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How to "earth" the life of your local church

This article by Miriam Pepper first appeared in the September 2008 edition of Insights.

What is this “earthing” all about?

For a while now we have been talking about churches going “green”.  We could just as easily talk about “blue” churches (how much of our planet is covered by water?), or “ochre” churches (in a country like Australia).  Whatever colour we call it, what we are really doing is “earthing” the lives of our churches, working for a stronger connection between ecology and Christian faith and practice in all of its aspects.  Earthing our churches is about living up to our calling to participate in God’s mission, made known in Christ, of reconciling and renewing the whole of the creation.  The Uniting Church professed this calling at the time of its foundation 31 years ago (Basis of Union, paragraph 3).  It is about us putting this profession into practice!

How do you do it?

Earthing our churches is much more than greening our buildings, although this is an important component.  It is also about worship and teaching, the lives of our congregations, and mission and outreach in the broader community.  Here are some ideas to get you started:

1)    Worship and teaching

Many churches across Australia celebrate the Season of Creation in September/October.  Resources are available from http://wwww.seasonofcreation.com and http://www.ecofaith.org.  For Bible study or cell groups, a great introductory book is Barry Leal’s “The Environment and Christian Faith”.  Pray about ecological issues in church on a regular basis.  Hold worship outside.

2)    Church buildings and property

Conduct an energy audit of your buildings, and see how you can reduce (and then commit to reducing!) your energy use.  A simple audit is available from http://www.shrinkingthefootprint.cofe.anglican.org, and there are other resources at http://www.arrcc.org.au.  Switch to renewable electricity (GreenPower) – see ARRCC for instructions as to how.  Get a water tank.  Plant a native garden.  Talk to your local council and see how they can help.

3)    Church congregation

Support the members of your congregation in earthing their lives as well.  Encourage them to reduce their ecological footprint at home and work (see ACF’s “GreenHome” resources at http://www.acfonline.org.au).  Do things as a congregation – start a tool library, a fruit and veg box scheme or food cooperative.  Encourage people to lift share, cycle, walk, or use public transport to get to church.

4)    Mission and outreach

Reach out beyond the walls of the church, and connect with the community on issues of ecology.

Host an event at your church: Such as an open day, fete, speaker, seminar, or film screening where you concentrate on or include ecological themes.

Start a U-turn group: A U-turn group is a small group which meets regularly and involves at least three people from outside the church.  Your u-turn group could be an environmental discussion group, or could focus on outdoor activities (e.g. walking, cycling, bush care), sharing skills (e.g. gardening, sewing), or sharing food.  For more information and ideas, see http://www.uturn.uca.org.au.

Start a community garden: Many churches host community garden projects, involving community groups and individuals from outside the church.  What a great way to build relationships and skills, to connect with the soil, reduce food miles; and eat healthily.  For information about community gardens, see http://www.communitygarden.org.au

Campaign: For public policies that are protective of the earth and all its people (see e.g. the http://www.makepovertyhistory.com.au resources on climate change).  Find out about environmental campaigning groups in your area (e.g. Climate Action Groups, http://www.climatemovement.org.au), and how your church can support them.  Get involved in demonstrations or non-violent direction actions, or if this isn’t you, consider supporting others who are involved with your prayers.

Help!  This all seems too much!

The key to all of this is to start small, with something you can manage, and then to become more ambitious as you build momentum.  Gather a core group of people who will drive the earthing of your church.  Seek support from others – join Uniting Earthweb, a network of Uniting Church people within NSW and the ACT who are interested in ecology (http://www.unitingearthweb.org.au).  Celebrate your successes.  Share your good news and learning with others.  Pray, pray, pray!