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Take a First Step in your Church for Earthcare

By Rev. Dr. Robert Shore-Goss (i)

Bob-Shore-Goss_ThumbSince 1989 the Eastern Orthodox Patriarch Dimitri has designated September 1st a day of prayer for creation.  The Orthodox liturgical new year starts with remembrance of creation that day. Dimitri’s successor, Patriarch Bartholomew (aka: “The Green Patriarch”), has solicited ecumenical leaders, theologians, and eco-activists to adopt the day for prayer for Earthcare. (ii)   Among them is Rev. Norman Habel, Australian biblical scholar and founder of the Earth Bible Project.

(Please read the notes for where you can find specific resources)

Rev. Habel and other biblical scholars edited the Earth Bible Project with the goal of presenting the scriptures from an eco-justice perspective. They articulated six Eco-Justice Principles:

1. The Principle of Intrinsic Worth: The universe, Earth, and all its components have intrinsic worth/value
2. The Principle of Interconnectedness: Earth is a community of inter-connected living things that are mutually dependent on each other for life and survival.
3. The Principle of Voice: Earth is a living entity capable of raising its voice in celebration and against injustice.
4. The Principle of Purpose: The universe, Earth and all its components are a part of a dynamic cosmic design within which each piece has a place in the overall of that design.
5. The Principle of Mutual Custodianship: Earth is a balanced and diverse domain where responsible custodians can function as partners with, rather than rulers over, Earth to sustain its balance and a diverse Earth community.
6. The Principle of Resistance: Earth and its components not only suffer from human injustices but actively resist them in the struggle for justice. (iii)

Eco-liberation theologians use these as guiding principles for reading scripture texts, decentering the anthropocentrism of any given text for unseen or unheard voice of the Earth. In addition, I use the principle of God’s preferential option for the poor and vulnerable that Latin American liberation theologians have incorporated into theologies since 1968. I was introduced to the “preferential option for the poor” in 1968 in Jesuit novitiate by then Jesuit Pedro Arupe.  It states that we find a preferential option of God for the poor in the scriptures.  This has filtered in and through Latin/South American liberation theologies in the last fifty years. It has impacted my preaching for social justice since then.

The Brazilian theologian, Leonardo Boff, expanded the preferential option for the poor to include the preferential option for the vulnerable Earth. (iv)   Boff’s perspective was included in the Earth Bible Project as well as in Pope Francis’ climate change encyclical; Laudato Si. I find preaching from the perspective of the Earth changes our views of the text and opens new perspectives on justice and Earthcare. One enters imaginatively and spiritually into the context of the scriptural text, opening new visions and perspectives often ignored or invisible in church readings.

All the above authors would agree that when we harm the Earth and life, we also harm the poor disproportionately, though ultimately all life will be impacted.

The Season of Creation starts on September 1st and ends appropriately on October 4th, the celebration of Francis of Assisi, acclaimed an ecological saint among many Christian denominations as well as non-Christian traditions. In 2007, the Third European Ecumenical Assembly adopted the period to celebrate Creation. The following year the world Council of Churches called for the observation for the Season of Creation.  It is now celebrated by a number of Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox churches as addition to ordinary time of the lectionary schedule. And each year new churches add the Season of Creation to spice up ordinary time after Pentecost until Advent. It brings a freshness  to the lectionary cycle of readings and our churches.

We at MCC United Church of Christ (North Hollywood) have observed the Season of Creation for the last few years. It reinforces our commitment to Earthcare.  The Season can be a time to introduce your church to environmental issues through sermons, prayers, educational programs, and children programs.

Now worship teams may roll the eyes. This is, however, an important issue facing us with severe weather events resulting from climate change. This year in the Season of Creation focuses on the Cycle of Wisdom: Ocean Sunday, Fauna and Flora Sunday, Storm Sunday, and Cosmos Sunday. The first Sunday of October includes the blessings of the animals. This seems to be a fitting conclusion of the season, and I bless the companion animals and their household.  Tapping my Catholic heritage, I give each companion animal a little medal with the image of Francis of Assisi. Each household has been pleased to receive the Francis of Assisi medal.(v)

There are resources online to cover each Sunday.(vi)  2016 is the Wisdom Lectionary readings:

Ocean Sunday
Job 38:1-18
Psalm 104:1-9, 24-26
Ephesians 1:3-10
Luke 5:1-11

Fauna Sunday
Job 39:1-8, 26-30
Psalm 104:14-23
1 Corinthians 1:10-23
Luke 12:22-31

