Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Coral and Prayer
distributed 6/1/01 - ©2001

Somehow, our minds can get around the idea of species extinction. We can accept, for example, that passenger pigeons no longer exist.

What is harder to grasp in the very real possibility that an entire community of life might disappear from the face of the earth. In a speech last week, Bill McKibben spoke of the frightening possibility that there may be no coral reefs left by the year 2050.

Coral reefs have been characterized as the marine equivalent of rainforests because they are vibrant centers of sea life that harbor a myriad of species.

An international environmental monitoring organization recently estimated that the world has lost 27 percent of its coral reefs. Some of those reefs are gone for good, while others could possibly recover.

The biggest coral catastrophe to date was a widespread coral bleaching epidemic that occurred in 1998. According to the research, about 16 percent of the world's reefs were destroyed in nine months; about half of those ruined reefs are likely to be gone forever.

While global warming appears to be the biggest threat facing coral reefs, there are other potential hazards. Those include water pollution, sediment from coastal development, destructive fishing techniques including the use of dynamite and cyanide, and sand mining.

The loss of passenger pigeons left a small hole in the structures of life on earth. The loss of coral reefs would remove a major piece of the structure's foundation. Not only would there be a profound impact on the countless species that live within the reef community, the critical role played by coral in island building also would come to an end. The impact would be geological as well as biological.

The destruction of coral reefs is well documented. Still, part of me finds it hard to comprehend what the death of coral would mean to our world. Another part of me may comprehend, and tries to block that awareness from my daily consciousness.

The human community must come to grips with the scope of the devastation being inflicted on this critical life-system. If we are to be motivated bring healing, we must, somehow, comprehend and internalize the long-term effects on our planet that will come with the loss of coral.

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There is a very difficult strategic problem in addressing issues like the destruction of coral reefs. These are not the sort of things that people like to think about and talk about.

How can we raise awareness and generate involvement around these large and complex problems? Calling a meeting to discuss the destruction of reefs or rainforests is unlikely to bring out folk who are not already informed and concerned.

Congregational prayer can be an effective, and appropriate, vehicle for bringing such issues to the attention of a community. These are, indeed, matters that we offer to God in prayer. Praying in a public context invites others to face up to these matters of concern.

Many congregations have a time in their worship when people are invited to name joys and concerns, and to lift their prayers of petition. The pastoral prayer often names specific details for care or celebration.

When members of the congregation or the pastor name eco-justice issues in these settings, the issue is first raised as a matter of personal and pastoral concern. That can be a very different experience than presenting a cause to be adopted in political or practical terms. The congregation is able to encounter the issue in an emotional, rather than intellectual, way. They can react with grief, sorrow, anger or hope. They can begin to feel compassion, rather than worry about solutions.

Of course, the process must move toward solutions and effective options for change. But members of the community will be more inclined to gather for those practical conversations when they have first been introduced to the issues in a pastoral, prayerful way.

Praying about several facets of an issue over a period of weeks or months is a faithful response to the state of our world. It can also be an important step in organizing a community into action and involvement.

Let us pray


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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