Empowering Episcopalians and the next generation to care for creation

By Lynette Wilson
Posted Apr 13, 2015
Students from Campbell Hall and St. Margaret's Episcopal Schools observe elephant seals during mating season on the coast of Big Sur, California. From birth to death and everything in between, the full cycle of life was on display. Photo: Andrew Barnett/Diocese of Los Angeles

Students from Campbell Hall and St. Margaret’s Episcopal Schools observe elephant seals during mating season on the coast of Big Sur, California. From birth to death and everything in between, the full cycle of life was on display. Photo: Diocese of Los Angeles

[Episcopal News Service] Episcopalians old and young often turn to the phrase “this fragile earth, our island home” when talking about stewardship of the planet. It comes from Eucharistic Prayer C, found in the Book of Common Prayer.

A little further down the page, the prayer continues: “You made us the rulers of creation. But we turned against you, and betrayed your trust; and we turned against one another.”

Over the last 21 days, Episcopalians have been participating in 30 Days of Action, a campaign designed and initiated by the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society to engage individuals and congregations in a conversation about climate change. (The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society is the name under which The Episcopal Church is incorporated, conducts business and carries out mission.)

The campaign, which began with a live, webcast forum on March 24, culminates on Earth Day, April 22. Resources and activities for the campaign include advocacy days, bulletin inserts, stories, sermons and outdoor excursions.

The 30 Days of Action, as well as the fifth of the Five Marks of Mission, are a call to action to regain that trust and to come together in community to care for creation.

As James Pickett, a climate-change activist and young adult from the Diocese of Western Massachusetts, makes clear in a recent blog post, unless Anglicans and Episcopalians take seriously the fifth of the Five Marks of Mission, “To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth,” the other four marks are irrelevant.

“If we don’t treasure creation, the other marks of mission cannot be accomplished,” wrote Pickett.

Just talking about climate change and its related justice issues doesn’t cut it, according to Pickett and others; it’s about living the marks and putting faith into action.

Last fall, Pickett and other Episcopalians joined the more than 300,000 people from across the country and the world on the streets of New York for the People’s Climate March, the largest demonstration for climate action in history.

As evidenced in the activities and resources included and developed for the 30-day campaign, it’s impossible to have a conversation about climate change and not talk about justice issues implicit in the Five Marks of Mission.

“When The Episcopal Church adopted the Five Marks of Mission, I was struck by the practical nature of the language and its action-oriented invitation,” said lifelong environmentalist Bronwyn Clark Skov, the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society’s officer for youth ministries. “I am especially thankful for the specificity of the Fifth Mark of Mission, ‘to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.’”

“It could be argued that this area of ministry is an undercurrent of the Baptismal Covenant, but these newer words open greater possibilities for imagining our role as Christian citizens caring for the earth, our home,” she said. “This is a wonderful teaching point when engaged with young people and discussing how their Christian identity might impact the choices they make.”

An environmentalist since her father encouraged her as a child, Skov recalled learning about recycling early on.

“I remember sorting newspapers to drop off at the once-a-month newspaper drive. I was taught to rinse out tin cans, remove both ends and carefully flatten the can on the rug on the kitchen floor, so as not to damage the linoleum beneath the woven fabric,” she said. “When engaged in ministry with young people, I name and claim this lifelong habit and invite young people to join me in my commitment to reduce, recycle and reuse those items that will not easily biodegrade in a landfill. This behavior has become a part of who I am, a piece of my personal identity.”

The Five Marks of Mission begin to address how Episcopalians can become environmental stewards and turn toward one another in community, rather than betraying the earth and turning away from one another, as the eucharistic prayer states.

Children and teenagers especially feel empowered by the language used in the marks, said Skov. She refers to them as a way to practice the vows made at baptism, and she invites young people to name and claim the ways in which they are already living some of the marks.

“The beauty of the fifth mark, treasuring the earth with intentionality, is a place where we can engage in our communities in partnership across denominational, religious and political divides,” she said. “Mission and ministry in this area [are] easy to embrace with school-age humans as they learn about the environment in classroom settings and can then see the intersection of their secular experience in the world with their values as a member of a community of faith.”

More than 1,000 high school-aged students attended last year’s Episcopal Youth Event in Pennsylvania, where climate change was among the issues discussed and where youth were becoming agents of transformation.

Americans’ views on climate change vary from state to state, town to town and sometimes family member to family member. Climate change is an increasingly charged political issue that often pits conservatives against liberals. At the same time, religious communities across the spectrum have joined in the call to reduce carbon emissions and to treat climate change as a moral issue.

