Outside St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Racine, Wis., a drop of rain might find its way into several useful places: a rain garden near one corner of the church building, one of several rain barrels, an organic garden filled with fresh fruits and vegetables, or a small orchard.
The conservation and creative use of water is one way members of St. Andrew help care for God’s creation and protect Earth’s natural resources.
In addition to these and other efforts to become a green congregation, Michael Mueller, pastor of St. Andrew, recognizes that such projects only go so far without being centered around the primary mode of gathering a congregation’s members: worship.
“Since worship is the center — we gather around word and sacrament — that’s a natural place to include a focus on God’s creation,” says Michael. “If we don’t see the connection in worship, then it’s going to be difficult to live out this ministry in the rest of our life together.”
To accomplish this, Michael and St. Andrew (for the past five years) have embraced the Season of Creation, an optional four-week season in the church year usually celebrated during the month of September.
Connecting worship and creation
This gives people an opportunity to focus on worship of God as creator and celebrate domains of creation such as rivers, forests and wilderness.
“We talk all the time about God the creator, but it’s not often it comes up in a regular Sunday service,” says Sandy Roberts, chair of St. Andrew’s Green Team. “It’s very easy for people to make the connection, because a lot of people have that feeling when they’re in nature.
Once the connection is made for people, it deepens their faith and commitment to care for God’s creation.”
Michael talks about a profound past experience involving Ocean Sunday. In preparation for his sermon, he reflected on the writings of Rachel Carson, an American marine biologist and conservationist whose writings are credited with advancing the global environmental movement in the 1960s.
“The mystery of life is something that Rachel communicated deeply,” says Michael. “By contrast, we learned about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — a vortex in the northern Pacific Ocean” where exceptionally high concentrations of debris are trapped by the currents of the North Pacific Gyre. Plastic dissolves there and eventually ends up in the food stream.
“It’s that kind of contrast that is raised up in the Season of Creation liturgy — both the great wonder at the beauty and mystery of creation and the real tragedy and danger of our lack of awareness about consequences of human actions that are putting creation at risk,” says Michael. “The Season of Creation helps us recognize this contrast and the opportunity we have to take action and do something about it.”
Following Series A this year, the first of a three-year cycle, Michael and members of the Green Team draw from several resources in planning this year’s emphasis:
- “The Season of Creation: A Preaching Commentary” — From Fortress Press’s website: “Scholars who have pioneered the connections between biblical scholarship, ecological theology, liturgy and homiletics provide here a comprehensive resource for preaching and leading worship in this new season.”
- The Season of Creation website - Provides liturgies, worship visual aids, sermon themes, Bible studies and suggestions for Earth care appropriate for each Sunday in the Season of Creation.
- Lutherans Restoring Creation website — Based on a grassroots movement within the ELCA, this site offers resources for many parts of the church body (synods, congregations, pastors, seminaries, etc.), including care-for-creation-focused weekly sermon commentaries by Dennis Ormseth. The commentaries can assist pastors in their sermon preparation for each Sunday, including and beyond the Season of Creation.
Find these and other helpful creation-related resources on the ELCA Caring for Creation website.
Here are examples of what leaders at St. Andrew are planning this year:
- Forest Sunday — Discuss the symbiotic relationship between humans and trees, how people depend on trees as life partners as well as worship partners.
- Land Sunday — Celebrate the harvest of St. Andrew’s community garden, and offer produce and monetary gifts to local food banks.
- Wilderness Sunday — Display different faces and inhabitants of wilderness via slide presentation. Provide information about wilderness preservation groups and laws protecting natural sanctuaries.
- River Sunday — Focus worship around the “river of life” with blue ribbon streamers draped from the central baptismal font down throughout the sanctuary.
- Blessing of the Animals — Conclude the season with an outdoor service where everyone gathers with their pets, and each animal — humans included — is blessed with health and well-being.
In all services, emphasis is placed on the good news of God the creator of all, Christ the redeemer of creation and the Spirit as the sustainer of life. In each service, members invoke God the creator, confess their sins against creation, petition for restoration of nature and resolve to care for creation.
Aaron Cooper is a freelance writer and member of Edison Park Lutheran Church an ELCA congregation in Chicago.
David Rhoads is emeritus professor of New Testament at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and director of Lutherans Restoring Creation.