Eco-Justice Ministries  

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

Act and Pray in the Season of Creation
distributed 7/28/17 - ©2017

"We celebrate the season of Advent before Christmas. We celebrate the season of Lent before Easter. When do we celebrate the season of Creation?"

That question was posed by Australian scholar, Norman Habel. He answered the question 17 years ago by defining the season of creation as the four Sundays of September that precede St Francis of Assisi Day, October 4. An ecumenical commission worked with Habel to develop an extensive set of worship resources for the season that was made available to churches in Australia, and worldwide, in 2005. I know of many congregations that have used the three-year cycle of liturgical themes, and found them to be a meaningful addition to their worship life.

Last year, Pope Francis asked Catholics around the world to join in observing the Season of Creation. The World Council of Churches also collaborates in this ecumenical worship series.

As Habel -- who is also the chief editor of the Earth Bible series -- reflected, "The season of Creation offers an opportunity for churches to introduce new visual elements into their worship and to be ecumenical and connected with creation in a particular context."

The timing of the season of creation is now widely recognized. But as the ecological crisis continues to deepen, a new and slightly different question has emerged. How do we celebrate the season of Creation?

A new Season of Creation initiative suggests that it is no longer sufficient to observe the season with worship in our own congregations. They write, "Christians are encouraged to host prayer services that incorporate a symbolic action and are held at a location where you can 'hear the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor'."

Eco-Justice Ministries has just signed on as a partner of this new and more activist Season of Creation. I strongly encourage you to plan an ecumenical event that includes some kind of public action.

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When I first heard about the call for symbolic actions, I was confused. This didn't sound like the season of creation that I'd known. I discovered that there are two projects, and two websites, both called "seasonofcreation". The one dealing with worship themes ends in ".com" and the newer one including action ends in ".org". So I wrote back to one of the organizers, asking about ties between the two projects.

I heard back, quite promptly, from Rev. Rachel Mash, the Environmental Coordinator for the Anglican Church of Southern Africa. She assured me that the new project is based on the same idea as Norman Habel's wonderful work of liturgy. She wrote, "So we are all trying to promote the same thing -- getting as many Christians to pray and act for creation during the month of September up until Oct 4th."

She continued, "I suppose I could say that ours is a movement and the other one is a resource." As a movement, those taking part don't just use a resource. (And seasonofcreation.org does have excellent resources for worship and action.) As part of the movement, we're actively involved in building new coalitions and creating new events that are especially relevant for our own location.

I am excited about the new and expanded movement for worship and action. The invitation to get out of our church buildings, to join with other church communities, and to be public in our prayer and witness strikes me as an essential way to express our faith commitments.

The planning toolkit suggest a few possibilities for symbolic action:

  • Prayers at a location of environmental harm. Examples include a prayer service on the site of a mountaintop removal mine, in front of a waste incinerator, or a beach at risk due to sea level rise.
  • Symbolic actions of environmental healing could include a tree planting or placing or blessing solar panels on a congregation building.
  • Prayers at a location of environmental injustice, such as by a highway ramp forced through a lower income community, or a part of the city where nature is lacking.
  • Incorporating creation and the poor in a prayer service, bringing symbols of nature inside or having the prayers led by members of an affected community.

Other season of creation actions might join with international movements for divestment from fossil fuels (with coordinated events on October 4), or the "Big Shift" campaign which is calling on the World Bank to phase out support for fossil fuels by 2020 and support renewable energies.

Think about where you live. Where do you hear the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor coming together? Where is there ecological injustice? Who are some of the poor, the marginalized, the most severely impacted, who give voice to that injustice? How can your church join with others to name the desecration, and to proclaim hope and healing?

The season of creation starts in a month, and it runs for a month beyond that. If you get to work soon, there's plenty of time to gather a diverse group of faith communities, to identify the focal point for your prayer service, and to plan a worship event that is both meaningful and visible.

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For more than a decade, the worship resources from Australia have helped churches lift up creation as an important worship theme. The artwork and liturgies have fostered theological innovation, and have spoken to countless congregations about environmental responsibilities that the church had ignored for far too long. They have been -- and still are -- a tremendously valuable gift to local churches.

The new season of creation movement takes us to the necessary next step. An ecological theology demands that prayer be joined with action. A genuine season of creation now requires public witness.

The movement has great materials to help you plan and act. So get busy! Start talking to folk who share your commitments. Reach out to friends and colleagues in other congregations. Plan a prayer service, and let your community know that Christians (along with people of other faiths) are engaged in the holy work of eco-justice.

Shalom!

Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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