Four Steps to Care for Creation in All Worship.
We have traditionally done worship focusing on our human relationship with God and our human relationships with each other. Now we need to fill our worship also with elements of God's relationship with all of creation and with our human relationship with creation (and with God in creation). Here are some suggestions for how to integrate creation-carefully into your worship--all worship services. The idea is to include appropriate references to creation at the beginning, middle, and end of each service, along with other references throughout. Incorporate some of these changes on a regular basis.
If you do only a few of these simple steps on a regular basis, it will have a powerful impact in the worshiping community. Care for creation will not be an add-on to the Christian faith. It will be integral to your identify and mission in the central communal event of worship. Those who worship will be more aware of their relationship with God the creator and of their own relationship with nature through the year.
Step One: four key moments that help to structure every worship service.
These can be either a formal one that you repeat each service or an informal one that you vary or change by season of the church year.
Invoke the presence of the God of all creation.
Invitation/ call to worship: Invite all creation to worship or invite humans to join the choir of all creation in praise of God. Remind folks that the Earth is the real sanctuary for their worship. Name animals and plants on church property with whom you want to worship.
Include at least one statement of confession that addresses our degradation and misuse of creation. If necessary, add a petition to the standard confession you are using for the season.
Always include at least one petition on behalf of the natural world (this may be general or it may relate to a recent disaster or be given on behalf of endangered species, or seek mercy and ministry for people at risk from environment.). See the prayers prepared for each Sunday of the Revised Common Lectionary.
Commission people to "Go in peace. Serve the Lord, Remember the poor. Care for creation." Or “Tend the Earth.”
Step Two: Each week incorporate creation-care into other elements in worship
If there is an introduction to the focus of the season and the Sunday at the beginning of the service, give a brief description of the significance of the season that connects it to creation.
Keep in mind hymns with references to the natural world.
In the introduction to the lessons, take the opportunity to note references to God the creator and to the presence of the nature in the biblical world and its role in the meaning of the passage. .
Often the psalm is a source of celebration of God the creator and the natural world. As you introduce the psalm, note its relevance to nature.
Proclaim the good news to all God's creation. Give examples and challenges that include our relationship with nature.
Make connections for people to the natural elements of grapes, grain, and water bearing the presence of Christ. Place baskets of fresh grapes and grain and water for people to touch and relate to.
Step Three: Bring the presence of nature in your sanctuary
Living plants and trees in the worship space to serve as partners in worship. If selected carefully, these may also serve to purify the air.
“Let All Creation Praise God” or “Earth is Full of God’s Glory”
Consider photographs around the sanctuary or nature scenes by local artists. Point out scenes of nature present on stained glass windows.
Connect inside and outside:
Be aware of the nature outside your walls. Use clear windows to make the connection with life outside the sanctuary. See your whole property and location as an Earth Community.
Identify the plants and animals with whom you are worshipping on your property.
Step Four: Green the practices related to worship
Living flowers or plants on the altar to be kept or planted later outside. Plants or trees in the sanctuary with qualities to purify air. Use live Christmas tree and then plant on church grounds.
Purchase fair trade palm fronds for Palm Sunday. Consider the origin of the cloth for paraments and wood for the furniture.
Local wine/ grape juice. Practice intinction or have re-usable glasses (not plastic). Wash communion vessels/ glasses with eco-safe dish- washing detergent. Provide communion bread of whole grain and that is organic and locally grown.
Move toward paperless worship. Limit or eliminate use of paper for bulletins. Re-use where possible for multiple services. Use the same bulletin for an entire season, varying only a insert with announcements. Use post-consumer waste/ recycled paper for bulletins. Place attractive basket near exit from sanctuary for recycling worship materials.
Use outside light where feasible. Replace all incandescent bulbs with LED bulbs. Use outside air and fans instead of air conditioner where feasible. Safe disposal of batteries from wireless microphones. Use rechargeable batteries.
Beeswax candles rather than (oil-based) paraffin wax candles. Green decorations for holidays. Use a living tree for Christmas and plant it later in the church yard.
If you are engaged in a building project, now is the opportunity to make construct for the future. Seek an architect who knows the Green Building Council and who is committed to renewable energy. The extra cost will pay off.
Gordon Lathrop, Holy Ground: A Liturgical Cosmology (Fortress Press, 2003) Holy Ground illumines how the central symbols and interactions of Christian liturgy yield a new understanding and experience of the world and contribute to a refreshed sense of ecological ethics - a Christian sense of the holiness of the earth itself. Available from Augsburg Fortress.
Paul Santmire, Ritualizing Nature: Renewing Christian Liturgy in a Time of Crisis (Fortress Press, 2008) Is the Christian faith ecologically bankrupt? Theologian H. Paul Santmire has responded forcefully to that frequently voiced question by maintaining that, notwithstanding ambiguities, a single Christian tradition of long standing has something profoundly promising to say about nature and human life in nature. Available from Augsburg Fortress.
Ben Stewart, A Watered Garden: Christian Worship and Earth's Ecology (Fortress Press, 2011) Watered Garden begins with the classic, ecumenically held patterns of Christian worship and explores them for their deep connections to ecological wisdom, for their sacramental approaches to creation, and for a renewed relationship to the earth now itself in need of God's healing. This book is written especially for North Americans: people who live in a specific ecological region, and who play a particular role in the world's ecology. And of course it is written for Christians, especially those who are part of the Lutheran movement. Excellent for worship committees and small group study. Available from Augsburg Fortress.
Norman Habel, David Rhoads, and Paul Santmire, The Season of Creation: A Preacher's Commentary (Fortress Press, 2011). Many churches have sought to respond to the environment sate of the world by instituting a movement to observe a liturgical season of creation. Scholars who have pioneered the connections between biblical scholarship, ecological theology, liturgy, and homiletics provide here a comprehensive resource for preaching and leading worship in this new season. Included are theological and practical introductions to observance of the season, biblical texts for twelve Sundays in the three-year lectionary cycle, and astute commentary to help preachers and worship leaders guide their congregations into deeper connection with our imperiled planet. Available from Augsburg Fortress.