COLUMBIA — People of faith in Columbia are uniting to join in a national movement to discuss how their religions speak to environmental concerns. This discussion centers on sharing ideas on how they and their religious institutions can better steward the earth and educate others to do so.
A national movement
Religious groups are growing increasingly active in environmental efforts to "care for creation." In contrast to other cultural issues, there is a strong consensus across faith groups regarding environmental policy, according to a 2004 Pew Forum survey.
“They are beginning to take action to protect the environment not because they are members of a secular group but because it’s an act of faith,” said former Los Angeles Times reporter Larry Stammer at a Care for Creation event in Columbia in September. “Basically, they say if God created everything, then how can we hate something God created? And so what you have here is not the Sierra Club with prayer but people acting out of a totally different motivation, that is, their belief in God, or their faith.”
While mainline Protestants have historically been more supportive of environmental efforts, in recent years evangelical groups have begun to take on the cause as well, starting efforts such as the Evangelical Environmental Network's What Would Jesus Drive? educational campaign.
“We, as evangelical Christians, have a responsibility to God, who owns this property we call Earth,” the Rev. Richard Czik said on behalf of the National Association of Evangelicals, an umbrella organization for 51 church denominations, in an interview with PBS’s Religion and Ethics, “We don't own it. We're simply to be stewards of it."
Lyndsay Moseley, editor of Sierra Club Books’ Holy Ground: A Gathering of Voices on Caring for Creation, offers some perspective on the context of the movement to care for creation.
“The movement’s roots are deep in Scripture and theology,” Moseley said, “Theologians have been writing about how Christians should respond to the environmental crisis since at least the 1950s, and these ideas have gradually trickled down from an academic level.
“But the movement has also resulted from a grass-roots updwelling. Some people have been really aware (of the connection between environmental concerns and religion) for a long time but were frustrated because religious leaders were not articulating these ideas. Now that religious leaders are speaking about it, people are getting engaged at all levels — academics and leadership and people in pews. More people are seeing their leadership speak out, are emboldened to speak out on their own and engage their congregations.”
Moseley said she thinks that in the future religious groups will strengthen and expand the movement to care for creation. “Religious institutions are excellent at expressing and practicing beliefs and encouraging people to be more aware of actions," she said. "Churches will continue to devote more resources to the movement as well as to encourage their congregations to do more at home and at their businesses to be faithful stewards of God’s creation.”
Several religious groups in Columbia are working to educate the faith community on how to “care for creation” and encouraging them to take action.
Participants in the interfaith group Care for Creation have been discussing ways to educate their congregations to take action to be better stewards for the planet. Monta Welch, director of the Columbia Climate Change Coalition, started the group to facilitate discussion among the religious community. It has met three times and members are planning their next meeting for January. Each meeting has included brainstorming and sharing ideas for what their congregations are doing and planning for the future. The September meeting included a solar panel demonstration and ice cream social with ice cream made by solar power.
When they met in November at the Islamic Center of Central Missouri, the members focused on selecting a few efforts on which to work. After much discussion, they decided on three ideas: educating on caring for creation and proper stewardship, weatherizing and retrofitting in every faith community and in the larger community, and working with each other to develop community gardens. They also discussed how people will be looking for ways to live well with less material goods in times of economic hardship, and that such efforts will provide an opportunity to educate people about how to take on environmentally friendly practices.
Individual churches are also taking action to educate their congregations. Columbia Unitarian Universalist Church's green sanctuary committee focuses on stewarding the Earth as well as other issues relating to social justice and nature, said Peter Holmes, a committee member. The committee sponsors monthly film showings and discussions as well as harvest dinners comprised of only local foods, harvest worship services and solstitial equinox events.
On Nov. 17 the St. Thomas Moore Newman Center held a care for creation lecture as part of its St. Albert the Great series of lectures on science and theology. Peter Raven, director of Missouri Botanical Garden, spoke about the effects of consumption habits on the planet and offered suggestions for reducing impact from such habits.
The next Care for Creation event will be at 2:30 p.m. Jan. 25 at New Horizons United Methodist Church, 1020 S. El Chaparral Ave., and will include an educational weatherization demonstration. For more information, contact Monta Welch at 443-4717.
Generating ideas, taking action
Although much of the effort in Columbia to care for creation has been through conversation, such conversations have generated many ideas for action. Raven concluded his talk at the Newman Center by suggesting five points of action to be better stewards of the environment:
- Be well informed.
- Live simpler.
- Consume less.
- Promote sustainability.
- Support political action.
At the November meeting, the Care for Creation group brainstormed ideas for how to take action as individuals and in churches. These ideas included:
- Using reusable grocery bags such as Chico Bags.
- Buying useful, purposeful gifts.
- Educating children within families and religious institutions.
- Being mindful of dietary practices and reducing meat intake.
- Composting kitchen waste and yard scraps and sharing composts with neighbors. (The City of Columbia offers free composting workshops.)
- Weatherizing homes to be more energy efficient and helping others to do so.
- Watching food labels for elements harmful to the environment.
- Demonstrating to others in one's congregation the importance of environmental issues to faith and morals.
- Giving media feedback on what environmental information you find useful.
- Putting environmental ideas and information on religious organizations’ Web sites.
- Not using paper and plastic products for church meals. Rock Bridge Christian Church serves food on glass plates and glasses, and church members take turns washing the dishes by hand.
- Recycling at home and at church. Calvary Episcopal Church has recycling stations and collects old cell phones and ink cartridges.
- Replacing incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs.
- Putting environmental tips in religious organizations’ newsletters. Carol Oliver writes a brief "care for creation" column each month in the New Horizon United Methodist Church newsletter.
- Planting gardens for produce. Rock Bridge Christian Church members work in a garden on the church's property.