earth day

Becoming a Greener Church – Creation Care Series, Part 3

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This month we are finishing up our mini-series on Creation Care, which we started in April, partly in celebration of Earth Day. But as we recall from our last post, EVERY DAY IS EARTH DAY, right?! It is our Christian responsibility to care for God’s creation, which not only includes personally in our homes, but also corporately, in our churches and extending that out into our communities and world.

In our last post, we looked at three things to get us started. These can be done personally in our homes, but of course we can also do them together, as God’s people – in our small groups, in our ministry teams, and in our diaconates and councils.

In our first post of this series, I reflected back to my childhood and was delighted to remember the ways my parents showed me how to care for the earth. I’d like to say that my church played a big role in teaching and modeling creation care to me. Thinking back, I couldn’t recall many sermons or youth group study nights or community partnerships that reminded me of the importance of creation care and my role in it. I think one time we may have gone around a plaza behind our church to pick up garbage with the Calvinettes (now called G.E.M.S.)… This is true even as I grew into adulthood and attended a couple different CRCs. Perhaps these things did happen, but I don’t remember them.

So, what is the church’s role in teaching us, reminding us, and animating us, as followers of Jesus, to steward God’s good creation?

Little did I know but Synod (the governing body of the CRCNA) has taken significant action on creation care over the past two decades! Among other things, Synod 2008 approved an updated version of Our World Belongs to God: A Contemporary Testimony in 2008, which reminds us that creation care is of vital importance for the church. It reads as follows:

51. We lament that our abuse of creation has brought lasting damage to the world we have been given: polluting streams and soil, poisoning the air, altering the climate, and damaging the earth. We commit ourselves to honor all God’s creatures and to protect them from abuse and extinction, for our world belongs to God.

What is the church’s role in teaching us, reminding us, and animating us, as followers of Jesus, to steward God’s good creation?

One significant “Call to Action” for the entire denominational body was for churches and its members to “be voices for justice and public examples in the effort to live sustainably within our God-given resources, to promote stewardship in our own communities and our nations, and to seek justice for the poor and vulnerable among us and for future generations.”

This is great! So… whose job is it anyway?

Will All The Deacons Please Stand Up

When we read the Deacon’s Mandate, we see that deacons are called to be “prophetic critics of the waste, injustice, and selfishness in our society, and be sensitive counselors to the victims of such evils.” In all their ministries, deacons are called, “in imitation of Christ’s mercy [to] teach us to love God, our neighbours, and the creation with acts of generous sharing, joyful hospitality, thoughtful care, and wise stewardship of all of God’s gifts.”

Wait, WHAT? It’s the DEACONS job??? Well, yes, for the most part.

Deacons, you don’t have to go it alone. Help is here.

Never Fear! Help is Here!

This is where Diaconal Ministries Canada and other wonderful agencies of the CRCNA come in. Deacons, you don’t have to go it alone. Help is here.

One way that Diaconal Ministries Canada is working diligently to resource and equip deacons is through a brand new partnership with Christian Stewardship Services and the CRCNA in Canada. A Stewardship Pilot Project will be launched in 2019 in order to help the deacons (both ordained and non-ordained) increase their church’s awareness of the Biblical principles of stewardship and help them live those principles out in practical, measurable ways.

Diaconal Ministries is also in the process of signing a Memorandum of Understanding to become an official partner of the Climate Witness Project (CWP). Diaconal Ministries and the CWP will work together with congregations and CWP regional organizers, deacons and staff in order to strengthen their overlapping ministry and enhance each other’s strengths. Communities and churches will be enriched and will respond to God’s call to love their neighbour and care for creation in four key areas: Energy Stewardship, Worship, Education, and Advocacy.

Practical Help for Churches Like Yours

We recently reached out to Andrew Oppong, Justice Mobilization Specialist with the CRC Office of Social Justice, and Dr. Henry Brouwer, professor at Redeemer University, CWP Regional Organizer in Classis Hamilton, and member of Meadowlands CRC in Ancaster, ON. They gave some helpful suggestions and shared resources to help deacons get started! Here are a few:

  1. Perform an Energy and Environmental Audit of Your Church and its Ministries:
    1. How is waste managed at your church? Does your church participate in local recycling and organic programs? Are your staff, ministry teams and groups who rent the church following your guidelines/protocols?
    2. Encourage your Property Management Team to consider ways in which the church building can be made more energy efficient and environmentally-friendly. Do you have bike racks, for example, to encourage cycling to church? Have you upgraded the lighting to more energy-efficient LEDs? If your church is going to be doing a major renovation or new construction, how can the use of fossil fuels be eliminated? See what one church did when they renovated their space! What about installing solar panels? Some churches have considered the use of solar energy as a source of energy production. Save your money and DON’T pave your church parking lot. Say what?! Yep, you heard us. Consider finding alternatives to using road salt in the winter months, which can seep into waterways and impact vegetation along roadways.
  2. Provide Learning Opportunities: Create greater awareness in your own congregation about environmental stewardship:
    1. Cooler/Smarter Series: A 7-part series on the book “Cooler/Smarter” by the Union of Concerned Scientist, which addresses ways in which individuals can reduce their personal carbon emissions. It covers topics from diet, transportation, home heating & cooling to the use of plastics. This is congregationally-led and the OSJ is open to working with churches who may want to start this series;
    2. Budgets and Creation Care: This is a practical guide written by Dr. Henry Brouwer filled with general ways of reducing energy consumption and increasing greater stewardship. Several churches have found this useful in the area of stewardship;
    3. Plan a Worship Service or Series about Creation Care: Some good resources are available on the Climate Witness Project site.
  3. Get Outdoors and Make Your Church Property Green! Be a leading example in your community and show your neighbours that you care about the earth!
    1. Plant a Community Garden: If your church has extra land available, you could make it available for small plots for the community, since many yards are rather small for gardens. It also provides local food and shows people how bountiful the creation can be!
    2. Plant native plants around the property: A butterfly garden can be an attractive addition to the landscaping while at the same time providing a habitat for pollinators (many of which have become scarce).
  4. Be an Advocate!: Contact your local government representatives about your concerns regarding the environment. It is extremely important that we encourage our leaders when they do the right thing and suggest alternatives when they do not. Your voices count!

Churches CAN make a difference! As Voltaire says, “no snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible,” yet where would the avalanche be without each snowflake? Check out our section on Creation Care and/or for more inspiration, read some of these success stories posted on the CWP website and don’t forget to download the Ten Ways to Care for Creation guide. Your CWP Regional Organizers are ready and willing to give presentations about Climate Change to your diaconate or church OR help plan and host learning events. They can also help you find local companies or organizations to help you and provide practical tips and ideas.

“No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.”

Voltaire

Got a Story to Share?

Tell us how you and/or your church are doing your part to care for God’s creation and every living thing in it. Email Erin, our Communications Coordinator – she’d love to hear from you!

Every Day is Earth Day! Creation Care Series, Part 2

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This month we are finishing up our mini-series on Creation Care, which we started in April, partly in celebration of Earth Day. Did you know that the first Earth Day was celebrated on April 22, 1970? Its founder, former Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson, was inspired to create this day of environmental education and awareness after seeing the oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara in 1969.

When my kids were young, they used to play an online game which began with the phrase, “Every Day is Earth Day!” The game helped young children identify different kinds of garbage and they were asked to place items in the appropriate ‘bin’. While items are being discarded, we see deer frolic, birds fly and fish splash around in the background, reminding kids (and parents!!) that nature doesn’t just belong to them. It’s simple, sweet, and delightfully effective.

While this game may seem fine for little ones, its message is for everyone. Do we behave like everyday is Earth Day – not just April 22nd?

Here at Diaconal Ministries Canada, we truly believe that “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” (Psalm 24:1). Something we, as Diaconal Ministries’ staff, were reminded of in our reading of the book “Earthwise; A Hopeful Guide to Creation Care”, is the importance of moving from awareness to appreciation to stewardship. While this topic can become quite polarizing, we hope we can all agree that creation care matters. The Deacon’s Mandate requires deacons to be “prophetic critics of the waste, injustice, and selfishness in our society, and be sensitive counselors to the victims of such evils… and in all your ministries help us participate in the renewing of all things even as we anticipate its completion when God’s kingdom comes.” They are also called, “in imitation of Christ’s mercy [to] teach us to love God, our neighbours, and the creation with acts of generous sharing, joyful hospitality, thoughtful care, and wise stewardship of all of God’s gifts.”

Do we behave like everyday is Earth Day? 

Why Should We Care About the Environment?

“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” Rev. 4:11

In a recent blog post on the Do Justice site, Cindy Verbeek, guest blogger and board member of Diaconal Ministries Canada, shares the following insights from the story of Noah and the Flood, found in Genesis 9:

“Genesis 9:8-17 describes those first moments when Noah and all in the ark with him were free to go into the world after the flood. The earth was refreshed and they were ready to start again.

Here God made his covenant with Noah. In my early days as a Christian, I read it as a covenant between God and all humanity. But it says something much bigger. If you look at this passage with an eye to understand God’s relationship with all creatures you might be surprised to see that God’s covenant is with Noah, his descendants, and every living creature that was with him.

And just in case we didn’t get it the first time, God says it 7 times: every living creature that is with you – the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals…every living creature on earth…every living creature with you…between me and the earth…between me and you and all living creatures of every kind…all living creatures of every kind on the earth…all life on earth.

