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In praise of Earth Care Congregations

Presbyterian Hunger Program staff member brags on congregations during Earth Care Conference

by Rich Copley | Presbyterian News Service

Ways Presbyterian Hunger Program Earth Care Congregations have practiced Earth Care include a blessing of the animals in Nebraska, advocacy in West Virginia, Earth-friendly grounds-keeping equipment in North Carolina, electric car charging stations, Earth-friendly use of the church grounds, and Earth-friendly use of utensils at events. (Photo courtesy of Presbyterian Hunger Program)

LEXINGTON, Kentucky — During the dinner break on the final day of the Presbyterians for Earth Care Conference Sunday, participants were treated to images of a minister in a clerical collar blessing a crawfish, a seven-person congregation that installed solar panels on its church building, a woman tending her church grounds with Earth-friendly lawn-care equipment and more.

“For every story I have told you, there are dozens I don’t have time to share,” Jessica Maudlin Phelps, the Presbyterian Hunger Program’s (PHP) Associate for Sustainable Living and Earth Care Concerns said to the virtual audience.

Maudlin Phelps decided to use her dinner-break slot about PHP’s Earth Care Congregations “to lift up the ways” in which she’s seen “God in the work that many of them do,” she said.

“One of my very favorite parts of my job is getting to resource the Earth Care Congregations network, particularly the last year in the midst of so many very hard things,” Maudlin Phelps said. “It has been such a joy to get to spend time on the phone and via Zoom and meeting with so many people talking about the passion they have around caring for the Earth, and what does that look like now that the ways in which they’ve done that in the past are not an option.”

Earth Care Congregations are churches that have taken PHP’s Earth Care Pledge in which they promise to incorporate Earth care in their worship, education, facilities and outreach and complete activities and projects in each of those areas to be certified. The certification period is Jan. 1 to Feb. 15 each year.

There were 276 Earth Care Congregations certified or re-certified this year.

As Maudlin Phelps’ presentation showed, there are a lot of ways to practice Earth care. She cited Genesis 2:15 which says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it” (NRSV) and said, “I’m so honored to get to see churches doing that day in and day out.”

“And we know that we can’t always address every single environmental problem that exists, and it’s easy to be overwhelmed with how big that is,” Maudlin Phelps said. “But by the ways in which I’ve seen churches and people in churches integrate environmental practices and thinking into all the different facets of the life of their church, I have been honored to see how seriously you all have been taking that charge to garden to serve the Earth, and you’ve not taken it lightly.”

Sometimes, they have taken it home.

Maudlin Phelps recalled the story of Robin Bedingfield, a member at Hillsborough Presbyterian Church in North Carolina who liked the Earth-friendly lawn care equipment purchased for the church so much she got some for her home.

It was amazing enough that the seven members of Spencer Presbyterian Church in Spencer, West Virginia secured the financing to equip their church building with solar panels. But they also inspired a neighboring small church to do the same.

The presentation by the Presbyterian Hunger Program’s Jessica Maudlin Phelps at the Presbyterians for Earth Care Conference included two small West Virginia churches that installed solar panels. (Photo courtesy of Presbyterian Hunger Program)

 

 

Conference chair the Rev. Bruce Gillette took that story as an opportunity to recall how putting solar panels on a church he served led several people who saw them to visit and eventually join the church, inspired by its open commitment to Earth care.

There were also pure fun moments in Maudlin Phelps’ presentation, like a blessing of the animals ceremony in Hastings, Nebraska where the blessed pets included a crawfish, and stories of activism like a West Virginia congregation leading local opposition to a harmful manufacturing plant proposed for its town.

There were stories of innovative and imaginative ways churches used their grounds, one able to make part of its property a nature preserve that people in its community have used during the pandemic, intergenerational groups sharing Earth care tips, and worship innovations including new prayers and liturgy that churches had created.

Being the Earth Care Conference, there were a lot of members of Earth Care Congregations in attendance who exchanged tips about things like Earth-friendly disposable communion ware, which has become an issue during the COVID-19 pandemic, and other Creation care practices. It was a virtual manifestation of the inspiration and exchange of ideas the Earth Care Congregations program aims to engender.

“To become an Earth Care Congregation, churches commit themselves to the four areas named in the pledge,” Maudlin Phelps said after the event. “But that pledge also affirms that the Earth and all Creation are God’s. It acknowledges that God calls us to be careful, humble stewards of this Earth, and to protect and restore it for its own sake, and for the future use and enjoyment of the human family.

“I love getting the opportunity to share Earth Care stories with the wider church because it’s such a testament to the fact that Presbyterians are living out what we know to be true: that caring for the Earth means caring for all God’s people, and that we can only find environmental justice when there is justice for all.”


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