Eco-Justice Ministries  

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

Y'all Do Something
distributed 8/10/07 - ©2007

In the categories of United States regionalism, I'm a "Yankee", born and bred. There isn't a bit of Southerner in my heritage.

I've found a profound wisdom, though, in a word that I associate with the deep South. I have become quite fond of y'all, and I have adopted it into my speaking and writing.

"Standard English" does not have a special pronoun for the second person plural. The word "you" is used to refer to either an individual or a group. The folksy contraction of "you all" provides a way to refer clearly to a collective you.

When I'm writing to a member of a church, it is immensely helpful to be able to make that distinction. Sometimes I want to say, "you can do something", and other times I want to stress that "y'all can do something else." When a family or a community is in crisis, it is useful to be able to say, "I'm keeping y'all in my prayers."

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I pay attention to the second person plural, to y'all, because it expresses a challenging part of the programming and perspective of Eco-Justice Ministries. In our work with churches, we often want to make it very clear that we're speaking to a collective and institutional "you", and not to a batch of individuals.

Environmental groups often ask churches a leading question along the lines of "what can you do to care for the earth?" The answers that they are eager to provide often fit well for an individual "you." You can change light bulbs, turn down the thermostat, and conserve water. That's all true, of course. Those sorts of actions can be taken by an individual, or by a group of people, or a business, or a church. They are good and important steps.

Eco-Justice Ministries affirms those personal steps, but we also have a different agenda. We speak to church leaders about what y'all can do as an institution, as a collective presence, as "church". The church, as an organization, has opportunities for leadership and programming that are quite different from the "things to do list" for individuals.

What can y'all do to care for the earth? Your church -- in its unique role as a religious institution -- can express moral and community leadership. A congregation can offer programs and guidance that go beyond the list of what individuals can do.

Eco-Justice Ministries is convinced that churches, as institutions, can have a strong impact on their members, their community, and the broader society. Churches, if they are intentional about it, can use their distinctive gifts and style to increase their impact, and to be vivid agents of God in their community.

How can the church -- as church -- address the critical questions of today's world? When churches take on a leadership role, they become actively engaged in highlighting and framing the primary issues. They provide values education, mentoring and leadership, and an intentional modeling of behaviors. They act to mobilize, encourage and empower their members.

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Let me get specific -- with both an affirmation and a challenge.

The US Environmental Protection Agency has a long-standing program called Change a Light, Change the World. It is described as "a national call-to-action to encourage every individual to help change the world, one light -- one energy-saving step -- at a time." The EPA works through non-profit organizations, state governments, schools, community groups, and congregations to promote this change-a-light pledge. This year, many of the state-level affiliates of the Interfaith Power and Light project are actively promoting this program.

In my home territory, Colorado Interfaith Power and Light is working on Change a Light, Change the World in partnership with the Governor's energy office. Thanks to funding from the state government, participating congregations will receive free compact fluorescent light bulbs that will be given to each member who takes part in a short class.

This is a great, well-coordinated effort to work through churches. I strongly encourage congregations in Colorado to take part in the joint EPA-COILP-Colorado program. (Sign up at Congregations in other states can check with their local IP&L affiliates to see what is being done there.

I'm concerned, though, that the Change a Light, Change the World effort looks at congregations primarily as a way to reach individuals. Churches are seen as a convenient setting for doing education and recruiting for energy efficiency. This program of the EPA is not designed to call congregations into strong and distinctive leadership. It does not make use of the special gifts that congregations can offer when they take seriously their role as "church".

I don't blame the EPA for taking that approach. But I am convinced that churches can, and must, do more. They must claim a stronger role if they are to be true to their calling as God's agents in the world in this time of great eco-justice crisis.

In the coming months, Eco-Justice Ministries will be developing a set of new resource materials that will focus on the y'all aspect of churches. We'll be describing some specific ways that churches can work with their programming, their community life, and their collective presence to make the sort of difference that individuals cannot.

NOTE: We're looking for designated funding to help us create this set of resources. Please let us know if we can approach your church foundation or mission committee about underwriting such a project!

A very tentative first piece of that new resource set has just been posted to our website. This new page looks at ways churches can be intentional and strategic around the "change a light bulb" theme. It explores practical and effective ways that congregations can use their committed and close-knit communities to foster new behaviors. It pays attention to the pastoral and ethical leadership that churches can express internally and externally.

The new resource from Eco-Justice Ministries does not contradict anything about the EPA's Change a Light, Change the World campaign -- but it does go much deeper. I strongly encourage you to refer to our resource as a way of enhancing your participation in the EPA and Interfaith Power and Light projects.

There are many things that you can do to care for the earth, and I hope you will. There are other things that y'all can do as churches that go far beyond individual actions. I pray that your congregation will claim that distinctive aspect of ministry.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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Eco-Justice Ministries ended all programming on July 31, 2020. This site is an archive of writings and resources.
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