Planting Tiny Seeds of Green

I continue to take baby steps in the direction of my dreams of a Green Church. In January, David Waters, the faith writer in the local paper, contacted me for an interview for an article he was writing on Green Faith. This opportunity gave me the chance to publicly associate my church with the green movement in a small, nonthreatening way. I invited my supervisor to sit in on the interview too. I wanted to make sure Lindenwood as a whole appeared in line with Green Faith, not just their wild haired associate (me!).

On January 8th, David Waters published his editorial about green church in Memphis! On my first day at Lindenwood, we used Styrofoam cups and refused to recycle our 1,000 bulletins each week. Four months later, we are featured in the newspaper as one of the local churches striving for sustainability. These are the tiny seeds of green I continue to plant on my ministerial journey. Here is the article. Enjoy!

Faith in Memphis: Churches move to live lighter on the earth

By: David Waters, Commercial Appeal

Is there a more common symbol of fellowship on God’s green earth than the simple, disposable, environmentally sinful polystyrene foam cup?

Creation is littered with these byproducts of countless congregational coffee hours, committee meetings and covenant groups, not to mention the occasional communion ceremony.

Most of these common cups will be as old as Methuselah by the time they biodegrade.

Waste not, want not, the Bible says. Or was it Benjamin Franklin? In any case, trashing God’s creation is not an expression of faith.

That’s why folks at First Unitarian Church of the River, Lindenwood Christian Church and St. John’s United Methodist Church — to mention a few — are now clutching newfangled compostable paper cups or old-fashioned, reusable ceramic cups.

“International Paper makes the compostable cups, so we’re supporting the environment and the local economy,” said Bill Landers, a business consultant and one of the leaders of Church of the River’s effort to become an accredited Green Sanctuary in the Unitarian Universalist denomination.

If any sanctuary in Memphis should be green, it’s the Church of the River and its environmentally sublime setting on the fourth Chickasaw Bluff just south of Downtown. It’s getting greener every Sunday.

In addition to raising coffee-cup consciousness (and using only fair-trade coffee), the church replaced three of its four boilers with more energy-efficient units, replaced all of its incandescent light bulbs with LED lighting, and installed programmable thermostats.

The congregation hosts the Sierra Club’s annual Environmental Justice Conference. Nearly all weekly newsletters are e-mailed, not printed. The first Sunday of each month is Green Sunday, which includes lessons and workshops on composting, recycling and other acts of faith.

“The way to greening our habitat will not necessarily come from more technology or reverting to a romanticized past,” Rev. Burton Carley said in a sermon that launched the Green Sanctuary program.

“The root of the matter is spiritual . . . Seeing ourselves separate from nature and believing that nature is here only to serve us is at the root of the spiritual problem.”

That’s not an easy lesson for many congregations, especially in a highly charged political context that equates environmental concerns about global warming and carbon emissions with government controls and economic interference.

So instead of using politicized terms like “environmental justice” or “eco-justice,” some clergy have turned to kinder, more personal and faith-friendly terms to engage congregations in conservation efforts.

“Words like ‘stewardship’ and ‘creation care’ resonate more with people of faith,” said Dr. Ron Buck, Lindenwood’s senior minister. “We are starting with small steps.”

Lindenwood is taking steps to reduce, reuse, recycle — and reconnect with creation.

A common chalice has replaced plastic communion cups at two Sunday services. Church officials are using smart-phone apps to control heating and cooling. New bike racks, as well as the church’s proximity to the Green Line, encourage members to cycle to church.

Lindenwood was one of the faith-based sponsors of last fall’s Gather at the River conference. On March 6, it will host Rev. Fletcher Harper, executive director of the interfaith advocacy group . Among the church’s small groups is one devoted to Care for Creation.

“We’re taking a gentle approach,” said Rev. Sarah Taylor-Peck, Lindenwood’s associate minister. “We’re trying to get people to realize that 400 people changing their light bulbs or not using plastic cups will have a more positive impact on the environment than four people moving off the grid.”

Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.

Repent.

The end of polystyrene foam cups is near.

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Care for Creation Tip #3

January marked my final Care for Creation tip because I found a congregant to take leadership on this project! Empowering the people of Lindenwood Christian Church is always my goal. When D volunteered to take the lead on this venture, I celebrated her ambition and initiative. So, gladly I will share my final tip for our monthly newspaper at the church.

