Greening Your Church: Overview
"Green church" is a helpful shorthand to refer to a congregation that is taking intentional steps to do something -- something! -- about environmental responsibility or caring for creation. The phrase covers so much ground, though, that it may not be helpful in describing what a church is really doing.
In our 15 years of working with local churches, Eco-Justice Ministries has found it helpful to look at three very different ways of being a green church. The boundaries between the groups are very fuzzy, and many churches will be working in two or even three areas at once, but the distinctions are very important. They indicate different notions of the problem that is being addressed, of the goals that are desired, and of the strategies that are most effectively used.
Churches have many ways to bring their perspectives and commitments about creation care into their programming. The three categories outlined here may be a reasonable sequence of expanding awareness and commitment, but churches may have multiple starting points. Some congregations will begin with elements of transformation or activism, and then need to address early organizational steps and the practical basics.
- Getting Started, and Doing the Basics
A church that is just getting started has two tasks:
(a) It needs to get up to "community standards" for the most basic elements of environmental responsibility, such as energy efficient lighting, recycling and water conservation. These are non-controversial steps that don't require theological justification, and that will save the church money almost immediately. It is just a matter of doing what most church members already do at home and at work, and what most local businesses see as financially prudent.
(b) This is a time to begin preparing for ongoing projects: to find members who have environmental interests, to research church practices, and to take some first steps at bringing creation concerns into worship and education. For a congregation that hasn't ever done anything in this area before, these can be challenging new projects that take careful planning and work, but making progress on this level should be possible for every church.
- Leadership and Action
Many churches will be eager to do more than "the basics". They want to exhibit moral commitments that go beyond the ordinary, and they want to engage in study and action that have far-reaching impacts. A leadership church might decide to invest in energy efficiency at a level where there is not a short-term payback, as an expression of their values -- by installing solar panels, or a high-efficienty heating system. They might get involved in political advocacy about a matter of special concern -- pollution, endangered species, or energy policy. They will be more intentional about bringing "care for creation" topics and language into worship and church publications. Educational programs will start to go into more depth, and go beyond a survey of ideas to stake out preferred theological and ethical positions. These churches will exhibit leadership by doing more than others in thier community, and they will act on their commitments in many ways.
- Transformational Ministry
Eco-Justice Ministries holds out the goal of transformational ministry for all churches. When we come to see the enormous depth and range of problems in our world -- of ecological collapse, pollution and exhausted resources; and the related social problems of desperate poverty, international conflict, and the spiritual emptyness of materialism -- then it becomes obvious that much more is needed than energy efficiency and political action. The core problem is at the level of our society's values, our economic institutions, and our distorted views about progress and the good life. Transformational ministries challenge us toward new understandings of who we are in our relationships with humanity, God and God's creation. We are called toward entirely different ways of living in the world. Transformational churches will have worship that is both confessional and hopeful, education that goes deep in exposing us to new ideas and situations, and social witness that lifts up prophetic possibilities. Because transformational ministry is so profoundly linked to faith, many churches may be working in this area -- with sessions on voluntary simplicity, and life-changing mission trips -- before they "do the basics" around the church building.
|What about churches that aren't even faintly "green"? Churches where:
While this sort of church is all too common, from the perspective of Eco-Justice Ministries, this is not an acceptable way of "being the church" in today's world. In this time of profound ecological crisis, some level of study, action and engagement is a moral and theological necessity.
- basic environmental responsibility (and the financial benefits that come with it) is not a consideration in building management.
- God's creation (or "nature") receives only passing mention in sermons and prayers.
- education programs never deal with questions of environmental issues, natural resources, spirituality in nature, or creation themes in the Bible.
- political issues that touch on the environment are never addressed in worship, education or advocacy.
The other pages in this section of our website will help you explore the goals, strategies and programs related to each form of being a green church. Our self-assessment tools can help you look closely at your own congregation and community, and identify the most fruitful next steps.
||Want to read more about the theological and strategic principles behind these three forms of green churches? Our Eco-Justice Notes, "Questioning the System" discusses how they indicate various levels of trust in our social systems and values.|
|The ecumenical context: 3 guides for green congregations|
Several groups that we consider to be close partners in the faith-based environmental cause have developed resources, guidelines and suggestions for churches that want to bring a strong and successful environmental emphasis into their congregational life.
- The Unitarian Universalist Green Sanctuary Program is the "gold standard" for these programs. A rigorous set of guidelines must be met, and a certification application is evaluated by a national committee. Churches outside the UUA are welcome to use the resources and procedures, but cannot receive the certification. The manual is available as a free download.
- The Web of Creation (an ecumenical website) has a set of free resources, "Become a Green Congregation: Transforming Faith Communities"
- Earth Ministry has an excellent process for working with intentional Greening Congregation Partners. Their Greening Congregations Handbook is a rich collection of "stories, ideas and resources for cultivating creation awareness and care in your congregation."
Each of these programs a based on the same foundation that Eco-Justice Ministries asserts: that a green congregation will bring eco-justice perspectives into many aspects of their programming. The practical matters of resource conservation are important, of course, but the values and commitments of a green church also will be evident in their worship and education, in advocacy and public witness, and in the nurture and encouragement for members to embody these values in their families.
We recommend these guides as additional resources for congregations that serious about greening their church.
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Home Page: www.eco-justice.org
Eco-Justice Ministries ended all programming on July 31, 2020. This site is an archive of writings and resources.
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