Pope Francis called for all people, and especially believers, to “take charge of this home which has been entrusted to us” (section 244) in his recently released encyclical on creation care.
Francis’ vision is a call to practical action, personal ecological conversion and lifestyle change. How might our congregations engage creation care more intentionally?
We might begin by identifying people in the congregation with a heart or calling around creation care.
They will have the passion to sustain an effort to make changes and find creative solutions.
These leaders can begin to work and think together with a season of prayer for direction in developing a comprehensive congregational strategy of creation care. They will find many helpful resources online.
At least five facets of congregational life can be places of leverage for change and action in creation care: weekly worship, educational work, facilities and programs, the spiritual formation of individual disciples, and our ministry and voice in our communities.
Each of these provides a place for a congregation to think about engaging creation care more intentionally.
1. Worship is one of the most important practices by which we are formed spiritually.
Consider the ways in which weekly worship might regularly remind believers of God the Creator and of our own stewardship responsibilities in creation.
Many congregations designate four weeks in September as a “Season of Creation” in their liturgical calendar.
Prayers, confessions, hymns, artwork and sermons related to creation can appropriately be used throughout the year, as well.
Baptism and communion offer opportunities to acknowledge the sanctity of creation.
Advent and Lent provide seasonal occasions to challenge our consumptive lifestyles and to institute practices of simplicity in contrast to the culture about us.
2. Most congregations offer classes and seminars as part of their effort to educate God’s people.
Courses on biblical and theological issues related to the care of creation could be easily built around available books and study guides on the topic.
Guest speakers could be invited to address local ecological issues. A retreat on the topic of creation care could be offered in a beautiful natural setting.
Classes on food, faith and the environment could educate members on ways that something they do three times a day, eating, is directly connected to the care of the earth. Opportunities for education and experiences are endless.
3. Congregations can learn to use facilities and programming in a more creation-conscious way as well.
A comprehensive energy audit of church facilities might be a good place to begin. Thermostat settings, lighting, energy-efficient HVAC systems and appliances, insulation and windows are all potential places where we might plan improvements.
Hours of operation and room assignments for meetings can also be chosen with an eye toward energy conservation.
A comprehensive, visible recycling effort can be started. The church office can work on ways to use less paper. Church dinners can use compostable products, eliminating Styrofoam and plastic.
A site for composting might be found on the church property or elsewhere. Our congregation uses a local farm.
4. Spiritual formation efforts can attend to the place that creation care plays in our life with God.
Individuals and families can develop a “Covenant with Creation” as a rule of life in which they thoughtfully consider their own lifestyles and practices.
Households, like the congregation, can do ecological audits of their homes and can practice recycling and composting.
Disciples can learn to become more thoughtful in their eating practices, becoming better informed consumers of food. Gardening, even on a tiny scale, reminds us of our connection with the soil.
The more challenging initiative is learning to simply consume less and to produce less waste, to lead simpler lives.
5. Additionally, congregational engagement with our communities offers an opportunity to practice creation care.
We can maintain community gardens on our property. Church members can work with community members to clean up parks and neighborhoods, especially in poorer areas of our cities.
A small, clean park or garden may be the only connection many in the inner city have with God’s creation.
Working alongside other community members in these projects can build relationships and develop the kind of affection that overcomes barriers between rich and poor.
These are suggestions, not prescriptions. Thoughtful, prayerful people can work in their own locale to discern what kinds of worship, education, programs, facilities, formation and projects would be most effective.
The important thing is to get started and to sustain our efforts in practices that become part of our congregation’s culture – “the way we do things around here.”
You may expect some resistance at first but joyfully persevere as you “take charge of this home which has been entrusted to us.”
Robert Creech teaches pastoral leadership and practical theology at Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary, where he recently taught a course on Wendell Berry and creation care. His writings also appear on his blog, and you can follow him on Twitter @rcreech.
Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a series of articles offering Baptist responses to the papal encyclical on the environment. Previous articles in the series are: