Opening the Letter: A Congregation Guide to God's Earth is Sacred
Opening the Letter A Congregational Guide to God’s Earth Is Sacred Welcome! Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,O n behalf of the authors of the ecumenical “open letter” God’s Earth Is Sacred, welcome to this opportunity to engage your congregation in reading the letter and embodying its call. We—a diverse group of eleven clergy and lay theologians—wrote this let-ter with you and your congregation in mind. At the invitation of the NationalCouncil of Churches’ (NCC) Eco-Justice Working Group, we came together inSeptember 2004 at the National Cathedral (Washington D.C.) with a passionfor addressing one of the most harmful and insidious “false gospels” of our time:the notion that care for God’s sacred, yet wounded, Earth should not concernChristians. We came together aware of the overwhelming evidence that thisfalse gospel had gained traction, whether by design or simply as a given withinthe context of our consumer-oriented society, not only within the lives of indi-vidual Christians and congregations throughout our country, but also withinour most influential halls of power. Over our days together we prayed, worshiped, broke bread, and poured pas-sion and countless hours into creating this letter. In a spirit of prayerful discern-ment and mutual respect we spoke with voices that reflected our unique experi-ences of God’s activities in the world—experiences that expressed the richnessof our ecumenical, ethnic, gender, and age diversity. Like slender strands of cordbound together to make a durable and useful rope, we bound our diverse per-spectives together to create a common voice. Our common voice, we prayed,would be strong enough to confront the aforementioned false gospel and toinspire Christians to engage in urgently needed, Christ-centered, Earth-healingacts. The result is this letter to you.
As with any letter, the message and How to Use thispotential power of our letter remains “Opening the Letter”hidden if no one opens it. This congre- Guide1gational guide is intended to be a “letteropener”—a tool for fostering important Group Structure and Size“conversation” with the letter’s authors and This guide was designed for small, congregational groups. Any existing group—an adult study class,(most importantly) with others in your a prayer circle, a social concerns committee, “housecongregation. In your congregation, we groups,” a stewardship committee—can make use ofhope that this conversation: this guide and even adapt it to best meet its needs. Ad• opens your worship community— hoc groups (e.g., a committee working to start a con- through the presence and leading of the gregational recycling program) and time-limited events Holy Spirit—to new ways of experienc- (e.g., a congregational retreat, a Lenten study series) can ing God’s activity in the world; also serve as excellent forums for engaging in this guide.• strengthens your sense of community and Ideally, groups should consist of between five and ability to share authentically your greatest fifteen people. If you have more than ten people in joys and concerns; a group, you may wish to consider breaking out into• grows an understanding of the sacred smaller groups, especially during group sharing times. nature of God’s creation (of which we are beloved members) and our Christian call Facilitation to care for it; and Each session needs at least one (or more, if the group is larger) person who is willing to do minimal prepara-• leads to focused actions that bring new tion and then facilitate each session’s flow and discus- life to your congregation and healing to sion times. Willingness is the key for facilitation—not God’s creation. expertise in the subject area or experience as a leader or teacher.Thank you for opening our letter— Because easy-to-use facilitator overviews and facilita-for joining us in this conversation tion steps accompany each session, your group mayand life-giving work, wish to rotate the role of facilitator. Doing so oftenTanya Marcovna Barnett helps to create a shared sense of group ownership. It is“Opening the Letter” Preparer likely that the person who initially convened the group will facilitate Session One. During Session One, the group may want to designate other facilitators for the remaining three sessions.Opening the Letter: A CongregationalGuide to God’s Earth is SacredNational Council of Churches USA 1 Many of the ideas in this section were shaped by two excellent study guides:Eco-Justice Program Office Simpler Living, Compassionate Life: A Christian Perspective, edited by110 Maryland Ave., NE Michael Schut (published by Earth Ministry and Living the Good News Press, 1999); and Community with Children and the Poor, by the UnitedSuite 108 Methodist Task Force for the Bishops’ Initiative on Children and PovertyWashington, DC 20002 (published by Cokesbury, 2003).www.nccecojustice.orgTanya Marcovna Barnett, writerCassandra Carmichael and Karen Galles, editorsDeveloped in consultation with theEco-Justice Working Group of the NationalCouncil of Churches USA.
One of the main facilitator responsibilities is to help Session Formatfoster a respectful, safe environment in which partici- Each of the four sessions contains the followingpants can express their thoughts, feelings, questions, components:and creativity. In order to help with this responsibility, • Facilitator Overview (to be read by the facilitatorwe have provided a set of Group-Building Guidelines in before each session)the Appendix. We suggest that your group adapt these • Welcome and Overviewguidelines to meet their needs and commit to honoring • Brief Introductionsthe guidelines during each session. • Reflection • Group SharingTime and Setting • Focused Read of God’s Earth Is SacredIn order to foster meaningful reflection and discussion, • Activity and Discussionplease allow for a minimum of one hour for each ses- • Review and Looking Aheadsion. You may wish to do one session per week or to do • Closing Prayerthem in series over the course of a retreat. (For sugges-tions on using these materials within a retreat setting, In addition to these components—which are meant forplease see suggestions in the Appendix.) facilitators—each session has an accompanying hand- Settings for each session can be as informal as you out for participants.would like: from a Sunday school class room to agroup members’ home. Informal settings can especiallycontribute to a more relaxed, discussion-enhancingatmosphere. Whether you find yourself in an urban, rural, subur-ban, or “wilderness” setting, your group may choose tobe outside for part or all of every session. Doing so cangreatly enhance your immediate experience of God’ssacred creation. Session Four strongly suggests that the“Reflection” portion or all of the group’s time be spentoutside. If your group chooses this option, the groupmay want to select an outdoor location and begin plan-ning for this in Session One.
Overview of SessionsThe general flow of this series is one that starts froma place of glimpsing God’s awe-inspiring work andpresence through the “window” of creation. Flowingon from this place of awe, we begin to look at faithfulresponses to God’s activities within creation—especiallyin light of current threats to creation. Then we moveinto equipping ourselves with tools for creation-car-ing work and into concrete commitments for applyingthese tools.• Session One: “Opening Our Eyes to the Sacred”— invites participants to reflect on their experiences of the Holy as “understood through the things God has made.” This time of personal exploration will set the Whether you find yourself in foundation and tone for the rest of the series. an urban, rural, suburban, or• Session Two: “Opening Our Ears to Creation’s ‘Groaning’”—this second session helps partici- “wilderness” setting, your group pants to better understand current expressions of “creation’s groaning.” This session helps to awaken a may choose to be outside for part sense of expansive care and possibility. or all of every session. Doing• Session Three: “Opening Our Hearts to God’s Call, Equipping Ourselves for Action.” This session intro- so can greatly enhance your duces participants to “guiding norms” for living into our call to care for God’s creation. immediate experience of• Session Four: “Open to God’s Renewing Work.” God’s sacred creation. This final session invites participants to celebrate their new insights and to commit to ongoing cre- ation-care work.
Session One Opening Our Eyes to the Sacred Facilitator’s GuideDear Facilitator, May God richly bless your time together with inspiringThis first session invites participants to reflect on their glimpses of God’s presence.experiences of the Holy as “understood through thethings God has made.” This time of personal explora- Brief Introductions (5 minutes)tion will set the foundation and tone for the rest of the Each participant briefly introduces her/himself. Afterseries. the Reflection, there will be a time to get to know one another better.In assisting with this session, please:1. Make enough photocopies of the following for all Welcome and Overview (5 minutes) group participants Please read or summarize: • Session One Participants Handout. Welcome to this series that explores the Christian be- • Group-Building Guidelines. lief that “God’s Earth Is Sacred,” and to the ecumenical • Copies of God’s Earth is Sacred: An Open Letter letter that bears this belief as its title. At the invitation to Church and Society in the United States. of the National Council of Churches in Christ, eleven leading theologians came together in the fall of 20042. Bring the following to the session: to write this important letter to their fellow sisters and • For discussion times: a flip chart with easel, or brothers in Christ. butcher paper with masking tape (for hanging The letter affirms the Christian belief that “the paper), and markers. created world is sacred—a revelation of God’s sav- • For the Activity: paper (“scrap” and/or copier ing power and gracious presence filling all things.” In paper is fine), pens, pencils, color markers, this first session of our “Opening the Letter” series, we crayons, and/or collage materials (e.g., old will explore the reality of this Christian affirmation by magazines, colored and wrapping paper scraps, reflecting upon our own most meaningful revelations of pressed leaves, etc.). God’s saving power and gracious presence “through the things God has made.”3. Just prior to the session: Before we get started, let’s please take a few moments • Arrange the group seating into a circle, if possible; to read the handout on Group-Building Guidelines. this will enhance group participation. We’ll be using these guidelines throughout this four- • Place one set of handouts on or under each seat. week series, especially during our discussion times. • Set up two pieces of flip chart or butcher paper— one labeled “Emerging Questions” and the other Refer participants to the “Group-Building Guidelines” “Emerging Insights from Group Activity.” handout and give them a few minutes to read the guidelines. After they have done so, ask if there are any4. Keep track of time and help to keep group questions, additions, etc. then guide people into the discussions consistent with the Group-Building Reflection. Guidelines.5. Consider engaging in part or all of this session outside—especially the Reflection portion.
Reflection Group Sharing (15 minutes) Focused Read of God’s Earth Is SacredHave volunteers read aloud Readings 1-7, allowing for (15 minutes)a brief pause (about thirty seconds) for reflection after Read or summarize the following:each reading. Following all the readings, encourage Thank you for being willing to share these holyparticipants to let their bodies and minds relax and to experiences with one another. We’re now going to transi-invite the Holy Spirit into this prayerful time. Offer the tion into a time of looking closely at a portion of thefollowing prayer, or one of your own: ecumenical letter that I mentioned earlier: God’s Earth Is Sacred.Our loving, Creator God, Through the guidance of Your Holy Spirit, we ask As with the Reflection, ask for volunteers to readthat You open our eyes so that we may see Your glory aloud the “Affirmation” Readings 1-4. After thethrough creation’s “windows.” Please be with us now as readings, ask the group to briefly discuss the followingwe look for Your wisdom through the windows of our questions:own lives, the lives of all gathered here, and throughout • What struck you most when hearing theseYour sacred creation. Affirmations?In Jesus’ name, Amen. • What questions do these Affirmations raise for you?After the prayer, read or summarize the following and Take brief notes of (or ask a volunteer to do so)then invite participants to reflect silently: their questions on the piece of paper labeled “Emerg- As Romans 1:20 and these readings suggest, “God’s ing Questions.” After the discussion, put this sheet toeternal power and divine nature, invisible though they the side—the group will use it again at the end of theare, have been understood and seen through the things session.God has made.” Please reflect back on a time in yourlife when these words from Romans have been very real Activity and Discussion (20-30 minutes)for you. Take a few minutes, in silence, to remember This Activity will help participants begin to apply thethis time in as much detail as you can—colors, smells, session’s insights into the congregation’s life. Please fol-people, your own feelings, sounds, other creatures and low these steps:plants, the appearance of the sky, any details that come 1. Ask participants to come up with a list of congrega-to you. tional activities that will occur within the next three months (e.g., worship services, Sunday school classes,After a few minutes of silence, invite participants to fellowship dinners, prayer groups, a building project,share their stories and insights. a retreat, etc.). Record (or ask a volunteer to do so) these activities on a piece of flip chart paper, whiteNote: It is not necessary to “go around the circle”— board, etc.participants should speak if and when they feel led todo so. As facilitator, you may want to start the shar-ing by offering your own story. If your group is large(more than 10 people), you may want to have peoplebreak into smaller groups or “pair up” to share theirinsights—this will save time and allow for greater depthof sharing.
2. Ask each participant to select one activity that most session’s discussions. Ask for volunteers who may interests her/him and then form small groups with have an interest in exploring one of these questions, others who have chosen the same activity. with the intent of sharing with the group at the next In their groups, ask participants to imagine and session. Volunteers may want to refer to the “To discuss the following question (you may want to Learn More …” list on their handouts. write this question on the piece of flip chart paper as well): • Have a conversation about whether or not the group What would this activity look like if it were shaped would like to rotate facilitators. If the group chooses to reflect the idea that “the created world is sacred— to do so, make sure that the person who committed a revelation of God’s saving power and gracious pres- to facilitating Session Two knows how to obtain the ence filling all things”? materials that he/she needs. Encourage each group to let their creativity flow. Be sure that the facilitator for Session Three holds Invite them to use the supplied paper, markers, col- onto the Emerging Insights from Group Activity lage materials, flip chart paper and markers, etc. if page above. these are useful in conveying their ideas. Let them know that they’ll be presenting their ideas to the rest • Point out the “Preparing for Session Two” items of the group and they may even want to consider a listed on their handouts and encourage them to creative “enactment,” poem, etc. Give them about engage in them before the next session. ten minutes for this collaborative activity. • OPTIONAL: Let participants know that the final3. Reconvene the entire group, ask each small group session will take place outside. This location should to give a brief presentation, then discuss the three be in a place that would be conducive to a group questions below. Take brief notes (or ask a volunteer reflection. If you, as facilitator, have already chosen a to do so) of these responses on a piece of flip chart location, please inform participants of it and help to paper titled “Emerging Insights from Group prepare them for it (e.g., “You’ll need to wear casual Activity”: shoes and bring a jacket”). If you haven’t chosen a • What struck you most in what you heard and saw location, this is a good time to ask participants where in the small group presentations? they may want to go for this final session—a place • How might our congregation be different if we that might be reminiscent of the “sacred” place they did the things that were suggested? envisioned today. • What are some of the first steps for making these things happen? Closing Prayer Offer the following prayer, one of your own, or oneSave this page of Emerging Insights from Group from another participant.Activity for Sessions Three and Four. Our loving Creator, Thank You for the blessing of fellowship—for the giftReview and Looking Ahead (10 minutes) of Your presence through our combined insights, ques-With participants, wrap up the session: tions, and hopes. Thank You for opening our eyes, once• Refer to the Emerging Questions page, invite par- again, to Your eternal power and divine nature. Bless ticipants to take a few moments to silently read over us, now as we leave, that You will continue to open our the items on the Emerging Questions and Emerg- eyes and grow our ability to see and serve You through ing Insights from Group Activity pages—let them Your sacred creation. know that this page reflects some of the fruits of the In Christ’s name, Amen.
Session One: Opening Our Eyes to the Sacred Participants HandoutReflection1 Reading #6 The words of George Washington Carver, who livedReading #1 from 1864 to 1943: “To me, Nature in its varied formsThe words of Romans 1:20: “Ever since the creation is the little windows through which God permits meof the world, God’s eternal power and divine nature, to commune with [God], and to see much of [God’s]invisible though they are, have been understood and glory, by simply lifting the curtain and looking in. Iseen through the things God has made.” love to think of Nature as wireless telegraph stations through which God speaks to us every day, every hour,Reading #2 and every moment of our lives.” (Excerpt from Carver’sThe words of Psalm 19:1: “The heavens are telling essay, “The Love of Nature,” in Guide to Nature [De-the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims God’s cember 1912].)handiwork.” Reading #7Reading #3 The words of Anne Frank, who lived from 1926 toThe words of Saint John Damascene [“Da-ma-see-n”], 1945: “The best remedy for those who are afraid,who lived from the year 675 to 749: “The whole earth lonely, or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere whereis a living icon of the face of God.” they can be quiet and alone with the heavens, nature, and God. Because only then does one feel that all is asReading #4 it should be and that God wishes to see people happy,The words of Hildegard of Bingen, who lived from amidst the simple beauty of nature. As long as this1098 to 1179: “God’s Word is in all creation, visible exists, and it certainly always will, I know that thenand invisible … All creation is awakened, called, by the there will always be comfort for every sorrow … And Iresounding melody, God’s invocation of the Word … firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.”all of creation is a symphony of joy and jubilation.” (Excerpt from The Diary of a Young Girl.)Reading #5The words of Martin Luther, who lived from 1483 to Affirmations1546: “God writes the Gospel, not in the Bible alone,but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and Reading #1stars … If you truly understood a grain of wheat, you • We stand with awe and gratitude as members ofwould die of wonder.” (Excerpt from Luther’s Works.) God’s bountiful and good creation. • We rejoice in the splendor and mystery of countless1 All biblical passages are taken from the New Revised Standard Version. species, our common creaturehood, and the interde- pendence of all that God makes. • We believe that the Earth is home for all and that it has been created intrinsically good (Genesis 1).
Reading #2 Preparing for Session Two• We believe that the Holy Spirit, who animates all of • Read God’s Earth Is Sacred—please see the accompa- creation, breathes in us and can empower us to par- nying handout. ticipate in working toward the flourishing of Earth’s • Please commit to spending at least twenty minutes community of life. exploring the following web page: www.greenfacts.• We believe that the people of God are called to forge org/ecosystems/index.htm.2 As you explore this web ways of being human within creation that enable page, you may wish to take notes. This web page was socially just and ecologically sustainable communi- produced by GreenFacts—“an independent, non- ties to flourish for generations to come. advocacy, multi-stakeholder non-profit organization• And, we believe in God’s promise to fulfill all of based in Brussels, Belgium. Its mission is to provide creation, anticipating the reconciliation of all non-specialists with unbiased scientific information (Colossians 3:11), in accordance with God’s promise on environment and health matters.” This particular (II Peter 3:13). web page provides a user-friendly, “faithful sum- mary” of the United Nations Millennium EcosystemReading #3 Assessment—a comprehensive scientific study on the• We believe that, in boundless love that hungers connections between human well-being and environ- for justice, God in Jesus Christ acts to restore and mental changes. redeem all creation (including human beings). God • Find one current news item—one that really strikes incarnate affirms all creation (John 1:14), which be- you—that relates to how humans are currently treat- comes a sacred window to eternity. In the cross and ing God’s Earth. Bring this news clipping, photo, resurrection we know that God is drawn into life’s etc. to the next session. most brutal and broken places and there brings forth healing and liberating power. That saving action re- To Learn More … stores right relationships among all members of “the … about what other Christians have to say about God’s whole creation.” (Mark 16:15) creation, please visit the following sites: • National Council of Churches Eco-Justice Programs:Reading #4 www.nccecojustice.org—you may especially want to• We believe that the created world is sacred—a revela- check out the “Anthology of Church Policy” to see tion of God’s saving power and gracious presence what your own denomination has to say about God’s filling all things. This sacred quality of creation creation. demands moderation and sharing, urgent antidotes • Web of Creation: www.webofcreation.org. for our excess in consumption and waste, reminding • The Evangelical Environmental Network: us that economic justice is an essential condition of www.creationcare.org. ecological integrity.• We cling to God’s trustworthy promise to restore, 2 If you do not have home Internet access, please consider other options: going to your local library, using a computer at your church (if one with renew, and fulfill all that God creates. Internet access exists), asking a fellow group member to share her/his• We long for and work toward the day when church- computer with you, etc. es, as embodiments of Christ on Earth, will respond to the “groaning of creation” (Romans 8:22) and to God’s passionate desire to “renew the face of the earth.” (Psalm 104:30)
Session Two: Opening Our Ears to Creation’s “Groaning” Facilitator’s GuideDear Facilitator, May God richly bless your time together with a sense ofBuilding upon participants’ experiences of God’s empathy with the parts of God’s creation that “groan”creation (from Session One), this second session helps for healing and with a vision of redemption, throughthem to better understand current expressions of Christ, for all creation.“creation’s groaning.” Rather than being a fear- orguilt-producing session, this session focuses on Brief Introductions (5 minutes)awakening a sense of expansive care and possibility. If there are new people at this session, suggest that eachAs you assist with this session, please: participant briefly introduce her/himself. After the1. Make enough photocopies of the following for all Reflection, there will be more time to hear from one group members: another. • Session Two Participants Handout. • A few extra copies of the Group-Building Guide- Welcome and Overview (10 minutes) lines (if you anticipate having new people join in Please read or summarize: the session). Welcome to the second session of this series that explores the ecumenical “open letter” titled, God’s Earth2. Bring the following to the session: Is Sacred. During the last session, we focused on the • For discussion times: a flip chart with easel, or portions of the letter that declared, “the created world butcher paper with masking tape (for hanging is sacred—a revelation of God’s saving power and gra- paper), and markers. cious presence filling all things.” During this second • For the Activity session: enough 8½”x11” paper session, we will explore how this declaration helps us to and markers for each participant, and masking hear and respond to “creation’s groaning,” an expres- tape. sion found in Romans 8. As we “alert the ears of our spirits” (to use the words of Saint Bonaventure) to this3. Just prior to the session: groaning, we will also begin to open hopeful pathways • Arrange the group seating into a circle, if possible; for helping to “renew the face of the Earth” (Psalm this will enhance group participation. 104:30). • Place one handout on or under each seat. If there are new people joining the group this • Set up two pieces of flip chart or butcher paper session, continue with: —one labeled “Emerging Insights” and the other Before we get started, let’s take a moment to glance labeled “Emerging Questions.” over the Group-Building Guidelines that we received in the last session.4. Keep track of time and help to keep group discussion consistent with the Group-Building Guidelines.5. Consider engaging in part or all of this session outside—especially the Reflection portion. 10
