Quick Tips for Including Eco-Justice
In the Pastoral Care of Your Church
An eco-justice perspective opens fresh insights and possibilities in pastoral care. An eco-justice perspective is grounded in an awareness of the interconnectedness of people with the whole of creation, and in a search for justice that takes seriously both personal actions and institutional structures. We hope that these "quick tips" will show some new aspects of pastoral care that can be incorporated into your ministry.
NOTE: these pastoral care tips are not intended to make recommendations for in-depth counseling. These tips are intended to provide insight and guidance for the routine pastoral care work of clergy and laity.
See the interrelationship between the personal and the institutional.
The context in which we live and work has a profound impact on our personal and family lives. Pastoral care which does not look beyond the individual or the family will not be able to fully understand the situation or provide meaningful help.
As you help people to think and act on their spiritual and emotional needs, you can provide guidance to them in exploring the forces, institutions and systems that shape their situation. You may need to name these factors for others, or you may need to challenge yourself to see the institutional issues that people raise as part of pastoral care.
Recognize the emotional and pastoral impacts of life in a world that exploits and abuses people and nature.
- Anger – When people see what is happening around them, they may be upset, angry, outraged. This is an appropriate response that must be accepted, and guidance given into ways to direct the anger to constructive ends.
- Fear – Fear is a response to a lack of control in a threatening situation. Many situations can evoke fear: wide-spread environmental destruction, the globalization of the economy, unresponsiveness in political institutions, direct environmental threats to family health and community stability
- Grief – Loss can be felt in the face of death and other forms of change. Grief can come from immediate and personal sources – the "development" of a favorite open space, defeat in a political struggle, changes in personal health – and grief can be evoked by more distant and less immediate causes – genocide and ethnic cleansing, rampaging extinction of species, global climate change. Pastoral care can look beyond "acceptance" and the way to resolve grief, and explore how grief can provide the energy that motivates work for change (e.g.: the founding of Mothers Against Drunk Driving)
- Guilt – People who are tuned into caring for all parts of God's creation often feel guilt over their actions, even if (or especially when) they don't have viable options. This guilt is often cumulative from many small, recurring actions: buying clothing that was made in sweatshops, driving instead of using mass transit, not doing everything possible to "refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle," not being politically active on a controversial issue. The challenge of pastoral care is to combine forgiveness with responsibility.
- Powerlessness – Recent years have been marked by enormous concentrations of power, not only in government, but in non-governmental organizations (like the World Bank) and in corporations. Campaign finances and corporate influences make government less responsive to citizen input. Mass media and advertising shape values and opinions in ways that are not easily understood or influenced by individuals. Pastoral care needs to help people name this problem, and to help them in their efforts to discover ways of being appropriately empowered.
- Hopelessness and despair – People need to believe that there are options to fear and powerlessness. Pastoral care can provide practical reassurance that change is possible, and it can address theological levels of hope that go beyond "success stories."
- Meaninglessness – Modern America is steeped in individualism, materialism, and a quest for immediate gratification. There is little that provides real meaning and satisfaction in life, and little that calls people toward eco-justice commitments. Pastoral care can help people find sources of deep meaning and involvement.
- Loneliness – Those who care for the state of the earth and who are deeply concerned about justice often feel lonely and isolated. Pastoral care can help draw people out of their isolation; it can help them to find colleagues and communities of support.
The news and our daily lives make clear that there are very real, very large problems all around us. Facing up to those problems is frightening, uncomfortable and exhausting. Denial and avoidance are seen by many – often unconsciously – as attractive options. But denial is not a faith response. Pastoral care can call people to face what is happening in their lives, their communities, and the world, and help them find the spiritual and practical resources to respond.
Much pastoral care has been geared toward helping people find comfort and acceptance in their personal lives. While there are settings where this is an appropriate approach, living from an eco-justice perspective often means that people will be uncomfortable and restless. Pastoral care can challenge people to move beyond their "comfort zone" and to engage in resistance against the sources of exploitation and destruction.
Take the initiative in pastoral care.
An eco-justice perspective has not been an intentional part of most pastoral care. You may need to take the initiative to include this perspective in your work.
- Listen actively for these themes in your conversations. Tune your listening to pick up on the clues that people drop.
- Ask about what is happening. Be willing to raise questions and suggest subjects.
- Preach. Harry Emerson Fosdick said "Preaching is pastoral care on a group basis." Let your preaching touch on the emotions and needs, the issues and causes that emerge in your pastoral care.
- Write. Use your newsletter and other publications to touch on the pastoral care side of eco-justice.
- Program for pastoral care. Bring your sense of the needs of your community into the programming of the church. Have adult education classes or workshops around a theme that crops up often. Schedule a special worship service to deal with chronic grief. Plan occasions for community service, political or social action, to address powerlessness and hopelessness.
Eco-Justice Ministries * 400 S Williams St, Denver, CO 80209 * 303.715.3873
Home Page: www.eco-justice.org *