The green movement in many churches is still at the grassroots level, but members of faith communities are applying fertilizer and seeing growth.
“It can start at the changing of the light bulb type of level,” said Liza Godwin, the leader of the Green Team at Lakewood United Methodist Church in North Little Rock, Ark., one of the pioneer churches in environmental stewardship in central Arkansas.
Godwin was among several church leaders who shared ideas and related success stories at an April 23 conference titled “A Faithful Response to Global Warming” at Second Baptist Church in Little Rock, Ark.
The conference was part of an effort by the National Wildlife Federation to connect with the faith community on biblically mandated issues, like being stewards of God’s creation and caring for the “least of these”—people who are often immediately and directly affected by climate change.
Godwin said her church has reduced its use of foam products, now uses energy-efficient light bulbs and has passionately encouraged recycling.
“It’s baby steps,” she conceded.
But young people have also been brought into the process, both practically and educationally.
Kids in Lakewood’s Bible study programs have taken large cardboard boxes and have decorated them with cutout pictures of animals, plants or landscape scenes, many with biblical references to caring for creation. The containers are placed in every Sunday School room and in prominent places about the church to make it easier for members to recycle a variety of items.
“Why go out and buy plastic bins when you can do things more creatively and get the young people involved?” said Dennis Schick, another leader on Lakewood’s Green Team.
In every bag of informational materials about the church that Lakewood gives to first-time visitors, they also include an energy-efficient light bulb.
“Not only is it a practical gift,” Schick said, “but it gives our visitors the immediate message that we are a green church.”
Lakewood also commissions its Green Team in a service just as it does for its mission teams.
To raise money for mission projects, the young people have sponsored recycling projects for small electronics. One was held on Palm Sunday with the theme, “Recycle Your Palm Pilots on Palm Sunday.”
Church leaders also have distributed “Care of the Planet” covenants, which list a variety of environmentally friendly projects to which families can choose to commit for the next year. Those covenant cards are presented at the altar during a service in the manner that many churches collect financial pledges.
“There are things even the youngest children can commit to helping around the house,” Godwin said. “It’s a way to bring the whole family into the process.” Church members are also encouraged to use ceramic coffee cups instead of foam ones in their Bible study groups. The youth have committed to using ceramic plates and metal utensils at their gatherings, and a group commits to washing them afterward.
Ann Olen, the leader of a Green Team at First Presbyterian Church, said her congregation now has an 18-person environmental stewardship group that has tried to integrate those principles into the work of her church. That includes encouraging an energy audit of the church’s facilities, changing the food and materials used at picnics, displaying hybrid vehicles at church functions and helping campers construct a compost pile at a nearby summer youth camp.
“We also help sponsor an environmentally themed service that deals with all aspects of the environment,” she said.
Several churches have devised ways for their youth to sell “green shopping bags” as a fundraiser for mission projects or have distributed them free as a marketing tool.
Carolyn Staley, minister of education at Pulaski Heights Baptist Church, said her church’s environmental stewardship thrust is part of a ministry project that a young adult Sunday School class has adopted. That class has led in efforts such as cleaning up a nearby park.
“It all comes down to service,” Staley said. “In our crunchy granola neighborhood, some people who might not come to a church service might see us cleaning up a park and start asking, ‘Do church people do that?'”
Staley said the church also tries to recycle its educational materials by providing Bible study and Vacation Bible School materials to partner churches that can’t afford to buy them. Pulaski Heights has also put a global touch on its environmental mission by adopting wells in Zambia and Kenya.
Often, church leaders have to walk a tightrope on the perception that environmental stewardship is tied to a political party.
“Go to Genesis and read God’s call to tend for the earth,” Staley said. “There are no political ties there. But as a faith person I am commanded right off the bat in Genesis to tend and care for the earth. And in the New Testament, I am commanded right off the bat to care for the ‘least of these.'”
David McCollum is a contributing editor to EthicsDaily.com.