During this time, anyone who has volunteered to In the same way that you previously reflected upon afollow up on an item listed on the last session’s place in creation where you have glimpsed God’s glory,Emerging Questions sheet can briefly report his/her I now invite you to reflect silently upon a place whereinsights and findings. you have heard a cry for God’s healing. Perhaps you After doing so, please move people into the time of heard this through the on-line reading that you did inReflection. preparation for this session, or in a news item that you brought for our time today, or somewhere within yourReflection (15 minutes) own life experience. Perhaps you have even heard thisEncourage participants to let their minds and bodies cry for healing in that place that, in our last session,relax and to invite the Holy Spirit into this prayerful you identified as sacred. Please take a few minutes totime. After a moment of silence, slowly read or summa- remember this place of “groaning” with as much detailrize the following reflection: as possible, including what you felt at the time. Last week we prayerfully reflected upon the wordsof Romans 1:20 and recalled those sacred places in our After a few minutes of silence, invite participantslives where we have glimpsed “God’s eternal power and to take out the handout below their chair. Read ordivine nature.” I invite you to envision that place once summarize the following:again, and to remember how you felt in that place. Let us now share in the litany found on your hand- out. The words of this litany come from Romans 8Pause for several moments then read or summarize the and from the God’s Earth is Sacred letter that we arefollowing: currently studying. Going around the circle, we’ll take Now, as you remember this place that is so key to turns reading one of the “Voices,” and we’ll all join inyour spiritual formation, please listen to these words reading the “All” portions in between the Voices.from Romans 8: “For the creation waits with eagerlonging for the revealing of the children of God … the Go around the circle and have participants take turncreation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay reading one of the “Voices,” with the entire group read-and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children ing the “All” sections.of God. We know that the whole creation has beengroaning in labor pains until now; and not only the Note: As facilitator, you may want to read “Voice #1”creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of to start the litany.the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption,for redemption …” While indeed, creation offers glimpses of the Onewho creates and sustains it, creation also groans inpain and longs for redemption from the One who willredeem it. 11
Group Sharing (15-20 minutes) Ask for four volunteers to read aloud the GroupInvite participants to share: Readings, 1-4. After each of the “Reading Pairs,” ask1. their stories and insights from the previous the group to briefly discuss the questions below. On Reflection; and/or the two pieces of flip chart paper take note (or ask a volunteer to do so) of responses and questions. Briefly2. a description of the news item that they brought to summarize responses on the “Emerging Insights” sheet this session, and what struck them about it. and any questions on the “Emerging Questions” sheet. • After Reading Pair #1: How do you define “sin”? HowFor this time of sharing, it is not necessary to “go do you react to Patriarch Bartholomew’s statement,around the circle”—participants should speak if and “To commit a crime against the natural world is a sin”?when they feel led to do so. As facilitator, you may You may want to explain to participants that thewant to start the sharing by offering your own story. Patriarch is the primary spiritual leader for all Ortho-If your group is large (more than 10 people), you may dox Christians throughout the world.want to have people break into small groups or “pair Also, if you feel that the group would find it help-up” to share their insights—this will save time and ful, you may want to offer excerpts from theologianallow for greater depth of sharing. Frederick Buechner’s1 definition of sin:Focused Read of God’s Earth Is Sacred “…sin is whatever you do, or fail to do, that pushes(30 minutes) [God, Nature, and others] away, that widens the gapPlease read or summarize the following: between you and them and also the gaps within We’re now going to transition into a time of looking yourself.”closely at a portion of the ecumenical letter that we justused in our litany: God’s Earth Is Sacred. We’re going Sin is our tendency “…to make ourselves the center ofto hear contrasting, yet related, pairs of readings from the universe, pushing away centrifugally from that cen-scripture and from portions of the letter. The first read- ter everything that seems to impede its freewheeling.”ing in the pair reinforces the Biblical reality that God’sEarth is sacred. (In some cases the Biblical reading • After Reading Pair #2: The Scripture reading tellsincludes words in their original Greek and alternative us that through Christ, God reconciles the entiretranslations from the original Hebrew; these words ap- “cosmos,” and “all things, whether on earth or inpear in italics.) The second reading, from the ecumeni- heaven.” How does this belief strike you?cal letter, calls us to consider the spiritual and moralconsequences that arise when we do not treat God’s • After Reading Pair #3: Genesis 2 expresses our firstcreation as sacred. vocation as humans. Does reading the alternative Hebrew translation “to serve and to preserve,” rather than “to till and to keep,” change your perception of our original call? Why or why not? If participants wish to discuss these words and the word “dominion,” found in Genesis 1:26, you may want to refer them to the reading on their handout “On ‘Earthkeeping’ and Dominion” and give them time to read it. 1 Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC, Harper Row, 1973, pp. 88-89. 12
• After Reading Pair #4: How do you react when you After the chosen “end time,” read or summarize the hear about our “special responsibility” as “citizens of following and allow participants several minutes to the United States”? write a response: As you finish your poem and we end this time ofAfter the discussion, put the group’s notes to the side silence, I ask you to reflect on one final question: “Whatfor use at the end of the session. one thing can I do this week to help make the ‘redemp- tion’ I expressed in my poem come to life?” Please writeActivity (15 minutes) your response, with your pen, on the back of your poem.Read or summarize the following: When you’re ready, please come forward and post your We’ve discussed many complex, intellectually- and poem (on a prominent wall or on an easel if outside).emotionally-rich topics during this session. This nextactivity allows us to step away from discussion and re- After everyone has posted their poems, invite them toenter a more silent and reflective space. read their poems to the group—if they wish—and/or If you’ve ever studied poetry in school, you’ve prob- share the response that they wrote on the back.ably been asked to write a Haiku. And, as our sessionwinds down, we’re each going to try our hand at Haiku Review and Looking Ahead (10 minutes)writing in order to get to the heart of our current With participants, help to wrap up the session:thoughts and feelings. We seek this “heart” because it • Refer to the Emerging Questions page. Ask forhelps us to know where the Holy Spirit may be stirring volunteers who may have an interest in/be willingour understandings and actions. to explore one of these questions, with the intent of For the subject of your Haiku, please consider these sharing with the group at the next session. Volun-two contrasting words: “groaning” and “redemption.” teers may want to refer to the “To Learn More …”And, as far as a bit of background on Haiku poems and list on their handouts.notes on their structure (three lines: five syllables in thefirst line, then seven syllables in the second, then five in • Point out the “Preparing for Session Three” itemsthe third), please see the “On Haiku Poems” section on listed on their handouts and encourage them toyour handout. engage in them before the next session.Distribute blank paper, markers, and pens—one of Closing Prayereach for each person. Ask that participants write their Invite participants to take a few moments to silentlypoem using the marker—large and clear—so that oth- read over the items on the Emerging Insights page—leters in the group can read their poems from across the them know that this page reflects the fruits of thecircle. Let people know that they’ll have approximately session’s discussions. Offer the following prayer, one often minutes to write their poems and you will let them your own, or one from another participant.know when their time is nearly finished. (Some partici- Our loving Creator,pants will need more than this amount of time. With We know that where two or more of us are gatheredone or two minutes remaining, ask people how much that You are in our midst. Thank You for Your presencemore time they may need and try to arrive at a group with us today—for exercising our ability to listen to theconsensus for an end time.) places where Your wonderously-made creation groans for healing and care. Bless us now as we leave so that we may continue to grow in our ability to see and serve You as members of Your sacred creation. In Christ’s name, Amen. 13
