proper relationships in life, then our relationship with the rest of nature needs to be an integral part of that power of worship to change us.
Care for Creation in the Seasons and Days of the Church Year. Also, each season of the year lends itself to the thematic development of our relationship with all creation:
Advent Season : all creation groans together as we await redemption and restoration of all of life. Advent is a time to repent in preparation for a new age in which the leaves of the trees will be “a healing for the nations.”
Epiphany Season : here we celebrate the manifestation and glory of God not only in the arrival of the Christ child but also in the light and glory present in the whole natural order of life.
Lenten Season : During Lent, we recognize our complicity in sin, not only in relation to one another but also in our individual and corporate actions that have degraded the rest of nature. We grieve the losses to God’s creation and reflect on the sacrifices we can make to stop our sins against creation.
Easter Season : We celebrate the resurrection of human life and envision the restoration/ regeneration of all of life.
Pentecost Season : We reflect on the spiritual wisdom we need and the actions we can take—as individuals, as congregations, and as a society—to live a life in which all human and non-human creation can thrive together.
Season of Creation : We focus on God as creator and the wonders of creation, all designed to help us love creation as God does and commit ourselves to care for it.
Special Days . here are many special occasions in the year when it is especially appropriate that care for creation becomes the focus of the whole service, such St. Francis Day and Rogation Day. There are also days in the life of the US culture for celebrating creation, such as Thanksgiving Day and Earth Day Sunday. Special services might include a Blessing of the Animals, a tree planting ceremony, the greening of the cross, among others.
In all of these seasons and days, there is the opportunity to include all of God’s creation in our observances and celebrations. Seasonal decorations, banners, and sayings can keep this message before the congregation throughout the year. Furthermore, w e can enhance the experience of worship to bringing nature into the sanctuary: worship outside, place greenery/flowering plants into the church, give people seeds or seedlings to plant, decorate the sanctuary with natural art, and opening the sanctuary to natural light through windows and skylights. In all these ways, we can create an ethos in the congregation that will pervade worship with a care for creation and an experience of nature itself. .
The sacraments are occasions to reflect on human relationships with the rest of creation. Different Christian communities recognize different sacraments. We will reflect here on the two most common sacraments: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The presence of an element of nature and the pronouncement of a word in relation to the offer of the element of nature assure us that the reality of Christ/God will be present in, with, and under the elements and the whole event, so that they are sacramental—capable of bearing the holiness and grace of God into our lives so as to transform us.
We often focus on the symbolic meaning of the elements used in sacraments: water, bread, and wine. But in the context of our concern for the environment, we can focus on the elements themselves. Notice how the status of grapes and grain and water as vehicles of the divine can in turn serve to give meaning to and to enhance our experience of these tangible realities of life for their own sake. For example, as a Eucharist or “thanksgiving,” Holy Communion can be an opportunity to express gratitude for all the natural order that sustains life at a material (and a spiritual) level, leading us to delight anew in the creation. To see the natural elements of both sacraments—water, grain, and grapes—as vehicles of grace is to realize that the finite can indeed bear of the infinite to us. This in itself elevates the goodness of nature as worthy and capable of being the means by which we establish a relationship with God and by which God establishes a relationship with us.
Baptism . Traditionally, baptism involves water for cleansing and for judgment or it symbolizes death and resurrection. However, what about also exploring the richness of the symbol of water in new ways in light of our contemporary knowledge and experience of water? We now know that water is the primordial context out of which life emerged and evolved to its present state. Why not connect this with the new creation at baptism? If baptism symbolizes a new beginning to life, then we can reflect on the new beginning to humanity that comes by immersing ourselves in water—so that we can, in a sense, re-emerge from water as a renewed humanity or as renewed life in all its manifestations—and in solidarity with all the life forms that led to human evolution.
Or could we not emphasize how vital water is to life—how our bodies are 90% water and we cannot live long without it? In this way, the water of life in baptism reinforces our gratitude for the water upon which we depend for life and health. Or baptism may remind us of how tragic it is to consider being baptized by water that is polluted rather than the pure living water that God created. Such a connection could lead us to see anew our vocation as baptized people to preserve clean water on the Earth. Or by baptism in water, we may acknowledge how much of the whole earth is comprised of water. In this way, the very fact that we are declared a child of God by immersion into nature itself can serve to get us in touch with our em-beddedness in nature as human beings. In all these ways we may re-connect the water of baptism to the water around us in nature.
