I rolled up my sleeves, put on plastic gloves and began removing food and trash from the container with a large recycling symbol on the front after the Wednesday evening meal and Bible study.
The next week I re-emphasized that the recycling bin was only for plastic plates and cups.
My sleeves had to be rolled up again that evening, but after a few weeks it was filled mostly with recyclable items after the midweek dinners.
This was five years ago in Georgia.
A few years later, I threw away my plastic foam plate and estimated how many would be thrown in the trash after each potluck meal during the eight-week Bible study in a congregation in rural North Carolina.
I voiced my concern to the deacon chair after the study had concluded, suggesting that during future studies we use the washable dinnerware and clean them in the industrial dishwasher that had been purchased several years before but rarely used.
“No one is going to want to stay and wash all those dishes,” he replied, “and it has to be cheaper to use disposable plates anyway.”
I resisted the urge to explain the negative environmental impact that would impinge upon his estimation of what is “cheaper.”
Instead, throughout the next week, I acquired data about the dishwasher’s water usage per cycle, the price per gallon of water charged by the city and the cost per plastic foam plate.
I was able to determine that my suggestion would save the church money and allow us to be more eco-friendly.
Yet, the initial response indicated this wasn’t a battle to fight at that time. I set the proposal aside and, to my regret, never raised the issue again.
Both congregations were filled with good people seeking to live faithfully in the way of Jesus, and they gathered weekly to learn how to love their neighbors as themselves.
Yet, environmental stewardship in their dining practices had escaped their notice as a way to embody this calling.
Since these experiences, I have become aware of a growing number of Baptist leaders who lead their congregations and organizations to be good stewards of God’s creation; many have shared their reflections on the biblical call to environmental stewardship.
The biblical witness to care for creation is clear and unequivocal, as Robert Parham, executive editor of EthicsDaily.com, has consistently asserted.
“The Bible is God’s green book,” Parham said at the 2008 launch of TheGreenBible.org. “The green Bible gives us the responsibility to guard the garden. The green Bible calls us to love our neighbors. And my friends the only way we can love our neighbors across time is to leave them a decent place to live.”
Nevertheless, convincing a congregation to implement any change can be challenging while persuading it to become more “eco-friendly” is, in my experience, one of the most difficult “sales” of all.
My prior struggles to implement rudimentary creation care initiatives caused me to be pleasantly surprised when I learned that First Baptist of Austin, Texas, where my wife and I are now members, had been recognized for its environmental initiatives.
As EthicsDaily.com reported, the city of Austin’s Green Business Leaders Program recently awarded First Baptist its highest environmental certification level. Only two churches have received this recognition.
Not every city has an environmental certification program, and some of First Austin’s initiatives are unique to their context.
However, congregations across the U.S. could implement many of their efforts. These include:
â— Placing recycling bins throughout the church building, including bins for worship bulletins at the sanctuary doors.
â— Teaching and preaching about the biblical basis for creation care, especially around Earth Day in April.
â— Posting signs on doors asking the last person to turn off the lights upon exiting.
â— Using washable dinnerware at Wednesday night gatherings.
â— Organizing a “green homes” tour featuring members’ homes and offices that have eco-friendly upgrades, which allows for both education and fellowship.
â— Partnering with other faith communities to share ideas, strategies and initiatives.
The efforts of First Austin and other congregations of which I am aware, as well as the response I received in 2013 from pastors whom I asked to share ideas for preaching about creation care on Earth Day weekend, is encouraging.
It indicates that a growing number of Baptist congregations are being taught about the biblical call to be good stewards of God’s creation and are being led to act on this awareness.
This gives me hope that more Baptists will “love their neighbors across time” by engaging in responsible stewardship in their individual and collective lives.
Becoming conscious of the environmental impact of meal practices at Wednesday night gatherings is an important place to begin.
Editor’s note: In April 2013, a series of articles focused on the biblical call to care for creation appeared in advance of Earth Day. These are available here, along with links to creation care articles that have appeared on EthicsDaily.com previously.