Session Two: Opening Our Ears to Creation’s “Groaning” Participants HandoutReflection1 Reader #7: “Almost half of the population of the United StatesReader #1 lives in areas that do not meet national air qualityRomans 8 declares, “For the creation waits with eager standards.”longing for the revealing of the children of God …cre- All: God’s creation will be set free from its bondage.ation itself will be set free from its bondage to decayand will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children Reader #8:of God.” Romans 8 also declares, “We know that the whole cre-All: God’s creation will be set free from its bondage. ation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have theReader #2 first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we waitBut today, “God’s creation delivers unsettling news. for adoption, for redemption …”Earth’s climate is warming to dangerous levels.” All: O God, You set all captives free,All: God’s creation will be set free from its bondage. Awaken our senses so that we might know creation’s groanings, beauty, and longings.Reader #3 Enliven our wills so that we might hunger to work“90 percent of the world’s fisheries have been depleted.” with You for the liberation of Your whole creation.All: God’s creation will be set free from its bondage. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.Reader #4:“Coastal development and pollution are causing a sharp Group Readings1decline in ocean health.”All: God’s creation will be set free from its bondage. Reading Pair #1 From Psalm 104: “O Lord, how manifold are yourReader #5: works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth“Shrinking habitat threatens to extinguish thousands of is full of your creatures … When you send forth yourspecies.” spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of theAll: God’s creation will be set free from its bondage. ground.” And, from the God’s Earth Is Sacred ecumenicalReader #6: letter: “To continue to walk the current path of eco-“Over 95 percent of the United States’ forests have logical destruction is not only folly, it is sin. As voicedbeen lost.” by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who has takenAll: God’s creation will be set free from its bondage. the lead among senior religious leaders in his concern for creation: ‘To commit a crime against the natural1 All biblical passages are taken from the New Revised Standard world is a sin. For humans to cause species to becomeVersion. extinct and to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation … for humans to degrade the integrity of Earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the Earth of its natural forests, or destroying wetlands … 14
for humans to injure other humans with disease … for On “Earthkeeping” and Dominionhumans to contaminate the Earth’s waters, its land, its (From an conversation with Calvin B. DeWitt from theair, and its life, with poisonous substances … these are Environmental Review Newsletter, 1996: www.environ-sins.’…” mentalreview.org/vol03/dewit.html.) On earthkeeping, the reference there is to GenesisReading Pair #2 2:15 where Adam is expected to till and to keep theFrom John 3:16 and Colossians 1:15-20: “For God so garden. To till, is the Hebrew word ‘abad; elsewhere inloved the cosmos, that he gave his only son…”; the Bible outside of agricultural context, this word gets“…in Christ all things hold together … and through translated, serve. So we read Joshua 24:15 “Choose yehim, God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, this day whom you will serve (‘abad,) as for me and mywhether on earth or in heaven, by making peace house we will ‘abad Jehovah.” In Genesis Adam is askedthrough the blood of his cross.” to ‘abad the garden. The idea is that the garden—the And, from God’s Earth Is Sacred: “We have listened creation—serves us and other creatures by providingto a false gospel that we continue to live in our daily habitat, food and shelter, and beauty. And in turn wehabits—a gospel that proclaims that God cares for the must serve it. So there is this idea of con-service, con-salvation of humans only …” servancy, con-servation. …And after ‘abad, the next piece to chew on is theReading Pair #3 word to keep, which is a translation of the HebrewFrom Genesis 2:15: “The Lord God took the human word shamar. That word is best known in the blessingand put the human in the garden of Eden to serve and of Aaron in Numbers 6:24, “The Lord bless you andpreserve it.” keep you.” The Lord bless you and shamar you. When And, from God’s Earth Is Sacred: “We have listened that blessing is invoked for people, it expects God toto a false gospel that we continue to live in our daily keep them with physiological integrity, with psycho-habits—a gospel that proclaims … that our human logical integrity, with proper connections with family,calling is to exploit Earth for our own ends alone.” relatives, other human beings, soil, air, land, water. There is a second word in Hebrew that also means toReading Pair #4 keep, but it means to keep as one would pickles in a jar.From Psalm 24:1: “The earth is the Lord’s and all that In Genesis 2:15 the shamar word is used, the oneis in it, the world, and those who live in it.” meaning to keep in dynamic integrity not the one And, from God’s Earth Is Sacred: “…[Let us] ac- meaning keep as one would pickles in a jar.knowledge the special responsibility that falls to those There is a Jewish environmental organizationof us who are citizens of the United States. Though Shomrei Adamah, meaning keepers of the Earth, thatonly five percent of the planet’s human population, we promotes stewardship of creation. Shomrei is a vari-produce one quarter of the world’s [global warming] ant of the word shamar. This is a long standing Jewishemissions, consume a quarter of its natural riches, and concept as well as a word roughly similar to the wordperpetuate scandalous inequities at home and abroad. stewardship, and a richer one.We are a precious part of Earth’s web of life, but wedo not own the planet and we cannot transcend itsrequirements for regeneration …” 15
If you read Genesis 2:15 in the Hebrew, you read Preparing for Session Threeit for what it says. But put into English we see these • Please read the “Guiding Norms for Churches inwords through the eyes of their translators. That is not Society” portion of the God’s Earth Is Sacred opento say there are some translators who have not worked letter before the next session. Feel free to take notesin a more literal way. There is an 1898 version of the on anything that intrigues, confuses, inspires you.Bible called Young’s Literal Translation of the Holy Please bring this handout, and any notes on it, withBible, that translates the word abad as serve, that Adam you to the next session.was asked to serve the garden, published long beforeour present-day ecological concern. • Reflect daily on your Haiku poem and act on your What comes from unpacking this passage in Genesis response to the question “What one thing can I do1:28 and seeing it in the context of the rest of the Bible this week to help make the ‘redemption’ I expressedis that dominion—whatever we have called it—really in my poem come to life?”means service. In the Christian tradition the exampleof dominion as service is given in Philippians 2:6-8 of To Learn More …Jesus Christ who, “Counting equality with God a thing … about creation-care theology:not to be grasped, he takes the form of a servant and • National Council of Churches Eco-Justice Programs:is obedient even until death, yes death upon a cross.” www.nccecojustice.org.Genesis 1:28 by itself which says people are given • The Evangelical Environmental Network:dominion, can certainly be misinterpreted as domina- www.creationcare.org.tion, but as soon as you get to the next chapter, Genesis • The Forum on Religion and Ecology:2:15, service comes in and then in the New Testament http://environment.harvard.edu/religion/main.html.you see the one who has been given all dominion takes • Roger S. Gottlieb (editor), This Sacred Earth:the form of a servant. You can hardly take the example Religion, Nature, Environment, Routledge (1996).of Jesus as someone who forcefully dominates. • Dieter Hessel and Rosemary Radford Ruether (edi- tors), Christianity and Ecology: Seeking Well-Being ofOn Haiku Poems Earth and Humans, Harvard University Press (2000).Haiku is a type of poetry from the Japanese culture. • Dieter Hessel and Larry Rasmussen (editors), EarthHaiku combines form, content, and language in a Habitat: Eco-Injustice and the Church’s Response,meaningful, yet compact form. Haiku poets, which you Augsburg Fortress (2001).will soon be, write about everyday things. Usually theyuse simple words and grammar. The most common …about the current state of God’s creation:form for Haiku is three short lines. The first line usu- • Union of Concerned Scientists: www.ucsusa.org.ally contains five (5) syllables, the second line seven (7) • United States Environmental Protection Agency:syllables, and the third line contains five (5) syllables. www.epa.gov.Haiku doesn’t rhyme. A Haiku must “paint” a mental • Worldwatch Institute: www.worldwatch.org. Annu-image. Traditionally and ideally, a Haiku presents a pair ally, Worldwatch publishes their comprehensive Stateof contrasting images; working together, they evoke of the World—you can order a copy through theirmood and emotion. A Haiku can convey any mood or website.emotion—humor, anger, hope—and draws richly fromelements of creation. 16