Care for Creation: January Tips

FOCUS ON PAPER

 

“The Lord God took the human and put the human in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” -Genesis 2:15

This month, let us all make a new year’s resolution to reduce the paper we use in our homes. Let’s start with catalogs. Every year, 19 billion catalogs are mailed to our homes in the U.S. Ouch! How did we get on all these mailing lists? This month, visit CatalogChoice.org and stop unwanted catalogs from coming to your door.  

In January, consider switching your household paper products, too. Purchase recycled toilet paper instead of virgin fiber toilet paper. This simple change could change the world. If every family in the United States replaced 1 four-pack of traditional toilet paper with recycled toilet paper, we would save one million trees, preserve 356 million gallons of fresh water, and eliminate 60,600 lbs of chlorine pollution. Let us all choose to take care of this beautiful Eden by reducing our need for over-processed virgin paper fiber.*

Finally, we challenge everyone to eliminate paper towels (or, reduce the number of paper towels at home). Consider buying re-usable microfiber towels. Or, purchase paper towels made of recycled materials. If every U.S. household switched one roll traditional paper towels to 100% recycled paper towels, we would save 544,000 trees.  

Recycled paper products are available at: Whole Foods. BONUS: Petition to get these products at your local store. Currently Schnuck’s and Piggly Wiggly do not carry these products.  

If you cancel your catalogs or buy recycled products, we want to know! Email Reverend Sarah Taylor Peck at Sarah.Taylor-Peck(@lindenwood.net).

*Note: Statistics in this article came from NRDC Simple Steps

Care for Creation: Tip #2

In December, I had the chance to publish a ‘Care for Creation’ tip in the Lindenwood newspaper again. I tried to remain subtle, gentle, and reasonable in this tip because I firmly believe that progress on our environmental awareness and action at church will take time and careful consideration by all our members. This was my December Tip:

Care For Creation Tip- DECEMBER

By: Reverend Sarah Taylor-Peck

Your faithfulness endures to all generations; You have established the earth, and it stands fast… Psalm 119:90

This is a season of magic, new life, silent nights and decking the halls. We are grateful and generous when Christmas comes. At our house, we are beginning to put small gifts under our twinkling Christmas tree. This month, consider wrapping Christmas presents in your old newspapers. This reduces the amount of waste we produce during the bustling holiday season.
Bonus: if you subscribe to the newspaper and you do not have a use for the plastic bags that come with it- consider dropping off your newspaper bags at Lindenwood! We can use these bags in childcare! Help us reduce the number of new plastic bags we purchase every month.
Interested in care for creation? Our First small group meeting is December 14th at 5:45 in my office! Refreshments and brainstorming. Join us! Let me know via email if you will come: sarah.taylor-peck@lindenwood.net

Care for Creation Tip #1

After browsing the suggestions for ‘greening’ our church on GreenFaith’s website, I asked if I could start a ‘Care for Creation’ section of our newspaper. November is the first month that my ‘Care for Creation’ tip ran in the newspaper! I decided to write a tame, gentle tip for environmental justice because Lindenwood has yet to prioritize eco-theology and environmental action. We use styrofoam cups. We do not recycle anything (not even the 1000 orders of worship!).
This was my gentle tip for November:


Happy are those… who hope in the Creator, who mad heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them- Psalm 146

When I see the beautiful bright green leaves on the sturdy oak trees in my yard, contrasting with the rich brown soil and golden sun, I see heaven. I see the gentle care given by our Creator as trees and soil and sun were made. I see the tenderness of the sweet Spirit as look closely at the tiny veins that run through each leaf. Always remember God’s grace and care and generosity. This month’s Care for Creation Tip is simply to appreciate God through plants. Add a potted plant to your desk. Purify the air in your office with this steady oxygen-producer. Pause every day to relish in the grace of the Creator. Email me once you buy your office plant, I’d love to hear about it! Email: Sarah.Taylor-Peck@lindenwood.netI had no idea if my green tip would inspire anyone or change anything at Lindenwood, until, I received the following email today:

I work at keeping Lynda’s plants healthy. About a year ago, a geranium began growing in a Christmas cactus. We left it there. It seeks the sun and blooms year round. We were given another geranium last spring. I kept it outside and it barely survived. I have brought it in and it is recovering nicely. Some of the Christmas Cacti are pink and some are white. The pink is in bloom a little early.

I don’t know all the names yet, but we have 4 plants on an old Singer sewing machine base. Water and a little pruning have kept them healthy.


Bob

Success! I reached at least one. Bob attached 3 pictures of his house plants to his email. This small victory is just one more reminder of the grace and generosity I experience in my position every day. Amen!

