4 Ways to Think Green at Church

Originally published by Converge Magazine.

I remember the first time I walked into a “home-church-that-outgrew-the-home” gathering. The crowd was young, and I’m pretty sure the meeting space was a yoga studio the other six days of the week. As if this wasn’t different enough from my Baptist roots, the greeter offered me an oatmeal cookie instead of a bulletin.

As a former church secretary who once printed and folded hundreds of bulletins each week, I was officially intrigued. After the service I signed up for their e-bulletin list and thanked God that no one at this church was too poor to have a computer or too old to know how to use one.

Of course it’s not a bad thing for churches to cut down on their paper use, or to switch to biodegradable or ceramic cups for coffee hour. But will we soon lobby for acoustic-only worship to save power or redefine “Sunday best” as a parka to conserve energy? And will we think we’re saving the world as we do it?

The World Health Organization warns that we’ll see 300,000 deaths annually by 2030 from the effects of climate change, and the UN Refugee Agency predicts that 200 million people will be on the move due to environmental degradation by mid-century. Yet the people most affected are the least to blame. Low-lying Bangladesh — increasingly faced with super storms, droughts, and flooding — has greenhouse gas emissions of 0.3 metric tonnes per capita, compared to 18 metric tonnes per capita in Canada.

The government needs a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reach international targets. Rev. Dr. Mishka Lysack, co-editor of Living Ecological Justice: A Biblical Response to the Environmental Crisis, is urgently calling on churches to move beyond individual actions and towards collective creation advocacy.

“Personal greening alone can never adequately address the enormous magnitude of climate change or the environmental crisis, any more than hosting church book clubs about racism could have ushered in effective civil rights legislation that drove deep social change at the time of Martin Luther King Jr.,” he writes.

Still, greening local churches is important. Small-scale greening slightly reduces carbon emissions and other pollution; but more importantly, it creates psychological changes in how we see our relationship with creation, compelling us to take more effective action.

So starting small and progressing from there, here are some ideas to bring environmental care and advocacy into regular church life.

1. Church dinners, local style.

If your church has land, create a community garden. If not, become a hub for community-supported agriculture or plan a 100-Mile Diet meal for your next church dinner.

2. Green audits and alternative energy.

There are many options to consider when it’s time for an upgrade. There’s the church in Langley, B.C. that installed a geothermal energy system, the Mennonite Savings and Credit Union that offers “Creation Care loans” for environmental retrofits, and the Greening Sacred Spaces network that has environmental audit resources.

3. Help shift church thought.

If your church or denomination has a newspaper, magazine, or website, write a letter to encourage discussion on creation care and the urgent need for advocacy. Share engaging theological and scientific resources and invite speakers to church events.

4. Be a national voice for change.

As of 2011, 67 per cent of Canadians said their religion was Catholic, Protestant, or another Christian faith. With the government severely behind on its Copenhagen Accord commitments, churches have an opportunity to speak out through their national offices for an impressive number of Canadians.

So before you ban the church bulletin, first see if you can use it to promote far more impactful change.

Photo by  d-olwen-dee (Flickr cc)


  • Ashley Chapman

    Ashley is the former Public Justice Intern at CPJ. She has a communications background, having worked as an editor, writer, researcher, filmmaker, and communications coordinator with organizations and publications including Food for the Hungry, Power to Change, Love Ottawa (Vanier Neighbourhood Study), Converge magazine, and Geez magazine, where she currently edits the Catholic Worker news section. Ashley studied communications and political studies at Trinity Western University and documentary filmmaking at Vancouver’s Pull Focus Film School. She also received a certificate in Leadership and Applied Public Affairs from the Laurentian Leadership Centre. With an interest in co-housing, sustainable living, neighbourhood ministry, and asset-based community development, she is passionate about finding ways to bring her Christian faith and convictions to everyday life. Ashley is from White Rock, B.C., but also calls Ottawa home.

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