As we approach September, I’m excited that we are also celebrating the Earth and natural world as one of the churches who are observing the newly developed lectionary cycle called “The Season of Creation.” This is our third year to observe the season, and the overarching theme of “Wisdom in Creation” includes five themed Sundays: Ocean, Flora, Storm, Cosmos, and Animals. Each week, you are invited to dress in colors reflecting that Sunday’s theme along with the choir and me. At the end of the month (Sept. 29), one of my mentors from Hendrix College, Jay McDaniel, is going to be our guest preacher and lecturer speaking on the “Spiritual Kinship with Animals.” The Saturday night (Sept. 28, 6:30) previous to that special Sunday we’ll have our annual “Blessing of the Animals” in the courtyard.
I was pleased to hear the report of the youth last night at the stock-holder’s dinner they put on for those who “bought stock in the mission trip.” It was a trip that fit quite nicely into the ethic we’ve been cultivating by celebrating this month long “Season of Creation.” Reseeding a mountainside and building erosion barriers IS mission work, just like working to alleviate poverty and sickness is mission work. Both “types” are carrying out Christ’s charge to care for God’s precious creation, especially those we might identify as the “least of these.” The only difference is in the scope of the mission, not the purpose. I was amazed and pleased that the youth group came up with this particular mission this year—it reminded me of the youth mission trips that I planned when I was the youth minister in Bartlesville 12 years ago. Even in that fairly short span of time, the Christian Church has really “woken up” to its responsibility for Creation Care. I remember having to explain or even defend the idea that working to improve the environment was an aspect of our discipleship to church people and to environmentalists. On the trip that I led to Boulder and Nederland and Denver, Colorado in 2001, several of our facilitators were shocked that we were there because of something we had learned in church. They thought that church-people didn’t care about the earth at all because it wasn’t our “permanent home.” The next year I led another youth trip to Washington, DC to meet with our General Board of Church and Society on several social issues stemming from environmental degradation, including an inside look at the effects of “environmental racism,” (a societal disregard for minorities manifested in a willingness to dump toxic materials in and under predominantly minority neighborhoods such as Anacostia, Maryland, which we toured and helped clean). In the years that followed, I was given one opportunity after another to explore the church’s responsibility and potential to advocate for ecological stewardship. I received a grant from the Fund for Theological Education to visit churches all over the country who were enacting some kind of environmental stewardship as a faith community, was accepted as a fellow of the National Council of Churches Young Adult Ecological Justice program, and represented the NCC at the National Religious Partnership for the Environment’s meeting which included the unveiling of a treatise by the Evangelical Environmental Network, another member institution. This document, “An Evangelical Declaration for the Care of Creation,” signaled a real change in the ethos within the evangelical movement and made big waves in the news and in the church. While some evangelical leaders, such as Gary Bauer and James Dobson, openly refuted the document and sought to oust its author, Richard Cizik, from the leadership of the National Evangelical Association, I believe those naysayers are on the losing side of history. Polls have shown that a growing number of evangelicals consider “Creation Care” to be a primary concern of the church. If two mission trips bridging a 12 year span give any indication, my youth group in 2001 was the first church group that the Nederland Science Center Animal Refuge had ever facilitated volunteer work. The youth group of UUMC this summer worked alongside another church group from Minnesota doing work with the Coalition for the Upper South Platte, and our youth minister reported that the leaders facilitate church groups quite frequently. It is a good thing the church is moving toward being an agent of change, rather than an obstruction to an ethic of care for the ecosystem.