Gather at the River

Lindenwood Christian Church sent me to the Gather at the River Conference in Memphis this September. Three hundred people of faith met at the conference to think of new ways to bring ecotheology to our places of worship. I met amazing minds. I learned incredible facts and figures that tug at my heart. To follow up from this experience, I wrote an article for the Lindenwood newspaper. I continue to gently push the idea of a green church in my work here in Memphis. Andrew and I have so much work to do.
Here is my article:

Gather at the River
“Brothers, sisters let’s go down… down to the river to pray.”

Oliver is one of the great loves of my life.

He is like love incarnate in a tiny feline body. On nights when my mind races with no relief, his presence at the foot of my bed brings me peace and comfort. He teaches me what it looks like to love with my full heart and forgive without reservations.

Many of us have experienced God through nature.

We know eternity in our souls when we look across the curve of the ocean.

We know depth of all depth when we stare into the canyon of a mountain range.

We know ceaseless love when we connect with the pure soul of a pet.

Reverend Fletcher Harper, president of Green Faith, works with church communities to incorporate care for creation into church ministry. Harper’s work shows that nearly everyone has experienced God in nature, but few of us have ever shared these experiences with each other. In his work, he often speaks with people about their experiences. He notes that people come alive when they describe feeling God’s grace through encounters with creation. Fletcher Harper was one of the many dynamic speakers at the recent Gather at the River Conference in Memphis.

On Friday, September 24th, three hundred people of faith met at Bridges USA to launch the conference. On Friday evening, Sally Isom, Brenda Hale, Jane Grimes, Kate Korzekwa, and Dallas, Kathy and Andi Minner joined me to learn from this conference. We all came with questions, concerns, and hope for the Mississippi River.

Perhaps we learn a little bit more about our tender Creator when we connect with our beautiful earth. So, what is our role in protecting the fragile parts of God’s masterpiece?

In Memphis, many of us cherish the Mississippi. This beautiful river flows nearly 2,500 miles. We take pride in our piece of North America’s largest river system. We river lovers might connect with the Mississippi through the adventure Huck Finn created in Mark Twain’s novel. Or, perhaps we appreciate the historic significance of the Mississippi in American commerce. In Memphis, we know this river like an old friend. Throughout the conference we celebrated the richness of the Mississippi and worried over its fragility. Parts of our river are dying along with our planet’s shrinking natural resources.

At the conference, we learned about issues around agricultural runoff into the Mississippi, silt trapped in dams along the waters, and shrinking eco-diversity among fish and wildlife in the river. In a shocking keynote address, author John Berry said that an area of land the size of a football field falls into the ocean every 45 minutes outside New Orleans because of the lack of sediment passage down the Mississippi. Many speakers articulated the importance of taking on issues of environment protection in the Church.

The Mississippi River is not the only body of water in trouble. Plastic garbage in the ocean kills more than 100,000 marine mammals like porpoises and sea otters each year. In places like Mozambique, most citizens do not have direct access to clean drinking water.

Beyond our struggling water, we can see the effects of pollution on land, too. We live in a world where breathing the polluted air in Cairo is equal to smoking 20 cigarettes in one day. In Boston, Massachusetts, 450 people die each year prematurely, because of diesel pollution in the city limits. On our planet, 27,000 species become extinct every year due to habitat loss.

What is our role in caring for creation?

At the Gather at the River Conference, we learned that many churches participate in caring for the earth as ministry and mission. Some churches participate in energy audits of their sanctuaries to determine where they can cut energy bills while conserving resources. Some churches invest in recycling paper to reduce waste. We learned that some congregations hold worship services outside or take members on nature walks as a way to connect with nature.

After this conference, I found myself drawn to the banks of the Mississippi in prayer. I got down on my knees and thought of all the little forces of life swimming in front of me. I thought of the tender habitat formed by God that rushes along the banks of Memphis. I thought of our strong church and all of the creative minds that worship together on Sundays at Lindenwood. I imagined the powerful ministry we could bring to our habitat. What could we contribute to the preservation of God’s precious planet? How could we talk about the environment with one another, and, how could we act? I prayed alone on the banks of the Mississippi. I prayed for healing, preservation and hope. Next time, I hope we are on those banks together, collectively sending our prayers and our efforts to the care of creation. Maybe soon, we can all gather at the river and get to work.

If you are interested in a small group focusing on care for the earth or God’s creatures on the earth through study or mission work, send me an email. If you have ideas for Lindenwood’s future engagement with nature, pass your ideas along to me: Sarah.Taylor-Peck@lindenwood.net.

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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