Home Page: www.eco-justice.org * E-mail: email@example.com
Ministry in a Time of Drought
Suggestions for local congregations
Colorado is the "home base" for Eco-Justice Ministries. While we work in partnership with churches across the US and around the world, we have an especially close relationship with many churches in the Rocky Mountain region. This resource was designed to be relevant to the congregations in our region. We hope it is also helpful to those in other parts of the world.
Colorado – along with many other areas in the US and around the world – is in a time of deepening drought.
News reports speak to us of mountains without snow, of rivers and reservoirs at record low levels, of wells going dry, of fields that won't produce a crop, and of forests that explode into raging fires. Our communities are feeling the impact of the drought in their economies, lifestyles, and their collective psyche.
These are stressful, exceptional times for many of us. To go about the life of the church without addressing the practical, ethical and spiritual issues raised by the drought suggests that the church is uncaring, or does not have a relevant message to offer. What can churches do and say in this time that is appropriate to our faith, and meaningful to our communities?
Your church's response will be shaped by your community – how severely the drought has hit, and whether you are ministering to a rural area, a suburban community, or a central city. Your response will also be shaped by your denominational style and liturgical traditions. But all churches in drought-afflicted areas should be able to find many meaningful ways to address this crisis situation.
Eco-Justice Ministries offers these suggestions to help you consider ways that your church can provide relevant ministry in this time of drought. Another page on our website has a growing listing of additional resources on this theme to help you develop your programs.
We urge you to contact us by e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) or phone (303-715-3873) and discuss other ways to make your ministry relevant to this time of drought, and to other environmental and social justice issues that are prominent in your community.
Essential first steps
- Practice water conservation in all your church facilities (including the parsonage). Water the lawn on the recommended schedules, or less. Look for efficient use of water in the kitchen and bathrooms. Check for leaks and waste. Perform immersion baptisms at a local swimming pool. Don't schedule a car wash as a fundraiser. Publicize what steps have been taken at the church, and how they are taken as matters of faithful stewardship.
- Use church publications (newsletters, bulletins, websites) to educate members of the congregation about what they can do to save water. Your water department and county extension agent can give you specific guidelines and suggestions that are targeted for your locale. Ask for free handouts and resources that you can distribute.
Options for worship and liturgy
- Hold a service of dedication where people commit to personal and collective stewardship of their precious water supply. (Your own congregation can hold such a service, or you can join with other congregations in an ecumenical or interfaith service of dedication for the entire community.) Get media coverage of the service!
- In the prayers of your congregation (during worship, and in printed lists of prayer concerns), regularly lift up all those who are impacted by the drought -- individuals and communities; humans, animals, plants and ecosystems.
- The lectionary has very few passages that will lead preachers to touch on drought-related issues. If your tradition allows, break away from the lectionary to use texts that are more pertinent. A number of themes are listed below that can deal with theological and pastoral questions that reach far beyond the immediate drought issues.
Issues for pastoral care
- Look at drought-related issues in your pastoral care. What fears and anxieties are being stirred up? What anger and resentment? Are people feeling guilt, or grief, or powerlessness?
- If members of your parish are hard-hit by the drought – farmers or ranchers who may be forced off the land, or homeowners who have been burned out in a forest fire – watch for expressions of personal and family stress such as physical and emotional abuse, drug and alcohol problems, depression and suicide warnings.
Options for community service
- If there are controversial topics about water use in your community (preserving stream flows for wildlife, conflicts over agricultural vs. household water use), your church can be a "safe place" to hold community forums where many different voices can be heard. Make it clear that you are not only trying to find creative solutions to conflicts, but to build understanding and compassion within the community.
- It can be difficult for individuals to confront their neighbors about water waste. Your church can provide people with tools that allow conversation without conflict, and that build cooperation. For example, offer classes in conflict management, or print handouts that invite a neighborhood to join together in water conservation.
- Distribute water-saving devices to church members and/or the community (such as faucet aerators, low-flow showerheads, or bricks to put in toilet tanks). These could be given away as a public service (especially in low-income neighborhoods), or sold by a church group. Or, encourage retailers to advertise specials on these items.
- Identify areas of local financial need where your church can provide assistance, either through existing funds, special offerings, or donations of helpful supplies – a family whose well has gone dry, a rancher in financial crisis, families burned out by a forest fire, or revegetation projects after a forest or prairie fire.
- Identify opportunities where church members can provide volunteer service in the community – distributing literature on water conservation, or helping with revegetation efforts after a fire.
Themes to explore in sermons, classes, conversations or personal study
- Explore what this occasion reveals about how we think and feel about prayer. Should we "pray for rain"? Should our prayers seek to bring us into tune with the cycles of nature? Should prayer give voice to our hopes and fears, without being tied to any request for results?
- What does the drought tell us about the state of our relationships, neighborhoods and community? Do you see people pulling together to meet the crisis, and strengthening community? Are some people selfishly damaging the community through irresponsible water use? Is the community fractured by competing interest groups? Do people feel like they can talk to their neighbors about water use, or is the norm one of non-interference in their neighbor's behavior?
- Use the drought as an illustration of larger pastoral and moral issues. The experience of living with a limited water supply can provide vivid insights about other ways in which we live in a limited world (ranging from family issues of finances and time commitments, to policy questions about the use of finite fossil fuel resources). Neighborhood expectations about keeping lawns green may illustrate the way social values shape our thinking and acting (which can also point at the impact of fashion sensibilities on responsible spending, or decisions by youth about smoking or drinking).
- Address issues of justice that are raised by the drought. Watering restrictions may mean that poor kids can't play in the sprinkler on a hot day, while rich families have no restrictions on their swimming pools. How are resources allocated in fighting forest fires between protections for private property and public lands? How fair are your state's water laws in dealing with the needs of all users, including non-humans?
- The Bible often sees drought as a consequence of the community's sin. Where are water shortages a problem that grows out of what we have done (damage to watersheds, wasteful use, human-induced global climate change), and where is it a "natural" event unrelated to our actions? How do our changing scientific understandings about weather shift our theological and spiritual perspectives about how God acts in the world?
- Reflect on what happens when humans try to exert too much control over natural systems – how trying to suppress all forest fires has increased fire danger and weakened forest ecology, how planting inappropriate species (like bluegrass lawns in a semi-desert region or crops that require extensive irrigation) overextends our need for water resources. How are people of faith called to live in relationship with nature?
Eco-Justice Ministries * 400 S Williams St, Denver, CO 80209 *
Home Page: www.eco-justice.org
Eco-Justice Ministries ended all programming on July 31, 2020. This site is an archive of writings and resources.
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