Notre Dame Ecumenical Worship Service

Reflection on COP 21 from Gary Payton


outside Notre Dame 


The Ecumenical Service for Creation at Notre Dame Cathedral


As Presbyterians, we sometimes operate more from our heads than our hearts.  In my first three days at COP21 in Paris, I was seriously operating from my head…and, I was not allowing my soul to be fed.  Then, Rebecca and I attended the Ecumenical Service for Creation at Notre Dame Cathedral, a cathedral in which people have worshipped and lifted up prayers for 850 years.  Our worship leaders were Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, men, women, adults, and youth.  The  service moved smoothly between French and English.


On this second Sunday of Advent, I share portions of that worship service.  It was simply beautiful, and my soul soared!


procession of earth elements


Signs of Creation (Object are brought to the alter)


Natural resources are not infinite, our world is limited, and we must learn to share our resources and to protect our environment.  Various objects will remind us of the diversity of natural resources, associated with the human genius that transforms it and makes it grow.  During this procession of the signs of creation we give thanks to God.


A Piece of Cotton


Native to tropical regions, cotton fiber is used for some of the most everyday purposes such as clothing.  For a long time, its cultivation was associated with slavery, especially in the United States.  The Lord says to us: “And why do you worry about your clothing?  Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.”  (Mt. 6.28.29)


A Piece of Linen


Flax is produced by a graceful plant on which blossoms beautiful blue flowers, the fine fabric is produced as clothing to protect new born babies, and we find it used in the Bible for making vestments.


A Piece of Silverware


The minerals from which gold and silver are mined enable economic trade and wealth creation.  Used and processed through the dexterity of the craftsperson they become precious objects that express luxury and refinement.


A Piece of Pottery


A pot, one of the most common containers for everyday use.  An image of what we are, in the words of Saint Paul, both as a human being and a Christian, “But that treasure, we bear in earthen vessels, that this extraordinary power be of God and not of us.”  (2 Cor. 4, 7)





A Bottle of Olive Oil


Olive oil used for many different purposes, an ointment that soothes and relaxes, a bearer of fragrance that embalms, as an ingredient that nourishes.  A Psalm recalls, “The oil that softens the face.”  Let us care for our brothers and sisters, and creation.


A Musical Instrument


Through art, music and culture, human beings can consider and express what they are in the deepest sense: a being connected to others and to God.  “I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.  May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord.  (Psalm 104: 33-34).  Our practice of the arts sets humans apart within creation.


A Boat


Modern means of communication abolish distances and make us aware that our world is unique and that we are interdependent.  However, our communion, our “koinonia” still needs to be deepened, it does not always advance as fast as communication.


A Globe


Through their genius and wisdom humans transform their environment and use the fruit of the earth to clothe, feed, and express ourselves.  We are aware that creation is a gift entrusted to us and that we are responsible to future generations for the whole inhabited earth (the oikoumene).


procession of globe 


As the evening service concluded, a message from the Council of Christian Churches of France for COP21 was shared with all.


We believe that humanity and the earth it inhabits are the result of God’s creative plan.  We are aware of the grave threats facing the world due to climate change caused by the misuse by human beings of the resources  with which they have been provided.  We feel compelled to tackle the causes of such destruction.  We see the immeasurable suffering it causes.  We are particularly concerned for the weakest and the poorest among us.


Aware of the impact of the lifestyle of the most developed countries, we need to call into question the logic of our consumption and to allow our attitudes and actions to experience conversion, practicing restraint and simplicity, not as a form of heroic renunciation but as a form of joyful sharing.


We call on political and economic decision makers, especially those gathered at the COP21, to take the decisions necessary to limit warming to 2 degrees C so that the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters and future generations do not suffer more.


Our hope as Christians rests in our belief that our world is not destined to disappear but to be transformed, and that human beings capable of self-destruction are also able to unite and to choose that which is good.


Following silence and the Lord’s prayer, spoken in the many world languages of those at worship, we received a blessing and departed into the Paris night.  Amen, and Amen.


 For wonderful pictures and more information on the service, click here.



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