I am writing this over Easter weekend in a “lockdown” COVID-19 Britain. I am a church pastor, but our churches are closed, and our services are on the internet. It is an important time to reflect on how to be more caring for God’s creation, not least because the coronavirus itself is part of the environmental crisis. It is an outcome of the global trade in wild animals, other commercial factors and climate change that have all put immense pressure on the wild creatures of God’s world. It is sobering to note there has been a 60% drop in wild animal population sizes since 1970. Many of our own lifestyle choices have contributed to this decline, such as buying products made from produce grown on land cleared of native forest and using high levels of fossil fuel energy. Whether we meet in person or in livestream, how can we gather as church without causing further damage to God’s world?
- Be practical.
This is a subject where we all need to walk the talk. So, you might like to organize a gathering or service when you put special emphasis on sharing transport, using Fairtrade goods and reducing energy use. After the pandemic ends, you could also consider having something like a “swap shop” over coffee, where people can bring items in good condition, which they don’t need, for others to take if they have a use for them. It can be free or a charity offering. If you are meeting virtually, you might like to encourage folks to see if they can grow some seedlings. Seeds can be obtained online and are a good way to engage children. Something edible like cress or lettuce will grow quickly, and sprouting beans can be fun to try; there may be some tucked away in your cupboards, though do check whether the sprouts will be edible. If you are stuck at home, why not use the time to mend some things? If meeting in church, finding folks who can help run a mending café makes a helpful community event.
- Consider your songs and liturgy.
For worship, look at the words of the songs you choose. Do they encourage people to value God’s creation? A good number of traditional hymns, as well as modern songs, have a special emphasis. Examples are “All Creatures of Our God and King,” “How Great Thou Art,” “Indescribable” (Tomlin) and “Creation Sings” (Townend/Getty). If your church has liturgy, consider how that looks from the perspective of God’s love for the natural world. You may ask God’s forgiveness for wrongdoing against God and neighbour, but what about the sin of damage to God’s creation? In intercession (whether formal or extemporary), you might like to pray for environmental issues, such as climate change and protecting fragile ecosystems. Psalm 104:1-7 makes a suitable call to worship and Hebrews 13:20-21 for sending out.
- Root your creation care initiatives in the Word.
If you are a church that follows a set plan of readings, you will find that God’s love for creation permeates through the whole Bible. This means many passages will have something positive about the natural world. If you are choosing a passage, there are many possibilities:
- Genesis 1 has classic teaching about our call to be stewards of creation.
- Psalm 24 expresses the truth that the Earth belongs to God (and not us).
- John 1, while usually associated with Christmas, has much to say about Christ’s relationship to the material world.
- Colossians 1:15-20 considers the three-way relationship between Christ, creation and the church.
- 2 Corinthians 5:14-21 links the meaning of new creation and our role in reconciliation.
- Revelation 22:1-5 explores the themes of new creation and healing.
My own approach with preaching is to have occasional specific sermons on caring for God’s creation, but I am also alert to make sure in all my sermon preparation I don’t “filter out” God’s love for his natural world if it is in the passage. It might not be the main point of every sermon, but it is good to make sure that God’s world is not “photoshopped” out of our regular teaching because we are not used to including it.
- Offer hope.
Finally, it is important to bring hope. Often, people fear that something on the care for creation will be negative and focus on environmental problems. Though the environmental crisis is real, there is also hope as we trust our creator to sustain the world that God loves, and we can show hope in a hurting world in the way we live and act toward our neighbours and God’s world.
Revd Margot R. Hodson is Director of Theology and Education at The John Ray Initiative
Image by Beate Bachmann from Pixabay