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.”


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!

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.

Finding Hope in 2018

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*This post first appeared on the DoJustice blog. It’s written by Cindy Verbeek, a new member of DMC’s Board of Directors!

As we sat in the fireside room at A Rocha’s property, Sir Ghillean Prance, a small group of volunteers and I (a stay-at-home mom) we felt a sense of awe that this man, who had been knighted by the queen for his work as a botanist, was so down to earth and hope-filled. One thing he said has stuck with me. When asked what gave him hope over his long career –he knew about and was working towards combating climate change already 20 years ago – his answer was: “Christ’s resurrection and human ingenuity”.

When asked what gave him hope over his long career Sir Ghillean’s answer was: “Christ’s resurrection and human ingenuity”.

At the time I understood the part about Christ’s resurrection. I was, after all, working for a Christian conservation organization and learning about how Christ’s act on the cross was intended for the redemption and restoration of ALL things (Colossians 1:19-20).

Let’s face it, the world is broken. Some believe it is beyond repair – we’ve hit the tipping point. Others believe it doesn’t matter – we’re here for a good time not a long time, as the song goes. Still others believe that it is inevitable, and we should just start praying for everything to end – it’s all going to burn up anyway. My heart breaks daily for the people and creatures on this planet as more and more studies pour out proving what biblical writers recognized thousands of years ago: the earth is groaning, waiting for God’s children to get it right (Romans 8:18-25). And yet, I refuse to lose hope. Why? Because the Gospel message is all about hope. Hope that Jesus meant what he said: he came that we may have life and have it more abundantly. Jesus gives us hope.

I wasn’t so sure, however, about the human ingenuity part of Sir Ghillean’s comment. I felt like if I wanted to reduce my impact on creation, I would have to crawl into a hole and eat locusts and honey, living a life of depravity and want. Stop eating meat, stop washing your hair, stop buying disposable shavers, stop stop stop. I could reduce my meat consumption, sure, but dreadlocks and hairy pits? That was just too far. I had three kids and a household to take care of all while struggling with bouts of depression and anxiety and I made more compromises than I liked to admit. Weighed down by guilt daily at my failure to live out my call as a good steward of the earth there were days when I wondered why I even cared. Nobody else seemed to. But as Mother Theresa said – it’s not about what others think anyway, when it comes right down to it, it’s between you and God.

Now, 20 years later, I am seeing creativity and delight in people’s reaction to the earth and a real movement in both society and faith groups that gives me hope. Everything from solar roads to collapsible straws you can keep on your key chain make me hopeful that Sir Ghillean was right: human ingenuity can help us walk alongside the Creator of the Universe in His restoration of a broken creation. I still make compromises for many reasons: mental health, efficiency, and yes, sometimes laziness. But here are several things that I have done that I am really proud of (knowing that I still have a long way to go) as well as some stories that inspire me to keep pushing into the question of what I can do next to care even better for creation.

Now, 20 years later, I am seeing creativity and delight in people’s reaction to the earth and a real movement in both society and faith groups that gives me hope.

How does your garden grow?

Gardening is, in my opinion, the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to creation care. Every church should have a community garden and everyone with access to land or even outdoor living space should grow what they can. Gardening reduces the amount of pollution spewed into the atmosphere by trucking our food thousands of kilometres to our local stores. Small hand-cultivated gardens reduce the amount of pesticides and herbicides needed to grow our food. Eating food from the garden is the cheapest way to get healthy organic foods. Harvesting food from a garden promotes sharing and community (especially during zucchini season!). And recent studies even show that there are anti-depressants in the soil so gardening is good for your mental health, not to mention other benefits of time spent outside like exercise and vitamin D from the sun.

No-poo, no plastic

This year I stopped washing my hair with shampoo. Inspired by YouTube videos showing the “No-poo” method I decided to try it for myself. It started as a New Year’s resolution and flowed into plastic-less Lent, a challenge I joined on Facebook for Lent. I ended up using shampoo bars instead to get rid of the plastic bottle.

Some other plastics I have left behind are:

  • plastic bags
  • straws (I bring my own metal straw)
  • one-time use utensils (I bought wooden utensils for those times I need disposable and one set of reusable plastic utensils to bring with me)
  • deodorant containers (I make my own)
  • cling wrap (I use reusable silicon covers)
  • toothbrushes (I have purchased bamboo toothbrushes for when my plastic one is finished)

I have learned that although I cannot do everything I can do something.

Do Justly now

Sometimes I get overwhelmed with the enormity of the brokenness and how little I can do. I have a saying on my wall (author unknown) that says,

“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly now. Love mercy now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

I have learned that although I cannot do everything I can do something. That is why I am working in my backyard to raise Coho salmon and engage the local community in conservation in the watershed. To see what we are up to visit the A Rocha website. I am encouraged knowing there are other people doing something in their backyard and trust that together we can bring restoration. Together we are making a difference.

[Image: David Clode on Unsplash]