So I can’t help but wonder – what if we actually believed that? What if every church, every Christian school yard, every piece of property owned by Christians was an oasis not just for our souls and hearts but for our physical world and being as well – for every living creature with us? We are covenant people after all.”

More than Just a Bandwagon

Environmentalism is most definitely not a new thing. Acid rain, oil spills and other prevalent issues seemed to bring things to a head and organizations like World Wildlife Fund and Green Peace were birthed already back in 1961 and 1971 respectively. For Green Peace, “direct action and shocking images” was the first line of defense in protecting the environment and educating the rest of society. And for a time, it proved successful. Growing up in the 80s and 90s, it seemed to me as though all of a sudden everyone cared about the environment and if you didn’t you were ostracized!

It would appear, though, that society’s awareness and care for the environment began to wane over the years. For a time, it seemed we had ‘everything under control’ and we were doing enough to care and protect the environment. Or were we? Nowadays, we hear about climate change, severe weather and another animal going extinct constantly. The alarm has been sounded once again and it would appear we have all hands back on deck. Plastic straws are being banned in municipalities across our country, carbon taxes are being implemented, and everyone seems to be running around with a Swell bottle, don’t they? So these things are helping, right? Or is this just another fad? Have we become a bunch of bandwagon hoppers?

So How Are You Doing Personally?

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” Gen. 2:15

Do we, as followers of Jesus, take time to acknowledge and educate ourselves on creation care? Why or why not? How do we read Genesis 2:15 and understand it? What other stories or passages from the Bible speak about Stewardship of the environment, aka Creation Care? Now while I may be abiding by the 4 R’s and becoming more aware and appreciative of our beautifully and wonderfully made world, is there more to being a good earthkeeper than that? Is banning plastic straws enough?

What if every church, every Christian school yard, every piece of property owned by Christians was an oasis not just for our souls and hearts but for our physical world and being as well – for every living creature with us? We are covenant people after all.

Cindy Verbeek

Thankfully for us, many good folks in the CRCNA have put together some ways we can be good earthkeepers. Here are some ways to start today:

  1. Get educated! Check out this article or watch this episode of Context with Lorna Dueck;
  2. Get studying! Here are some books you can read and study alone or in a group, recommended by Office of Social Justice:
    1. Serve God, Save the Planet: A Christian Call to Action Practical, readable how-to guide to changing your lifestyle.
    2. Earthwise: A Guide to Hopeful Creation Care This book, now in its third edition, helps to provide us and our friends, neighbors, coworkers, and fellow citizens with practical information and ideas to become truly “earthwise.”
    3. For the Beauty of the Earth: A Christian Vision for Creation Care A thorough theology of creation care for pastors and lay-leaders.
    4. A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-Based Decisions Authored by a climate scientist and a pastor, this book offers straightforward answers to the many questions about climate change, without the spin.
    5. Living the Good Life on God’s Good Earth A group guide to care-taking through a series of topics: lifestyle, homes, food, clothes, etc.
  3. Get practical! Check out Ten Ways to Care for Creation by Faith Formation Ministries and the Office of Social Justice.

How ‘Bout You, Deacons?

So deacons, are you leading and equipping your churches to be good earthkeepers? How is Creation Care part of your stewardship ministries? In our next article we’ll look at what we as the church, the collective Body of Christ, can do to steward the earth together.

Caring for God’s Creation – Part 1

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Image by YLawrence from Pixabay

Over the past six months, Diaconal Ministries’ staff have read and studied the book “Earthwise; A Guide to Hopeful Creation Care”. Initially when we started this book, I thought to myself; I’m not really sure why we are taking time reading about a topic that we likely know enough about and probably all agree upon anyway. How will this book help us and, in turn, help deacons learn and grow in their ministry? Aren’t we all doing what we can? Don’t we all agree that “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it” (Psalm 24:1) and that just as Adam was given ‘charge’ or dominion over the earth to take care of it, we are also obeying that commandment the best we can? As followers of Christ, aren’t we all striving to be excellent earthkeepers? As we worked through the book and had some wonderful discussions, many of these musings were (shamefully) silenced and I prayed more than one prayer of gratitude for never voicing these aloud. (Oops, well, I guess I just did!) Much to my surprise, in reading this book (as well as other articles in The Banner, on The Network and the DoJustice blog, and just following the news of today), I was shocked at how polarizing this topic has become! So when we wrapped up our book study last week and went around the table sharing our ‘top learning’ from this book and what we will change in our life as a result of reading this book, my initial responses were, “SO MUCH!” and “EVERYTHING!” respectively.

As followers of Christ, aren’t we all striving to be excellent earthkeepers?

What is Creation Care?