In an interview with The Guardian that ran on the day of the climate-change-crisis forum in March, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori described climate change as a moral challenge already threatening the livelihood and survival of people in the developing world.

“It is certainly a moral issue in terms of the impacts on the poorest and most vulnerable around the world already,” she said.

Across the board, Episcopalians are taking that moral challenge seriously, including by contributing to the 30 Days of Action.

As the Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, missioner for creation care in the Diocese of Western Massachusetts, put it in a sermon written for the Sunday after Easter: “Climate change isn’t just an ‘environmental’ issue – it’s a ‘civilization’ issue. It’s not just about polar bears – it’s about where our grandchildren will find clean water. It’s about how societies will handle growing epidemics of infectious diseases such as malaria, cholera and dengue fever. It’s about where masses of people will go as rising seas drive them from their homes or when the rains don’t fall and the fields turn to dustbowls. It’s about hungry, thirsty people competing for scarce resources and reverting to violence, civil unrest or martial law in the struggle to survive.”

Formation resources focused on creation care
The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society’s Lifelong Christian Formation Office and other clergy and lay Episcopalians active on climate-change issues have compiled comprehensive resources for environmental liturgy, including the 30 Days of Action.

“The formation offices have been talking about climate change and caring for the environment with children and their families for years,” said the Rev. Shannon Kelly, the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society’s acting missioner for campus and young adult ministries.

“Young people encounter caring for the environment every day as they talk about recycling, ‘upcycling’ and conservation in their schools, at home and at church. Bringing this important subject into the life of the church and into the programs creates space for the children and adults to think, pray and experience how caring for the environment is caring for God’s creation.”

Environmental Stewardship Fellow Cindy Coe works in the garden with students of the Episcopal School of Knoxville. Photo courtesy of Episcopal School of Knoxville

Environmental Stewardship Fellow Cindy Coe works in the garden with students of the Episcopal School of Knoxville. Photo courtesy of Episcopal School of Knoxville

In Tennessee, exploring nature is becoming an integral component of learning to read.

In early June, the Diocese of East Tennessee will offer “Reading Camp Knoxville” to third- and fourth-graders who are both living in poverty and struggling to learn to read. As part of the program, the children, who come from urban areas, will go on afternoon field trips, hiking in wooded areas working in gardens, said Cindy Coe, who is on the planning committee and working with afternoon extracurricular activities.

“All of these activities are geared to fostering a sense of connectedness and appreciation of the natural world. The best way to do this is to actually get children outdoors, exploring nature,” said Coe, who last year received an environmental-stewardship fellowship from the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society.

Through the fellowship, Coe is working to develop the next generation of leaders.

“This is not something that can be done by ‘book learning’ only,” she said. “Activities that encourage children to look closely at natural objects, mapping activities and identifying a special place outdoors are all effective ways to help children bond with nature. If a child is able to develop a bond with nature, chances are that the child will grow up with an appreciation of the environment and will care for the environment as an adult.”

Coe is working on developing new resources to introduce creation care to children and youth in The Episcopal Church, for use in camps, schools and parishes.

She hopes, she said, that all Christian formation programs in The Episcopal Church eventually will include some aspect of environmental stewardship.

In Virginia, Coe also is working with the planning team of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Greenwood, Virginia, to design a vacation Bible school program based on care for creation and the Fifth Mark of Mission called “Earth, Our Island Home.”

The parish takes seriously the words “this fragile Earth, our island home” in Eucharistic Prayer C, said Coe.

“So the concept of creation care has a special meaning for the parish,” she said. “ Each day, children will participate in worship, hear a story based on creation care and take part in noncompetitive games designed to introduce environmental stewardship.”

Arts and crafts will embrace environmental stewardship, as children will be offered objects to “upcycle” and make into new creations, she said. “New life will be an important theme of the camp, connecting themes of recycling, composting and gardening with the Christian story of resurrection and new life in Christ.”

In the Diocese of Los Angeles, where the Rev. Andrew K. Barnett serves as the bishop’s chair for environmental studies, young people are learning to care for creation by learning to love it.

“I think that we will not fight to save a thing we do not love, by which I mean in order to empower people to care for ‘this fragile earth our island home,’ we first have to find that meaningful and valuable in a deep way, and talking about it doesn’t really cut it,” said Barnett, before the March 24 forum.