Session Three: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Call, Equipping Ourselves for Action Facilitator’s GuideDear Facilitator, 4. Keep track of time and help to keep group discussionBuilding upon participants’ experiences of God’s consistent with the Group-Building Guidelines.creation (from Session One) and hearing expressions of“creation’s groaning” (Section Two), this session intro- 5. Consider engaging in part or all of this session out-duces “guiding norms” for living into our call to care side—especially the Reflection portion.for God’s creation. As you assist with this session, please: May God richly bless your time together with a clear1. Make enough photocopies of the Session Three sense of calling and a confidence in your ability to care Handout for all group participants. for creation.2. Bring the following to the session: Welcome and Overview (5-10 minutes) • For discussion times: a flip chart with easel, or Please read or summarize: butcher paper with masking tape (for hanging Welcome to this third session of this series that paper), and markers. explores the ecumenical open letter, God’s Earth Is • For the Activity session: Sacred. During the last two sessions, we focused on the • The “Emerging Insights from Group Activity” portions of the letter declaring (1) that “the created sheet from Session One. world is sacred” and (2) that we can hear and respond • Paper (“scrap” and/or copier paper is fine), to the places in which God’s world “groans” under the pens, pencils, colored markers, crayons, extra weight of exploitation and disregard. pieces of blank butcher/flipchart paper, and/or During this session, we will build on our previous collage materials (e.g., old magazines, colored insights to explore more deeply why and how, as and wrapping paper scraps, pressed leaves, etc.). Christians, we should respond to creation’s groaning. Using the “guiding norms” section from the open letter3. Just prior to the session, we will focus on equipping ourselves for prayer-filled • Arrange the group seating into a circle, if possible; and effective action. this will enhance group participation. • Place one handout and pen/pencil on or under During this time, anyone who has volunteered to each seat. follow up on an item listed on the last session’s Emerg- • Make colored markers, pencils, and/or crayons ing Questions sheet can briefly report his/her insights available to participants throughout the session. and findings. Also, if anyone would like to report back • Set up two pieces of flip chart or butcher paper on how they expressed the “redemption” part of the —one labeled “Emerging Questions” and the Haiku they wrote during the last session, they should other “Emerging Insights from Group Activity.” feel free to do so now. 17
Reflection (10-15 minutes) Focused Read of God’s Earth Is SacredAsk participants to take the “Reflection” handout and (15 minutes)ask for three volunteers to read aloud Readings 1-3. Read or summarize the following:After volunteers choose their readings, let everyone We’re now going to transition into a time of lookingknow that there will be a brief pause (about thirty closely at a portion of the ecumenical open letter, God’sseconds) for reflection after each reading. As the reflec- Earth Is Sacred, that relates to our calling to “serve andtion begins, encourage participants to let their bodies preserve” God’s creation and to the tools that we canand minds relax and to invite the Holy Spirit into this call upon to live into our calling. At this point, pleaseprayerful time. take out your copy of the open letter, and go to the sec- After the three readings, offer the following prayer, tion titled, “Guiding Norms for Churches in Society.”or one of your own: These norms can be seen as tools for living into our Our Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer, vocation; or, in the words of the open letter, as “stan- Please open our hearts to hear Your calling in our dards and practices of moral excellence that we oughtlives—so that we may rejoice in finding the place where to cultivate in our personal lives, our communities ofthe deep gladness that You create within us meets the faith, our social organizations, our businesses, and ourdeep hungers and “groanings” of Your world. And, in political institutions.” Hopefully you’ve had a chance tofinding this place, please equip us for living joyfully into read over the guiding norms and to make notes on any-our vocations—into serving and preserving all that You thing that struck, confused, intrigued, or encouragedhold dear. you. Please take a moment to glance over your handout In Jesus’ name, Amen. again and over any notes that you made on it. After everyone has had a chance to review theirAfter the prayer, read or summarize the following: handouts, invite them to briefly discuss the following Let us now take time to prayerfully reflect on these questions:readings. Please take a few minutes to consider each of • What most struck you in reading these eightthe three “For Personal Reflection” items on your hand- “norms?”out. As you do so, you may want to write words, draw • What questions do the norms raise for you?images, etc. under each of the three items on your hand- Take brief notes of (or ask a volunteer to do so) theseout (feel free to use the markers, pencils, and crayons). questions on the piece of paper labeled “Emerging Questions.” After the discussion, put the group’s notesGroup Sharing (10 minutes) to the side for use at the end of the session.After several minutes of silence, and it seems thatparticipants have finished their reflections, invite them Activity and Discussion (30 minutes)to share their insights on any or all of the three items Part 1: Choosing a “norm”in the “For Personal Reflection.” It is not necessary to Please read or summarize the following:“go around the circle”—participants should speak if Our activity/discussion time today consists of two parts:and when they feel led to do so. As facilitator, you may (1) another brief, personal reflection—this time on thewant to start the sharing by offering your own insights. connection between your vocation and the norms—If your group is large (more than 10 people), you may and (2) a small-group discussion and activity thatwant to have people break into small groups or “pair will explore these norms within the context of ourup” to share their insights—this will save time and al- congregation.low for greater depth of sharing. 18
So first, please take a moment to look back at whatyou put on your handout during our reflection time forquestion #3: “How might your deep gladness meet theworld’s deep hunger?” Now, choose one of the guiding norms that seems tobest coincide with your response to question #3. Thismay not be a perfect match, but the norm should atleast be reminiscent of the feelings and ideas that youhad when you wrote your response. For example, in response to reflection question #3someone might say, “The deep gladness that I experi-ence when I’m gardening could help to meet my city’shunger for green spaces, fresh and affordable produce,and revitalized relationships among my neighbors; Ican envision that helping to start a community garden May God richly bless yourwould be a place where my deep gladness and thesehungers could meet.” A coinciding norm for this person’s time together with a clearresponse might be “Justice—creating right relationships,both social and ecological, to ensure for all members of sense of calling and acreation the conditions required for their flourishing.” If making this connection—between your response confidence in your abilityto #3 and a guiding norm—seems like too much of astretch for you, then please just choose a norm that most to care for creation.appeals to you.Give participants a moment find either a coincidingnorm or one that most appeals to them; then continue: Hopefully the norm that you have chosen helps to addtexture and a sense of direction to your unique calling.This is to say, based on the Justice norm, a first step forour imaginary gardener might be to convene an initialplanning group consisting of neighbors, who bring awide diversity of perspectives, as well as an environmen-tal scientist. In this way the garden planning processwill honor “human dignity and social participation” ofthe members of the immediate neighborhood while hon-oring “the conditions required for the … flourishing” ofall members of God’s creation. 19
