Sightings from the Treehouse: Lessons from the Anthropocene

After researching and writing 20+ blogs over two years on climate change and the faith community, several themes and actions have organically emerged. They will be summarized below to pull together the threads identified through the Sightings blog series.  These suggestions hopefully will help the faith community understand the current state of creation and steps they can take to prepare and adapt to changing ecological conditions occurring across the planet now and in the coming decades.  This period is commonly referred to as the Anthropocene epoch, the age of the humans.  
A useful resource about this whole topic is Pope Francis’ Laudato Si, On Care for Our Common Home, published in 2015.  It identifies not only the on-going demise of our planet from pollution and corporate greed but also lays out the moral imperative to the faith community to act to protect Creation.   The complementary Laudato Si Action Plan provides a roadmap for congregations to implement measures that reduce natural resource use, cut waste, and help their congregations embrace Creation care.

Step 1 – Greening Congregational Facilities

Atlanta’s Al-Farooq Masjid 

Congregations generally take their first steps into creation care by obtaining an energy audit of their congregational facilities.  Once they have a roadmap to make their facilities more energy efficient they can quickly see the financial benefits.  Ideally, shortly after receiving an energy audit, the congregation’s lay leadership establish a green team (described later) to better coordinate the direction and implementation of other measures to “green” their congregations.
GIPL provides services to assist congregations in their creation care journey.  Since 2010, GIPL has completed 220 low-cost Power Wise energy audits for the faith community across the state.  GIPL has also awarded almost $1,000,000 in energy efficiency grants to congregations receiving energy audits.  The grants help them finance and implement energy conservation measures identified during the audit.
Once the energy audit has been completed it is natural to attack other low hanging fruit such as water conservation and waste reduction.  GIPL can assist in both of these additional audits to reduce both water use and waste generation and spur recycling.  The addition of solar panels can further reduce electric bills, lessen the congregation’s environmental footprint, and serve as a source of inspiration and pride.

Step 2 – Becoming a Creation Wise Congregation

Greening congregational facilities such as the sanctuary, administration and education buildings, and other frequented areas will result in direct financial savings.  These savings can be used to increase the interest in conservation by the congregation.  They can also be queried about how to use the savings to expand the congregation’s mission, hopefully towards sustainable programs, such as food gardens and pantries for feeding the those in need.
More importantly, as congregational members become attuned to successful conservation programs within the church, interest will deepen and will aid the development of green teams to identify and sustain natural resource conservation programs within their faith community.  GIPL works closely with the faith community in developing and supporting green teams.  They have a registry for congregations to sign up to access GIPL’s resources and showcase their program to others.  Additionally, the second annual Green Team Summit will be held January 27, 2019.

A major driver for increasing awareness of Creation care is through lay and clergy leadership support.  To assist them become attuned to the moral imperative involved in sustaining creation, GIPL offers the Creation Wise Series.  Leading theological experts on Creation care inspire congregations to expand their understanding of both the physical and moral aspects of Creation care, particularly related to climate change.
To help congregations promote education for understanding the environmental and cultural problems we currently face, GIPL offers the Four Directions Fund and the Sacred Activism workshop.  The interactive workshop is designed to transform fear and despair into inspiration and a sense of empowerment.
The green team, with participation by clergy leadership, should also seek new prayers, music and sermons that integrate environmental stewardship into worship services.  Again, GIPL offers prayer and liturgy support.
In my Sightings blog, The Eleventh Commandment – Thou Shall Not Destroy Creation, I provided a “To Do List for Clergy” related to Creation care.  It is provided again, below:

A To-Do List for Clergy

  • Become informed about the science of climate change.
  • Challenge anti-science propaganda.
  • Read and internalize your faith’s current climate change and Creation care declarations.
  • Review your holy books for moral guideposts about Creation care.
  • Obtain or prepare new, relevant liturgy, stories and music about the Creation story and its care.
  • Establish a green team to reduce the facility’s carbon footprint and build creation care programs.
  • Encourage congregation members to apply the stewardship lessons learned.
  • Participate with your Interfaith Power and Light state affiliate and other Creation care organizations.
  • Promote information sharing among clergy and their congregations.
  • Be a public advocate for creation care.
  • Preach the “11th Commandment” – Thou Shall Not Destroy Creation.

Step 3 – Disaster Preparedness Planning

The faith community has been active in all the natural and man-made disasters occurring in recent times.  In Houston, TX, 40 inches of rain fell over a 24-hour period from Hurricane Harvey, a thousand-year climate event.  Many houses of worship were flooded while some not flooded took in affected residents.  The faith community can react to disasters even before FEMA since they are already in place, and provide comfort to many during and after the floods, in addition to assisting homeowners recover from their damages.  They played a similar role in California during the 2017 wildfires.  The National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (National VOAD) represents more than 50 denominational relief agencies and secular charities that make up a faith-based FEMA and are actively engaged in these areas.

It is clear the faith community has a large role to play helping their congregations and communities understand, prepare, and cope with the increasingly dire consequences of climate change.  Their relief roles during natural disasters are critically important, but they must also prepare their congregations through objective education to have courage and resilience about the increasing adversity.  They should additionally develop disaster preparedness plans to address natural and man-made disasters they may face, such as tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, mudslides, not to mention the Gulf Oil Spill.    Review of historic flooding, extreme storm potential, and the likelihood of wildfires are a few items that should be understood before purchasing a property or building or rebuilding on it.  Several sources for developing disaster preparedness plans are GA VOAP, Christianity Today and local church disaster preparedness plans.

Floodwaters fill the road running through the Lakes On Eldridge North subdivision in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Harvey on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2017, in Houston. (Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via AP)

Again, this is what the faith community needs to prepare for in the coming years – the reality of our future and the suffering that will ensue.  They will be critically needed to help their congregations adapt to a rapidly changing and frightening world.  As we have seen in current day natural disasters, the faith community is indispensable for spiritual, emotional, educational, and even financial support of its members. It is critical that the next generation of clergy lead their congregations with new blood and ideas appropriate for a world in ecological and cultural crisis. As history has shown many will seek the solace of their faith and community of their congregations as conditions worsen.  The importance of advocacy and action to counter this negativity cannot be overstated.
In Summary,

  • Build resilience to changing conditions by greening congregational facilities,
  • Integrate Creation care into educational programs and activities and build the moral foundation for reflection and action through sermons and advocacy,
  • Prepare the community of faith for future climate and other disasters,
  • Serve as a spiritual resource for the congregation and community before, during, and after disasters.

Sightings from the Treehouse is a blog series written by GIPL’s former Director of the Power Wise Program, Bob Donaghue.