Learning to be a Green Church

Andrew and I dream of opening a green church in Memphis Tennessee. We are motivated through our ordination process by this idea.

Just yesterday, Andrew and I planned and implemented a service at Hope Central Church in celebration of Earth Day. This service served as our first attempt at imagining what a green church might be like.

In many ways, we were over our heads. Andrew and I have little experience planning a service from start to finish. Moreover, we have little experience presiding over a service from start to finish. We learned so much.

We spent time imagining a few green elements we could introduce in the service to gently nudge Hope Central towards environmental practices.

First: we picked hymns from the hymnal. Small, simple change. Traditionally, Hope Central prints music every week instead of using the New Century Hymnal. Often congregants look forward to non-traditional music. However, in an effort to use less paper, we went with the hymnal. Personally, I enjoyed singing songs that churches across the country and the world use in daily services.

Second: Andrew and I ordered organic, recycled, plantable paper to print the order of worship. Furthermore, we only used a half sheet of paper per order of worship. The paper was expensive. The print was too small. However, the symbolism of less paper, less carbon-footprint, held up well. Through this small order of worship, we lost the ability to print announcements, we lost the ability to print the text of prayers or the music for the ‘Alleluias’. We would need to make systematic changes at Hope Central to continue with this small order of worship commitment. We could use a projector to post prayers, song lyrics, and Alleluia music. We could even project the announcements for the week. These changes will come in time. Our seeded organic paper that will grow flowers when planted, was a start!

Third: Andrew and I bought a small dry-erase board for the church. Every week, congregants sign a piece of paper to volunteer for scripture readings, psalm singing, welcome words, and thanksgiving prayer. Andrew and I decided that this sign up might be possible on a dry erase board that we can re-use every week. There were some growing edges for the church when we introduced this, but after a slight debate, we are confident that Hope Central will try the white board for a few more weeks.

These three, small green choices helped us in our own brainstorming about greening church. We still have so much work to do. However, starting with these baby steps gave us the confidence that we can build a green church in the future.

As for the service itself, Andrew and I decided on the hymns together, starting first with “To You Oh God, All Creatures Sing”, followed by “Touch the Earth Lightly” and ending with an energetic round of “He’s/She’s Got the Whole World in His/Her Hands.” Music director Jeanne Lucas had the brilliant suggestion that we sing a new verse at the end of the final song that says: “She’s put the whole world in our hands.” This suggestion tied our message into the song beautifully.

Andrew and I decided that I would preach and Andrew would cover the opening prayer, invocation, prayers of the people, communion, and general ‘reading’ of the service. We decided on this division of tasks based on our own personal strengths and comfort levels.

I struggled with my sermon for quite a while because I have very little experience or education in eco-justice. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the exercise of writing an eco-justice sermon. Andrew’s prayers continually supported and uplifted our shared message throughout the service. Additionally, Andrew wrote beautiful supplemental words to add to the words of constitution at communion. He reminded us to think of the loving earth that provides bread and fruit on the vine.

All in all, the service went off without a hitch. We were both nervous. We both learned a lot about church leadership. We came away from the experience ready to plan another service. In conclusion, here is our order of worship.

April 25th, 2010 4th Sunday of Easter
Hope Central Church Open Minds * Open Hands * Open Hearts

Welcome
Opening Hymn # 17 “To You, Oh God All Creatures Sing”
Opening Prayer
Children’s Message (Morning Only)
Confession, Assurance, Celebration
Prayer and Silence
Sung Confession “Alleluia”
Assurance of Forgiveness and God’s Presence

Passing of the Peace One: The Peace of Christ be with you all All: And also with you

Sung Celebration “Sanna Sannanina”
Call to Prayer Hope Church Singers
Prayers of the People
You are also encouraged to use the prayer circles during Holy Communion or write a prayer request on the back of the bulletin to offer your prayers our prayer ministry team and pastor

Proclaiming God’s Word (Sung Response: Alleluia)
Scripture Acts 9: 36-43
Psalm 23
Gospel John 10: 22-30
One: The Word of Truth All: Thanks be to God
Sermon

Middle Hymn # 596 “Touch The Earth Lightly”

Offering
Invitation to Joyful Stewardship Sung Response: “Amen” and Procession of Gifts
Prayer of Dedication

Holy Communion
Invitation to the Feast: This is an open table: everyone is welcome. You are invited forward to receive communion. If you need assistance, a server will bring you the communion elements.
Communion Prayer
Prayer of Thanksgiving
Prayer of our Savior: (Sins; sins against us) Our Creator who art in heaven…
Sharing the Bread and Cup

Closing Song “He’s/She’s Got the Whole World”
Benediction

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The First Few Steps

Eight weeks into my official ordination process, I can detect a difference in my daily outlook. The thought of my future in ministry stays with me as I encounter the world. I remember the wisdom of my preaching professor in divinity school who taught us that preaching ‘gems’ are everywhere, and it’s worth collecting these gems. Matt Myer Boulton encouraged each of us to clip and save the news articles, idiosyncratic stories and glimmers of God in the world for our preaching ‘tool box.’

For the past few weeks, pastoral gems also pop up in my daily routine. Throughout Holy Week I paid attention to the Maundy Thursday service and the Good Friday service and I tried to identify the elements of the service that I might like to ‘borrow’ someday in my future role as minister. For example, in one Maundy Thursday service I attended, every person at the service was invited to recite the words of institution over communion. This was a beautiful exercise.

Andrew and I also attended a Disciples minister training on April 10th. In the training, we participated in challenging conversations about the future of the Northeast region of Disciples of Christ. Currently, we are a diverse region of ministers and ministers in training, but we struggle to find common ground across our differences. At various points in our training, conversations heated up and participants wrestled tough questions. Andrew and I learned a lot in this training.

We had the chance to lead worship to close this day of reflection. Andrew and I opened the service with a round of ‘Lord Prepare me to be a Sanctuary’, and Andrew read a beautiful prayer he wrote for the occasion. Other seminarians offered theological reflection and the words of institution for communion. The concluding service was powerful after a challenging day of reflection and discussions of reconciliation.

The growth and formation continues….

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