But seriously, it did cause me to pause and think about my life and how I have ‘treated’ and cared for God’s creation. I also thought about my childhood and ways my parents and church modeled creation care to me and my siblings, if at all. So let me share a bit of my story with you:

Growing up, we didn’t have a lot of money. We lived in a modest two-storey home. (I may have called it a shoebox more than once) with my parents and my three sisters (yes, 5 women and 1 guy!). We each had to share a bedroom and one bathroom – we even shared bathwater! When something broke, we fixed it. When we couldn’t fix it, we bought second-hand. If something could be used twice (or thrice!) it certainly was. For example:

  • yogurt containers became an economical addition to our Tupperware cupboard;
  • milk bags (the clear pouches) were our ‘Ziploc baggies’;
  • clothes were hung up on the clothesline outside to dry and handed down from daughter-to-daughter (and repaired and patched as needed);
  • a schoteldoek (Dutch for ‘dishcloth’) was our napkin at dinnertime. (We even travelled with a pre-moistened schoteldoek – in a sealed milk bag of course – as Wet Wipes certainly weren’t even an option!);
  • we had a lovely vegetable garden in our good-sized backyard with the composting bin appropriately placed in the corner, surrounded by killer bees and greedy flies;
  • canning and freezing were just a regular part of our seasonal routine and our fruit cellar was stocked with food – imagine that!

At the time, I figured my parents made these choices out of economic necessity. They had a mortgage and bills to pay, four daughters to put through Christian school, and old cars to maintain. While this was likely part of why they did what they did, I also knew that my mother vehemently opposed wasting a crumb of food – or anything for that matter. She truly knew how to stretch a dollar. Her upbringing has a lot to do with it, she says. But it was also so much more that that. Whether they knew it or not, I had two parents who lived out the 4 R’s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Repeat.

This, in big and small ways, impacted me. Growing up, I began to appreciate all God had given to me, to us. My ears and eyes began to open. While I may have cursed a few of those awful hand-me-downs and the lukewarm, cloudy bathwater I had to slip into (ew, right?!), I also remember understanding how to be careful with the resources I had and to be less wasteful. One year I even took my own money to protect an acre of the rainforest through the World Wildlife Fund. I wanted to do my part in helping creation and everything in it to survive and thrive!

As I’ve grown, my parent’s example has stayed with me, but, alas, convenience (and laziness??!!) has also slowly crept in. I diligently read and follow our region’s recycling, composting, and garbage regulations. I still try to pick up litter when I see it. I even have a few yogurt containers in my cupboard for leftovers. BUT! I use paper towels AND a schoteldoek. When the boys were young they shared bathwater, but we all take our own showers now. I re-use some milk bags… but also buy Ziploc baggies. I’ve purchased Tupperware AND Gladware. I don’t have a garden in my tiny backyard because my aboveground pool and hot tub take up most of the room. I’ve always meant to install a clothesline outside, but just haven’t gotten around to it and I wouldn’t want pool water splashing onto my clean clothes… Oh, and my fruit cellar? It’s pretty much a storage room – for STUFF – not food. And the list goes on.

While we may be abiding by the 4 R’s and becoming more aware and appreciative of our beautifully and wonderfully made world, is there more to being a good earthkeeper than that?

So How Are We Doing?

Now while I may be abiding by the 4 R’s and becoming more aware and appreciative of our beautifully and wonderfully made world, is there more to being a good earthkeeper than that?

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” -Gen. 2:15

“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” -Rev. 4:11

Are we “worshipping” and serving created things instead of giving glory and honor to the Creator?

This month the Christian church will celebrate the “Super Bowl” of holidays: Easter! Around the same time, more than 193 countries around the world will celebrate another important holiday: Earth Day. While all Christian churches will celebrate the one, what about the other? Is Earth Day just another gimmicky, “Hallmark” holiday? Are we “worshipping” and serving created things instead of giving glory and honor to the Creator? Are we putting the Earth and its needs before humans and theirs? Are we more concerned with being “politically correct” than we are in proclaiming truth and grace? Are we falling prey to extremism or becoming an alarmist instead of trusting God and His sovereignty over all creation?

Earth Day aside, perhaps the better question to ask ourselves is how are Deacons living into their mandate to “be prophetic critics of the waste, injustice, and selfishness in our society, and be sensitive counselors to the victims of such evils… and in all your ministries help us participate in the renewing of all things even as we anticipate its completion when God’s kingdom comes”? Do deacons see Creation Care as part of their stewardship mandate (Time, Talents, Treasures, AND TREES) and leading and equipping their churches? If, as followers of Jesus, we truly believe that “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it” (Psalm 24:1), what does that look like lived out in your diaconate, your church, your individual homes, and beyond?

This month let’s talk about some of these hard questions and challenges we face. If you have a story or experience you’d like to share, please contact Erin, our Communications Coordinator – she’d love to hear from you! Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll look at Creation Care in your home and church, in your community, and in our world.