The world in which we live is a place of beauty. It contains the resources necessary to sustain life and has the capacity to absorb the waste that living forms produce. The earth’s design is truly elegant and often mysterious. Humanity is free to live in ways that disrupt or enhance creation’s original design, a design that encourages the flourishing of a life.
Making a commitment to greening the life of a faith community is necessary if we are to model our belief that the earth is the Lord’s and fulfill our primary charge to serve and protect the creation. Fulfilling the commitment is complex and can be energizing. Pursuing a creation care vision for spaces for worship and ministry is an opportunity for faith communities to assess and intentionally alter our patterns of living in the world.
An intentional plan will need to be developed and implemented over an extended period of time in order to fulfill most congregational goals. Keep reading for some concrete suggestions for establishing a plan to care for creation through our land and buildings.
Acknowledging the Need
Recognizing the pressure that record population growth yields in the form of increased natural resource consumption and waste production is an important first step in preparing to pursue green building. As congregations active in a living world, we are adding to the pressures that increased human needs exert on existing resources and inevitably producing waste that will need to be reabsorbed into our habitat. Congregations need to begin by acknowledging our contributions to unsustainable patterns of living.
Establishing a Commitment
Once we are able to recognize and acknowledge the state of our environment and the opportunities bestowed upon us to act in life-giving ways, we are ready to develop a commitment to green building. Leadership will be needed in our communities to develop congregation-wide strategies to green our communities and monitor the fulfillment of our goals. Endorsement and ongoing support of green building initiatives will be needed from our leaders in order to give high priority to the efforts and to build a broad consensus of support. Establishing a group of members who will provide direct leadership for congregational creation care is essential.
Networking for Ideas and Support
As people of faith who value community, we must acknowledge that we are not alone in our desire to pursue green initiatives. Inquiries through local faith community networks, web-based networks, or state and local environmental organizations will help us identify others who are pursuing creation care. Reach out to these communities to establish genuine connections and to learn from one another about what may be done within your local or regional context.
Visit the property and buildings of other congregations. It is especially helpful to actually see the ways in which green building is taking tangible form and to learn about the challenges of maintaining healthy patterns over time. Through on-site visits you can learn what resources are readily available. A community can begin networking by seeking like-minded congregations within a particular tradition, but note that some traditions are farther along than others in fulfilling green building. Be willing to move beyond your particular tradition in seeking models and advice.
Developing a Plan
Green building will be implemented most effectively when the time is taken to develop a comprehensive plan for achieving it. Remember the range of green building that can be pursued, from a minimum of increasing building efficiency to an ideal of assisting the regeneration of the creation. Establish a vision that matches the theological affirmations of the community. Analysis of congregational patterns of consumption and waste will be important for measuring the present environmental impact of a congregation. The analysis will assist the congregation in identifying concerns for initial improvement and provide benchmarks against which to compare future measurements.
Networking with others will yield information about important ways in which green building can be pursued within your local context. The insights from networking connections can be combined with advice from land development and building professionals. Working with professionals knowledgeable in green building will help your congregation expand its knowledge of existing strategies, materials, and benefits. Using building rating systems, such as LEED, may assist a congregation in achieving a comprehensive plan and provide external accountability.
Implementing the Plan
Implementation of needed change to fulfill the goals of a green building plan will require mobilizing the entire congregation. If creation care remains the vision and passion of only a small number of members, it will be difficult to achieve any measurable level of constructive impact. Evaluate the range of congregants who may have particular skills or experience related to building and land issues. Intentionally invite those members to share in the congregational greening process. Not only will the congregation benefit from the expertise of its members but these professionals will also have an opportunity to grow in their field in and through the creation care efforts of their congregation.
For all members of the congregation, provide opportunities to implement green initiatives. Identifying ways in which all members of the community can share in pursuing green building will even potentially encourage them to translate these communal efforts into personal green building activities in their homes and workplaces.
Education and Worship
Education and worship exert powerful influences upon a congregation and occupy a central role in fulfilling creation care initiatives in congregations. Coordinate these central activities for the faith community with the process of fulfilling the green building goals of the community. Each step outlined above will require educating the entire congregation and can take different forms. Education occurs in exchanges as casual as a spontaneous conversation between two individuals or as formal as a curriculum-driven presentation before an age-appropriate audience. The multiplicity of avenues that congregations have available to them for education makes it possible to share understandings related to creation care on a regular basis.
Worship itself is an additional avenue for participating in green building. In some faith traditions the very act of living is thought of (at least potentially) as an offering of thanks and praise to the Creator of all things. The choices a person makes in how to live in the world, in relationship to all other living beings, is viewed as a part of worship. If this view is held, the lifestyle choices for green building become a part of one’s offering to the Divine. In a more specific sense, public and private liturgical activities carry the potential for sharing in creation care. Themes related to the nature of creation and how people are to live in the world are easily integrated into formal or informal worship events. Through the reading and proclamation of Scripture, prayer, singing, and other ritual expressions creation care can be emphasized and celebrated.
Sharing stories is an engaging human activity that can be used in both education and worship. Encourage members to share stories of appreciating the beauty and bounty of the earth, anxiety about resource allocation and waste production, insights about the pursuit of environmental care, and successful implementation of initiatives. Such stories will inspire some to engage in creation care and encourage others to maintain their ongoing commitment. Capitalize on the range of generations in a congregation too. Older members may be able to share a rich mixture of stories about the community’s purchase of land and its building projects. The commitment, sacrifices, and unfolding understandings that older generations have experienced will motivate and inform younger members. And a shared sense of purpose and meaning may emerge that reinforces the hopes and dreams for fulfilling a green building program.
May the people of God rise up and take on the challenge of leading our communities in creation care. And may our green building efforts contribute to the renewing of the face of the earth for the sake of God, all who come after us, and the nonhuman creation.
Comments welcome on the Alban Roundtable Blog
Adapted and excerpted from Greening Spaces for Worship and Ministry: Congregations, Their Buildings, and Creation Care by Mark A. Torgerson, copyright © 2012 by the Alban Institute. All rights reserved.
Grounded in solid theory and real-life practice, Memories, Hopes, and Conversations is a groundbreaking work of narrative leadership and the first book to apply the principles of appreciative inquiry to the lives of congregations. By focusing on memories of the congregation at its best, members are able to construct “provocative proposals” to help shape the church’s future.
Holy Places: Matching Sacred Space with Mission and Message
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Starting Simple: Conversations about the Way We Live
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It’s Not Too Late: A Field Guide to Hope
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by Carol Howard Merritt
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Strategic Planning in Congregations
Presenter: Dan Hotchkiss, Alban senior consultant
September 11-13, 2012
Holy Family Retreat Center, West Hartford, CT
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