Churches raise awareness to care for God’s creation
By Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE – Presbyterians will be joining millions of people worldwide on April 22 to commemorate Earth Day, an annual awareness campaign focusing on earth care and the need to protect the planet from harmful pollution and degradation.
Earth Day began in 1970 when millions protested the negative impacts of industrial development. The day is now commemorated by nearly 200 countries and coordinated by the Earth Day Network.
“The environmental work we do in the Presbyterian Hunger Program is grounded in Scripture, Reformed theology and the numerous General Assembly policies that call us to care for creation, including the 1990 foundational policy ‘Restoring Creation for Ecology and Justice,’ ” said Jessica Maudlin, PHP’s associate for sustainable living and earth care concerns. “As a church, we have Earth Day Sunday, where churches can focus their services and activities around caring for God’s creation.”
Each year, PHP works with Creation Justice Ministries to develop resources for Earth Day Sunday.
“The theme this year is ‘A Sense of Place,’ so we are excited about the resource and hope that it is something folks can identify with,” said Maudlin. “Even if they don’t use it on Earth Day Sunday, it’s created so it can be used any time of year.”
Presbyterians are encouraged to take part in activities such as marches, meetings with elected officials, tree planting or cleaning up their own communities.
“There’s a church in Minnesota that is planning a community fair, complete with informational booths and activities,” said Maudlin. “They also plan to have a new, low-emission vehicle on display. Other activities include trainings on how to use the local recycling facilities as well as information about gardening and composting.”
Dennis Testerman, moderator of Presbyterians for Earth Care, says churches’ environmental work has brought people into the fold who might not otherwise come to church.
“I recently interviewed Presbyterians involved with solar energy and many said that visitors and new members selected their church because they saw solar panels on the roof,” he said. “Many Presbyterians are not only engaged in earth care in their congregations and in the denomination, but through environmental organizations like the Sierra Club, whose founder, John Muir, had Presbyterian roots.”
Both Testerman and Maudlin believe that interest in earth care has been growing in recent years.
“There are a lot of reasons for that, including a change in public policy regarding environmental protection. I get a lot of phone calls from Presbyterians and my sense is that they are very passionate about earth care and want to support as well as connect with efforts to protect the planet,” said Maudlin. “I’ve heard from a number of Presbyterians who are proud that the denomination is lifting this up as an issue.”
Testerman says the rollbacks of domestic environmental protections from regulations to public lands have catalyzed many people into action.
“The inclusion of ecological devastation is one of the four evils in America identified by the Poor People’s Campaign and has brought national attention to the intersectionality of systemic racism, poverty and ecological devastation,” he said. “The Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis and PC(USA) Co-Moderator Rev. Denise Anderson are just two of the visible leaders that are reminding the nation and the world that our central vocation calling is to ‘serve and preserve’ God’s creation.”
Testerman says awareness is growing in terms of the relationship between world hunger and environmental problems, including climate change.
“I hope I am witnessing greater focus on proactive initiatives to make communities more resilient to the ravages of drought and storms,” he said. “There will always be a role for reactive responses such as sending food, water and medical supplies to storm-damaged areas. But initiatives that foster sustainability are the way forward to the future.”
There are 209 Presbyterian churches across the country that have been designated as Earth Care Congregations, a certification based on efforts to care for God’s creation through worship, education, facilities and outreach.
“Every year, we see more and more churches interested in applying. I think it is important to Presbyterians and it’s been great to hear their stories,” said Maudlin. “Earth care initiatives have attracted people that traditionally didn’t feel they had a place in the church, but were really passionate about the environment. It could be solar panels, composting, the use of rain barrels. It’s bringing communities together.”
Click here for more information about becoming an Earth Care Congregation.
Efforts to care for the earth have been made by the Presbyterian Center as well. The center, which is in Louisville, Kentucky, and includes the offices of the Presbyterian Mission Agency and Office of the General Assembly, recently won the Louisville Energy Alliance’s annual Kilowatt Crackdown Award. The citywide competition challenges building owners and operators to decrease energy use in their buildings. The center won for best office facility.
The Presbyterian Hunger Program can work on environmental concerns because of gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing.
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