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Praying for the Earth
On nature
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Once I saw a small wooden building alongside a highway through the Ocala National Forest in central Florida, and a sign on the roadside chapel, which had no parsonage or parking lot, said, Forest Community Church. I thought: This is the church for me.
Revelation comes in two volumes, said Thomas Aquinas, the Bible and nature.
It has been my great fortune to tread in the wilderness, simply looking at rocks and trees and waters, and find a thing that I did not come looking for. How many times I have encountered a knowledge that I was in the presence of something holy, divine and transcendent, in which I could find faith, and in which revelations would be given to me.
Lo and behold, God was in the old-growth longleaf and in the cypress swamp and on the mountaintop and in the coral reefs and in black rivers. In those places, I could not help but worship, without prayer, without tithing, without fasting, without tarrying.
A couple of decades ago, people began to wonder what would happen if churches began to pay attention to the environment. Merri Bass, a Presbyterian from Savannah, asked me, "What would happen if all the churches in America quit using Styrofoam?"
We have been given Creation as a gift and we have a responsibility to it, Bass said. We are called by God to be stewards of it.
Humans could not possibly do to the earth what we're doing if we believed the earth was sacred.
In fact, many believe the environmental crisis is a symptom of a deeper spiritual crisis.
We ask of water: Is it okay to drink? Is it okay to swim in? But what if we also began to ask: Is it okay to baptize in?
Christians have long been known for addressing humanitarian and social issues. However, in the 1980s, the Presbyterian Church added to its statement of faith two lines encouraging members to take care of the earth. Other faiths began to come on board.
The evangelical declaration "On the Care of Creation" says, "Forgetting that the earth is the Lord's, we have often simply used creation." The document implores evangelicals toward a careful consideration of how our actions respect and comply with God's ordinances for creation.
We need a Sabbath for the earth. We need churches to move from theory into action in healing our destructive relationship with Creation.
Earth Ministry has published a Greening Congregations Handbook, full of ideas for how churches can become Earth keepers. Here are a few tips:
• Become a green sanctuary. Do an energy audit and lessen your ecological footprint. Install LED light bulbs. Sign up for green power.
• Start faith-based environmental education.
• Serve organic bread and wine at communion.
• Print bulletins on post-consumer recycled paper.
• Serve fair-trade coffee at church socials.
• Use washable dinnerware and coffee mugs for church events.
• Promote carpooling to church services.
• Encourage personal lifestyle changes among members.
• And pray for the earth.
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