Most people, including church members, think of environmental issues as national or even global in scope and therefore far beyond their individual ability to influence. While it is reasonable to think globally we can, in fact, act locally and in so doing begin a chain of events that can produce a real beneficial impact on the ‘‘environment’’ we share with all living creatures.
One of the most effective ways in which parish pastors can bring about good things for the environment is to work through their own parish. The congregation, with whom you share so many sacred moments, is the ideal starting point for positive environmental action.
Begin by organizing a Green Team, or whatever you choose to call it. The team will consist of people who are environmentally sensitive and want to work with others to spread the good word and work. While the Scriptures do not use the term, “environmentalism” they do say much about caring for creation, about the call for all creation to worship God, and about the mandate to serve and preserve creation. For Christians care for creation is not one issue among many; rather it is fundamental to our human vocation as Christians.
When you have established a “Green Team” you are ready to start a parish-wide education program. But before you proceed further, take time to educate yourself and the committee with what is being done by larger groups outside your parish on a community, state, and national level. There are several groups which can serve as resources. They include the USCCB’s Environmental Justice Program: Caring for God’s Creation (www.usccb.org/sdwp/ejp/), and there is also the National Religious Partnership for the Environment which is a coalition of Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish organizations (www.nrpe.org). And there are also link sections at the Web of Creation site (www.webofcreation.org) for connections with faith-based environmental groups.
As the pastor you may want to have a parish kickoff day or even an Environmental Fair. During a specified time you can bring in a few speakers to present various aspects of ways in which we all can become environmentally conscious. Teachers who have degrees in the sciences are a good resource as are staff members of local science centers. In addition to such outside resources you can make a presentation on the biblical basis of caring for our earth and its atmosphere.
Getting the Message Out
There are some creative, imaginative things you can organize to get across your message. Consider these:
- Set up science experiment demonstrations using simple equipment. One book titled, Projects For a Healthy Planet: Simple Environmental Experiments For Kids , by Levine and Grafton is an excellent source of idea.
- Use the arts by capturing creativity of all ages through drawings, posters, banners, poetry, song, prayers. Post these offerings around the church facility or find ways to include them in church publication.
- Audit the grounds. Send teams of adults and kids on a tour of church facilities. Provide them with a clipboard, pencil, or even a camera to identify where the 3 R’s (recycle, reuse, and reduce) are in place or where work is still needed.
- Enlist those with “green thumbs” to plant groundcover or other plants, herbs, and vegetables on the church property or at a nearby location
- Organize a seminar with small study groups using materials such as Faithful Stewards of God’s Creation from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (Call 800-235-8722). It is a comprehensive parish resource that includes the 2001 pastoral statement on environmental justice, Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue and Prudence and the Common Good, and additional information Catholics can use to better understand the important connections between our faith and the environment, and the urgency of addressing the moral and human dimensions of climate change. The book includes a CD for electronic viewing, printing and distribution at parish gatherings.
Another resource is Renewing the Face of the Earth, also from the USCCB, which contains Renewing the Earth, the bishops 1991 pastoral statement on the environment in light of Catholic social teaching; and also suggestions for initiating parish programs; liturgical, homily, and prayer helps, and background between the environment and social justice.
In addition to these creative efforts pastors are encouraged to install some practical down-to-earth ideas that will make parishioners more conscious of environmental commitments. For example:
1. Use mugs instead of paper for Sunday morning coffee.
2. Consider starting a recycling program for paper, metals, and plastics. Place recycling bins in gathering spaces and offices with labels to encourage people to use them.
3. Print or copy as much as possible using the two-sided option.
4. Keep thermostats under lock and key so they are maintained by a select number of people. This prevents everyone from playing with the dials and making frequent changes.
5. Be sure to keep vents and air returns clear of obstructions so air circulation is optimized.
6. Install proper window coverings as they can make a significant difference in heating and cooling expenses. You can also save energy by not running your systems more than necessary.
Environmental sensitivity is more than a scientific or an economic issue although it is certainly both of those. Beyond such concerns lies the fact that caring for our Father’s world is an issue of faith. The pastor can be the instrument through whom people of the congregation can express this faith in the form of concrete actions. TP
Dr. Dickson has been a parish pastor for 48 years and also teaches chemistry at a community college.