Storm Sunday
Job 28:20-27
Psalm 29
1 Corinthians 1:21-31
Luke 8:22-25

Cosmos Sunday
Proverbs 8:22-31
Psalm 148
Colossians 1:15-20
John 6:41-51

There are suggestions for sermon themes, songs, prayers, electronic resources, and ministry events. There is also a section on guidance and suggestions for children’s reflections.(vii)

Season of Creation Blue

The Season of Creation offers a logo. “The orb of the logo is planet Earth filled with the waves of God’s Spirit. The veins of the leaf suggest the web of creation. The leaf forms a tree of life that is also the cross of Christ. Leaves from the tree of life are for healing (Revelation 22:2).” (viii) It is useful to take the time the first Sunday of Creation to speak about the theological significance of the logo.

Having given you the worship resources for the Season Creation, I want to add some reasons why UCC should participate.  The UCC describes itself “uniting and united.” We have the opportunity to join churches in other denominations to honor and celebrate God’s creation.  It expresses our core mission to unite and be united with other churches while at the same time we bear witness to Christian care for the Earth.

It is a time to incorporate ecojustice into worship.

Possible educational and discussion videos:

There are DVDs to screen and discuss in your congregation.. These can be purchased or rented from Amazon:

Renewal: Stories from America’s Religious Environmental Movement.  There are six short stories (10-12 minutes) of religious activists (Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, Protestant, and Catholic) committed to care and fight for the environment. These are great and empowering stories for congregations.

Racing to Extinction: This DVD examines human involvement of the mass extinction of marine life in the oceans. This may be broken up into two subsequent Sundays.

Chasing Ice:  National Geographic Photographer  James Balrog presents a visual   account over five years, covering changing glacier’s.

Journey of the Universe: An Epic Story of Cosmic, Earth, and Human Transformation:  This DVD was inspired by theologian Thomas Berry to bring the new story of creation/cosmology to faith communities. It helps us place our human story in a wider story of the universe.

Invite a Speaker from a local Green Organization; Here are some suggestions. :

Interfaith Power & Light www.interfaithpowerandlight.org/
Environmental Defense Fund www.edf.org
Earth First  www.earthfirst.org
Sierra Club www.sierraclub.org
Audubon Society  www.audobon.org
Citizens for Planet Earth http://www.tryscience.org/csp/csp.html

The Season of Creation turns our liturgical attention in preaching and ritual to God’s relationship with all creation and with our relationship with creation. (ix)   It is an opportunity for UCC churches to start their journey to become a UCC Environmental Justice Church. Or if your community is already on that journey, it allows you to build ecumenical relations with other faith communities expressing their relationship with God’s creation.

For our experience in the Valley church, it is a wonderful season to appreciate and deepen our connection with God in creation. We need to create hearts converted to a creation centered spirituality that will become the fuel and passion for creating sustainable communities and embark upon a commitment to environmental justice.   .

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(i) Rev. Dr. Robert Shore-Goss is Co-Pastor of MC United Church of Christ (North Hollywood, CA). It was designated as a UCC Creation Justice Church. http://www.ucc.org/the_ucc_s_first_creation_justice_church Rev. Shore-Goss is a theologian and author of the forthcoming book: God is Green: An Eco-Spirituality of Incarnate Compassion. His website is: www.mischievousspiritandtheology.com/  It lists his books, some of sermons, and messages.
(ii)It includes Sally Bingham, founder of Interfaith Power & Light, the late theologian  Thomas Berry, the Dalai Lama. See the full list. http://grist.org/article/religious/

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(iii)Earth Bible: Ecojustice Principles:  http://www.webofcreation.org/Earthbible/ebprinciples.html
(iv)Leonardo Boff, The Cry of the Earth, The Cry of the Poor, Orbis Books, 1997.
(v)I have performed the blessing of companion animals in Pet Stores for a mixed interfaith and secular population. Francis of Assisi is recognized a patron of animals and the environmental movement. You can purchase St. Francis of Assisi medals in large quantities for forty cents per medal.
(vi)Season of Creation, http://seasonofcreation.com/
(vii)http://seasonofcreation.com/childrens-addresses/
(viii)http://seasonofcreation.com/about/the-season-of-creation-logo/
(ix)A helpful resource is Norman Habel, David Rhoads, & Paul Santmire (eds), The Season of Creation: A Preaching Commentary, Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 2011. .

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