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Back in the spring, I wrote that “small actions (mustard seeds) can add up to mountains.” This biblical wisdom applies when approaching creation care. We all have different motivations and different actions we can take in response to those motivations. For one church, the motivation might be local, in response to environmental impacts in its community. For another, it maybe God’s call to care for those in need, the very same populations that are most impacted by climate change. One church may start with blue recycling bins and another with a few native plants and another might add solar panels. Different motivations, different actions.
This summer we did a deep dive into one church’s aim to become both climate neutral and zero waste. Their work to educate both their congregation and other religious institutions in their community on creation care is an inspiration. Today, we consider four churches from across the United States in different climates and with varying demographics; each has differing motivations and is taking different actions.
Culver City Presbyterian Church, California
Culver City Presbyterian Church started its creation care journey a long time ago, and in fact, has been recognized as one of the first churches to become a Presbyterian Earth Care Congregation through the Presbyterian Earth Care Commitment. The church started with baby steps, making small changes first and adding as they went along. The congregation has never had a big budget for creation care work (if any) but still gets much done. First, they offered fair trade coffee that’s kinder to the growers and the land. Also, Culver City Presbyterian avoids disposable dinnerware and opts for reusable during gatherings. The congregation recycles paper and offers fair trade palms on Palm Sunday. A team of church members is removing the church’s lawn and replacing it with native plants, which reduces the need for watering and mowing. Culver City Presbyterian practices a plastic-free Lent which educates parishioners about how to reduce single-use plastic consumption. While the church does not have solar panels, it reduced energy usage by switching to efficient appliances and lightbulbs and installing light sensors that conserve energy. It has also joined the Clean Power Alliance program so that all its electricity is generated by solar in California. Additionally, the church advocates against practices like oil drilling that disproportionately harm disadvantaged communities and communities of color.
Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, Massachusetts
The Lutheran Church of the Redeemer has long advocated for those in need. The congregation members strive to educate themselves and decision-makers about the interrelated injustices of hunger, poverty, and climate change. The impacts of global warming most often affect those who can do the least about it. To provide focus for this work, the congregation signed a Covenant for Creation Care in 2021, sponsored by Lutherans Restoring Creation. Their Care for Creation Team coordinates projects to fulfill this pledge to be faithful stewards of creation in worship, education, use of the church buildings and grounds, personal discipleship, and public advocacy for systemic change. Some changes they have made to their church buildings include: installing solar panels on the church roof (providing most of the building’s electricity), replacing incandescent bulbs with LEDs, and switching the parsonage’s energy supply to 100 percent renewably sourced electricity. In worship, the church lifts up creation in prayers and praise, especially during Earth Month in April and the Season of Creation in September.
- Many denominations have existing creation care programs that help you clarify your church’s motivations and actions. We have compiled a list here.
- Looking for creation care worship resources? Check out the recently released Climate Vigil Songs album from Porter’s Gate. Many singer-songwriters and musicians contributed to the album. The accompanying worship guide includes lyrics, sheet music, and devotions for each song, ready to use at your church. (I wrote one of the devotions myself!).
- Interfaith Power and Light has helped over 22,000 faith communities care for creation. Maybe they can help yours.
Saint John the Apostle Catholic Church, Indiana
Saint John the Apostle Catholic Church has managed a Peace and Justice group for over twenty years. They started a paper recycling program and discontinued use of Styrofoam cups, bowls, and plates. More recently, the church replaced all of its lighting with LEDs, even changing parking lot lights from orange-tinted sodium vapor lights to LEDs. When their original HVAC system needed replacing, the church installed a high-efficiency system. The church installed 320 solar panels for a 112Kw system on the roof of the Parish Life Center. At the time, it was the largest solar installation on a church in the state, providing energy for the church, its associated school, the parking lot, and the rectory. The church reduced their energy usage by 92 percent while adding another day to the school week. They also earn what the priest calls “pennies from heaven” through solar credits by producing surplus energy most months. The church partners with Indiana’s Interfaith Power and Light program and the local Solar Indiana Renewable Energy Network (SIREN), as well as the Catholic Church’s Laudato Si encyclical, and Catholic Climate Covenant.
Circleville Presbyterian Church, Ohio
Circleville Presbyterian Church’s Green Team works hand in hand with many church committees and trustees — as well as the Presbyterian Earth Care Program — to make eco-friendly choices for the church building and grounds and to frequently incorporate an earth focus into their worship and education programs. The children’s programs often study the topic in Sunday school and make environmentally friendly crafts. The church received a free energy audit through Interfaith Power and Light, which partnered with their electricity provider. During this process, congregants could also receive discounted audits for their personal residences through the program, and part of their fee was donated to the church. After the audit took place, they created an action plan, and the church swapped out around 500 incandescent lights for LEDs. This action forced them to change the type of lighting in a few locations. Additionally, Circleville Presbyterian Church placed blue waste baskets throughout the building to remind people to sort and recycle their trash. Church members collect the recycling and haul it themselves to drop-off locations. The church also has a compost bin where they collect both food and garden waste. They collect water for landscaping in rain barrels.
These four churches showcase many commonalities, as well as differences, among their creation care efforts. They are just a few of the many congregations across the United States, small and large, committed to caring for God’s creation. All you need to get started is a few people who are motivated to act.
We pray their commitment and love for God and His creation will inspire you to plant the mustard seeds that collectively will begin to move mountains.