The Lord’s Supper . The sacrament of Holy Communion is another opportunity to realize how integral is our humanity is embedded in nature. In the Eucharist, we are using natural fruits of Earth as a vehicle for God’s presence: wine from grapes and bread from grain. But it is more than that. Grapes grow from the vine that brings it forth, the ingredients of the soil, the water that nourishes the soil, the beetles that aerate the soil, the sun that shines on the plants, the air that surrounds the plant—and the composition and the combination of these elements is unique to the particular area or region where the grapes are being raised. Add to these factors the wood from the trees used to make the barrels in which the wine was stored and the ingredients employed as fermenting agents. We can reflect in a similar way on the bread used for communion. Some congregations use organically-grown, whole grain bread. Some congregations use bread made of multiple grains originating from several continents. In these ways, the elements of the Eucharist get us in touch with all of nature.
In addition, the Eucharist is connected to all of life in another way. It is a reminder of the death of Jesus, a recollection that all of life is a cycle of living and dying and resurrection. This is not to reduce the particularity of Christ’s death or the efficacy of it for salvation to the processes of nature. Rather, it is simply to recognize that the death of Jesus is an analog to the natural order in which death gives birth to life. The deaths of trees and other plants and the death of animals over the life span of the planet have made the earth into a great store of energy and one great compost heap that is the source of life and energy today.
The Sacramental Presence of God/Christ everywhere . Finally, it is important to observe that the elements of the sacraments are “common” elements of life—elements of food upon which we depend for life—assuring us that if God can be present in and through such common elements as bread and wine, then surely God is present to us everywhere in life. What difference does it make to our view of the daily food we eat and the daily drinks we drink knowing that bread and wine are sacramental? What difference does it make to our experience of water and soil and air, knowing that water is sacramental? The Eucharist is meant not only to lead us to experience the particularity of its symbolic meaning in the communion meal. It also leads us to think differently about all common elements of life—in such a way that our common experiences of them also become sacramental. That is, all elements of nature may convey for us the grace of God, that dearest freshness that lies deep down all things. As Martin Luther wrote, “God writes the Gospel, not in the Bible alone, but also on trees and in the flowers and clouds and stars.”
When we see all of life as sacramental, it changes our relationship to and our responsibility for creation—concern for pure water, our desire not to waste food, the problems with pesticides on grain and grapes, and a host of other ecological problems to which humans have contributed. We re-dedicate ourselves in worship to stop our actions that degrade nature and to find ways to restore God’s creation.
Preaching the Word.
Whether following a lectionary system or doing thematic preaching, here are some subjects that could and probably should be included in preaching: Human responsibility to care for the earth; Our proper human role/place in relation to the rest of creation; Our human degradation of creation; Reasons why we fail in our responsibility to care for creation; Reasons why we ought to care and act on our convictions; The inter-relationship between human justice and environmental problems; The scriptural connection between human sin and the languishing of Earth; Celebration of God as creator; Celebration of all of life for its own sake; The extent of human dependency on life around us; Gratitude for life; Exploration of Christian symbols that are rooted in nature; Connecting the sacraments to the realm of nature; New ways of thinking about God that foster our change of attitude and action; Proclamation of God’s enduring grace in and through creation; The extension of the efficacy of Christ’s death and resurrection to all life.
Personal Devotions .
It is important for Christians to incorporate their relationship with nature not only into corporate worship but also into their private devotional worship. We cannot depend on worship alone to rescue us each week from the fractured relationships that result from the vicissitudes of life. Rather, we are called to nurture and maintain our love of God, our love for others, and our care for creation on a daily basis. There are many resources available—devotional books, collections of prayers, poetry, selected scripture passages, exercises and experiences, among others—that can give our community members a daily experience of closeness to nature, the nourishments of its common graces, and the sense of responsibility for it that are so important in the world today.
In order for us to be truly reoriented/confirmed by our worship, we should incorporate love for, celebration of, concern for, prayer for, and a commitment to care for all creation into every dimension of our worshipping experience. If worship is a transformation restoring us to wholeness by restoring and securing our proper relationships in life, then our relationship with the rest of nature needs to be an integral part of that power of worship to change us. Just as we cannot imagine worship without praise of God or prayer for those in need, so too we should not be able to imagine worship without expressions of our love for and our commitment to care for God’s creation.
By immersion and by osmosis, the weekly connection with nature through words and symbols and ritual actions and the presence of nature itself in and around the sanctuary will work a salutary effect on the worshipping community. A transformation can occur that leads people to see our profound connection with all God’s creation and that enables people to come to a place of renewed gratitude for nature and a sense of responsibility to care for creation as part of our vocation as humans and as God’s people.
“Our care of creation is an act of worship. And our worship is an act of caring for creation. The challenge is to be intentional in making the connections between our caring and our worship, and to find liturgical ways to express that relationship in a way that does not detract from the work of praising God. Worship can be a time to increase our awareness of the world around us, to increase our appreciation of the sacredness of creation, and to deepen our desire to treat it with dignity and respect.”
Edinger, Jennifer. “Creation and Celebration Connections,” in Care of the Earth: An Environmental Resource Manual for Church Leaders, ed. Tina B. Krause, page 45. Chicago: Lutheran School of Theology, 1994.