Part 2: Applying the Norm to Congregational Life Take notes (or ask a volunteer to do so) of theirInvite participants to gather in small groups with others responses on the blank piece of flip chart/butcher paperwho have chosen the same norm. Once settled into you titled Emerging Insights from Group Activity.their small groups, encourage them to briefly discuss Save these pages of “Emerging Insights from Groupwhy the norm resonates with them. Activity” (from Sessions One and from this session) As groups are talking, display the Emerging Insights and/or give them to the facilitator of Session Four.from Group Activity sheet from Session One; then After several minutes of conversation, continue read-continue reading or summarizing: ing or summarizing: You may remember that in Session One we made As a group, choose one or more of your responses toa list of activities that will occur in our congrega- question #2—“What are some of the practical andtion within the next three months, and that we asked hopeful ways in which our congregation could embodyourselves “What would this activity look like if it were this norm more fully?” Now your group will have ashaped to reflect the idea that ‘the created world is chance to practice articulating these responses to thesacred’?” At the end of that session, we came up with rest of the congregation. Your group may want to choosepossible new directions for these congregational activi- from the following to articulate your responses:ties. I invite you to look over these ideas again, simply • Create a descriptive, inspiring bulletin insertas a way of refreshing your memory of those activities • Write a brief article for a bulletin or newsletterand areas of congregational life that most sparked your • Make an eye-catching bulletin board displayenthusiasm. • Create a skit or other creative verbal announcement (e.g., a song) that could be performed during a wor-With the breadth of congregational activities before ship servicethem, please discuss the following two questions with • Create a special blessing to be used during a worshipyour group: service1. How does our congregation (through its activities, Here is an example: one small group responded to #2 day-to-day life, ongoing ministries, etc.) currently saying: “To more fully embody the creation-caring norm embody our chosen norm? of ‘frugality,’ two ‘sewing circle’ members (present in our small group) offered to make cloth napkins for all of our2. What are some of the practical and hopeful ways in fellowship gatherings.” To articulate this response, the which our congregation could embody this norm small group decided to offer a special blessing, during more fully? a worship service, for members of the sewing circle – a blessing that would announce the members’ willingness to use their gifts (their “deep gladness”) to care for God’s sacred creation. This ritual included a blessing over the members’ hands, over their time of fellowship during their work, their materials, and over the fruits of their work. 20
Encourage each group to let their creativity flow. Invite Closing Prayerthem to use the supplied butcher/flip chart paper, In closing, offer the following prayer, one of your own,markers, collage materials, and markers, etc. if these or one from another participant.are useful in conveying their ideas. Let them know that Our loving Creator,they’ll be presenting their ideas to the rest of the group. We thank You for calling us to the most awesomeGive them about ten minutes for this collaborative work of stewarding Your mysteries. We ask that Youactivity. Then, reconvene the entire group and ask each help us follow Christ’s humble and compassionatesmall group to give a brief presentation. example as we live into this calling. And we ask that You continually nourish our deep gladness and equipReview and Looking Ahead (10 minutes) us for Your greatest work.With participants, help to wrap up the session: In Christ’s name, Amen.• Refer to the Emerging Questions page. Ask for volunteers who may have an interest in/be willing to explore one of these questions, with the intent of sharing with the group at the next session. Volun- teers may want to refer to the “To Learn More …” list on their handouts.• If your group has chosen to meet outside for all or part of Session Four, make sure that participants know of the meeting location and any special details (e.g., “Dress appropriately for the weather”).• Point out the “Preparing for Session Four” items listed on their handouts and encourage them to engage in them before the next session. 21
Session Three: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Call, Equipping Ourselves for Action Participants HandoutReflection1 Preparing for Session Four Read over the “A Call to Action…” portion of the God’sReading #1: Earth Is Sacred open letter before the next session. FeelPlease listen to the words of Genesis 2:15 that an- free to take notes on anything that intrigues, confuses,nounce our first calling as newly formed human beings: inspires, etc. you. Please bring the letter, and any notes“The Lord God took the human and put the human in on it, with you to the next session.the garden of Eden to serve and preserve it.” To Learn More…Reading #2: … about creation-care ethics:Please listen to St. Paul’s reiteration of our calling, as • The Forum on Religion and Ecology’s “Environmen-expressed in 1 Corinthians 4:1: “Think of us in this tal Ethics” web page: http://environment.harvard.way, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries edu/religion/disciplines/ethics/index.html.of God.” • Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, Healing a Broken World: Globalization and God, Fortress (2002).Reading #3: • James Nash, Loving Nature: Ecological Integrity andPlease listen to the words of theologian Frederick Christian Responsibility, Abingdon Press (1991).Buechner: “[The word vocation] comes from the Latin • Larry Rasmussen, Earth Community, Earth Ethics,vocare, to call, and means the work a [person] is called Orbis (1997).to by God … The place God calls you to is the placewhere your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger 1 All biblical passages are taken from the New Revised Standard Version. The quote from Frederick Buechner comes from Wishful Thinking: A Theologicalmeet.” ABC, Harper Row, 1973.For Personal Reflection1. Identify and describe your “deep gladness(es).” You might want to do so with words, images, etc.2. Name and describe what you consider to be “the world’s deep hunger.” If it’s helpful, you may want to reflect back on some of your insights regarding “creation’s groan- ing”—perhaps from your Haiku—from the previous session.3. How might your deep gladness(es) meet the world’s deep hunger? In other words, in what practical, life- giving ways might the fruits of your deep gladness help to “serve and preserve” God’s world today? 22
Session Four: Open to God’s Renewing Work Facilitator’s GuideDear Facilitator, 3. Bring the following to the session:Building upon the past three sessions, this final session • For discussion times: a flip chart with easel, orinvites participants to celebrate their new insights and butcher paper with masking tape (for hangingability to apply these insights. Unlike the other sessions, paper), and markers.this one begins immediately with the Reflection time. • For the Activity and Discussion session: • Your consolidated list of the activities and ideasAs you assist with this session, please: from the Emerging Insights from Group1. Use the Emerging Insights from Group Activity Activity sheets. lists from Sessions One and Three to create (on flip • Various colored markers or stickers. chart or butcher paper) a consolidated list of congre- • A sign-up sheet with space for contact informa- gational activities and creation-care ideas. Here is an tion (name, phone number, email, and address) example of how you might want to structure your for those who want to continue to meet now group’s consolidated list: that the series is ending. Congregational Activity Creation-Care Ideas Weekly worship services 4. If the group has chosen to spend part or all of this Include God’s broader creation in the “prayers of the session outdoors, arrive at the chosen site prior to the people” other group members. Allow yourself enough time Vacation Bible school to “scope out” the site for a good place for the short • Host all sessions outside with a reflection time on “Silent Walk” (Option #1 below) or the “In-Place” the Romans 1:20 passage reflection (Option #2). • Take a field trip to a local recycling center; give the children home recycling tips 5. Just prior to the session: Buildings and grounds • If the group will be sitting at some point, arrange • Work with our Buildings and Grounds Commit- group seating into a circle, if possible. tee to explore less-toxic cleaners and landscaping • Place one handout and pen/pencil on or under methods; each seat. If the group is meeting outside, arrange • With this committee, explore switching some of to distribute handouts during the session. our most-used light bulbs to energy/money-sav- ing, compact fluorescent bulbs 6. At the beginning of the session, facilitate the Reflec- tion using the suggested options. Then, follow the2. Make enough photocopies of the Session Four flow and instructions that accompany each of the Handout for all group participants. sections. 7. Keep track of time and help to keep group discussion consistent with the Group-Building Guidelines. May God richly bless your time together with a sense of celebration and a vision for your ongoing, creation care journey. 23
Reflection Then begin the walk again. After another five-to-ten minutes, stop and read the following to the group:OPTION #1—Outside: “Silent Walk” “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of(20-30 minutes) life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of GodThis is a time for participants to open their senses to and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of thethe presence of the Holy in the world immediately city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with itsaround them—whether this be in an urban, suburban, twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month;rural, or “wilderness” setting. Greet participants as they and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of thearrive. Once everyone has arrived, invite them to gather nations.”in a circle and to enter a time of prayerful silence. Thenread or summarize the following: Begin the walk again. At the end of the walk, recon- Over the last three sessions, we have opened ourselves vene in a circle—either standing or sitting. From theirto one another and to the Holy Spirit. Today, we have experience of the walk, invite each person to identifyanother opportunity, in silence, to open senses to the one word (e.g., “gratitude,” “concern”) that comes topresence of the Holy in our midst. Let us do so in the his/her mind/heart and to share it with the group asspirit of the verse that was central to our first session: he/she feels led to do so. When everyone has sharedRomans 1:20, which again reads, “God’s eternal power their “one word,” simply say “Amen.” Then move intoand divine nature, invisible though they are, have been the Group Sharing time below.understood and seen through the things God has made.” We’re going to take a silent walk—and I will guide OPTION #2—Outside or Inside: “In-Place”us. As we take this silent walk, I invite you to open Reflection (15 minutes)every sense—your vision, sense of smell and touch, Greet participants as they arrive. When everyone hashearing—to all that is around you. Two times during arrived, invite them to take a seat within the circle.the walk, we’ll stop and momentarily break our silence, Encourage them to let their bodies and minds relax andand I’ll read two scripture verses: one from Jeremiah to invite the Holy Spirit into this prayerful time. Then17 and the other from Revelation 22. At the end of the read or summarize the following:walk we’ll gather again in a circle. In the Quaker tradition, silence provides a pathway As we enter into silence, I offer you a question to for listening more deeply to the voice of God or whatponder during our walk: many call “the Inner Light.” Sometimes, Quakers use “How shall we continue to cultivate our shared “queries,” or centering questions, to help focus theircalling to ‘steward the mysteries of God?’” silent journeys. In a similar way, let us now enter into a time of silence. As we do, I invite you to prayerfullyThen begin to lead the walk. Set a gentle, meditative consider the following query:pace that allows time for people to linger in particular “How shall we continue to cultivate our shared call-places as they choose to do so. After five-to-ten ing to ‘steward the mysteries of God?’”minutes, stop and read the following to the group: We’ll take a few minutes to enter the silence and, if “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust you feel led to do so, please ponder the query. Then I’llis the Lord. They shall be like a tree planted by water, offer two scripture readings, one from Jeremiah 17 andsending out its roots by the steam. It shall not fear when the other from Revelation 22. After the readings, we’llheat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year have several more minutes of silence and I’ll end ourof the drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to reflection by simply saying “Amen.”bear fruit.” 24
As you enter the silence, repeat the query above. Focused Read of God’s Earth Is SacredWait five minutes or so before offering the following (10 minutes)reading: After the Group Sharing, read or summarize the “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust following:is the Lord. They shall be like a tree planted by water, We’re now going to look at the final portion of God’ssending out its roots by the steam. It shall not fear when Earth Is Sacred: the “Call to Action.” In our previousheat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year session, we spent some time focusing on our uniqueof the drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to callings and vocations: those places where our deep glad-bear fruit.” ness meets the world’s deep hungers. We also spent time exploring tools—certain “norms”—that can help us liveAllow the silence to continue for several more minutes into our callings.before reading: This final “Call to Action” section doesn’t mince “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of words. It urges us to actively commit to making ourlife, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God vocation as “stewards of the mysteries of God” real andand of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the lasting. The Call to Action reminds us that we “servecity. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its and preserve” God’s creation not only in our words, buttwelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; also in our action; and not only when it seems conve-and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the na- nient to do so, but also in ways that constantly perme-tions.” ate the fabric of our personal and congregational lives. At this point, please take out your copy of God’sAllow for several more minutes of silence then end the Earth is Sacred and any notes that you may have takenreflection by simply saying “Amen.” on the Call to Action section. Take a few moments to glance over it.Group Sharing (10 minutes)Seated in a circle, invite participants to share their After everyone has had a chance to review their hand-insights from the previous Reflection. For this time of outs, read or summarize the following:sharing, it is not necessary to “go around the circle”— The Call to Action states that rather than relegat-participants should speak if and when they feel led to ing “care and justice for creation to the periphery ofdo so. As facilitator, you may want to start the sharing our concerns”—or seeing it as just another competingby offering your own insights. If your group is large “program alternative”—that such work “…must under-(more than 10 people), you may want to ask people gird and be entwined with all other dimensions of ourto break into small groups or “pair up” to share their churches’ ministries.” What are your thoughts on thisinsights—this will save time and allow for greater depth point of view?of sharing. Towards the end of this time, anyone who has Invite participants to take several minutes to respondvolunteered to follow up on an item listed on the last to this question.session’s Emerging Questions sheet may briefly reporthis/her insights/findings. 25
Activity and Discussion (20 minutes) Part 2: Putting congregational priorities into actionPart 1: Choosing priority congregational areas Read and/or summarize the following:Please read or summarize the following: Earlier, we reflected on the question, “How shall we Our activity/discussion time today consists of two continue to cultivate our shared calling to ‘steward theparts: (1) identifying those areas of congregational life mysteries of God?’” And, our scripture passages offeredinto which we feel most led to integrate creation care us fruitful images for staying strongly rooted in ourand justice and (2) discussing how we can help to make faith and in our calling. Rooted in our faith in Godsure that this happens. who is “renewing the face of the earth” (Ps. 104:30), our congregation can be like a well-watered tree thatDisplay your consolidated list (with Congregational produces fruits and leaves for the healing of God’sActivity Creation Care Ideas) from the Emerging world, for years to come.Insights from Group Activity sheets—explain to the We can participate in this healing work in ourgroup that this is a consolidation of the compiled lists personal lives and, again, within the life of our con-of congregational activities and their discussion of ways gregation. Some of us may feel particularly called toin which they could weave creation care and justice into continue to come together and help bring our priori-the activities. Distribute either the colored markers or tized Creation Care Ideas to life. For those who do feelthe stickers (one marker or three stickers per person); called to this, please note that our handout for todaythen continue reading or summarizing: has excellent resources—used and developed by other I invite you to look over this consolidated list to congregations. So we won’t have to start this work fromrefresh your memory of those Congregational Activity scratch. Who would like to continue to meet—maybeareas and Creation Care Ideas that most sparked your on a monthly or bi-monthly basis—to help bring theseenthusiasm over the past sessions. We’re now each going priorities to life?to choose three “Creation Care Ideas” that most appealto us. Specifically, I’m going to ask you to put a check Take a few minutes to let people respond. Pass aroundmark or sticker [depending on which one you have the sign up sheet for all who want to continue to meet.distributed] next to the ideas that, in your opinion, best Be sure that at least one or two people have committedmatches each of the following criteria: to help convene the group. Then enter into the closing1. Would be most enjoyable. ritual.2. Would make best use of our gifts—personal and/or shared. Closing Ritual3. Would most effectively integrate creation care and Ask participants to stand, divide into two groups, and justice into our congregation’s life. refer to their handouts.Then facilitate three “rounds of voting”—each round 1 Feel free to increase this number if you’d like ^