“So I have really made a significant priority of taking kids outside. So we take these wilderness retreats to places like Big Sur, Lake Lopez, Yosemite and Catalina Island. We have games, we go kayaking, we go hiking, we do service projects,” he said.

“The kids love it, they just love it. They light up because they are doing exactly what we need, which is community, connection and reference in these incredible, awe-inspiring places. So you don’t have to say this is important, this is beautiful, because it is immediately present or it’s just in your bones.”

Barnett serves as school chaplain at Campbell Hall Episcopal School in the Diocese of Los Angeles, where Bishop J. Jon Bruno and the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society partnered to host the March 24 forum

Barnett talks to the students about climate change in stark terms, incorporating research and science — not to exaggerate, he said, but to name the severity of the threat.

“Kids can handle that truth. They don’t like things being sugar-coated. They prefer: ‘This is going to be the biggest challenge of your generation,’” said Barnett. “Our generation has abjectly failed in our attempt to reduce emissions. We talked about it a lot, we have a lot of meetings, but emissions keep going up.

“If you fail at this task, most other tasks won’t matter, because climate change affects almost everything worth caring about and, other than nuclear annihilation, presents the greatest threat to humanity that we’ve ever known.”

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misattributed the authorship of the words “this fragile Earth, our island home,” which appear in Eucharistic Prayer C. They were written by Howard E. Galley Jr.

— Lynette Wilson is a reporter and editor for Episcopal News Service.


Comments (9)

  1. Deb Sprague says:

    Hi, I appreciate this article, but feel we’ve got to move beyond talk about recycling to the underlying issues of our economy based on consumption. Consumers see only a fraction of waste related to the products purchased. We need to advocate for zero waste systems, green chemistry and reclaiming government’s allegiance to the people over corporations!

  2. Josh Thomas says:

    Howard E. Galley, Jr. of the Church Army wrote those words, not Bishop Atkinson. I was present the first time they were used to consecrate bread and wine at the Eucharist, in a classroom at General Seminary, New York, in the summer of 1974. The Rev. Bill Coulter celebrated for my Church Army training class; Capt. Galley, Sr. Brooke Bushong and Capt. Tom Tull were there along with six lay ministry students, including Anthony Guillen, who was later ordained and became Hispanic/Latino Missioner at 815. Howard told us after Mass how he came to write that prayer, late one night at 815 after one of our evening classes. He wrote it all in one sitting, then refined it with Brooke and a few other friends a few nights later at a bar in Brooklyn Heights.

    He was Assistant to the Coordinator for Prayer Book Revision and General Editor of the new BCP, the day-to-day staffer who kept the wheels turning for the Standing Liturgical Commission in the runup to the General Convention of 1976, at which the Draft Prayer Book was provisionally approved for three years before winning final approval in 1979. Howard Galley wrote that prayer and no one else.

    On his behalf I respectfully request a correction.

  3. Josh Thomas says:

    What Bishop Atkinson must have done was to quote Howard Galley’s phrase (and perhaps celebrate Mass using it) so often at Emmanuel, Greenwood, that in time people began to think he must have written it.

    Besides Fr. Guillen, I have another witness who was present during the creation of this prayer: Sr. Brooke Bushong’s partner Patti O’Kane, who still lives in Brooklyn Heights and can supply details about Howard, Brooke and others meeting for a drink a few nights after he composed the prayer. He read it to them, and they were the first persons to ever hear it; he asked for feedback and they gave him some. A few days later Fr. Bill Coulter gave it its world premiere in a little room at GTS.

  4. Josh Thomas says:

    Historical footnote, for the record: Howard knew within a couple of weeks that “this fragile earth, our island home” was a hit; Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had landed on the moon only five years earlier. And Howard knew that the environmental theme also resonated quickly; the first Earth Day happened in 1970. But the thing he was proudest of in that prayer was that it’s the first in Anglican history to invoke the Blessed Virgin Mary as part of the consecration.

    By far his proudest moment in the overall, decades-long process of Prayer Book revision was winning final approval for the most important provision of all: the rubric on p. 13 terming the Holy Eucharist “the principal act of Christian worship on the Lord’s Day.” For the first time since the Reformation, Sunday Mass was restored to its rightful place in Anglican worship.

    This Church owes Howard Galley and everyone associated with Prayer Book revision the highest honor we can bestow. People think that what the ’79 Book did was get rid of “thees and thous,” but that was the least of it. The Commission, Bishops and Deputies gave us back our Communion with Christ, and we must never forget what they did. This Book made history because it made us Catholic again, in practice as well as thought.

    1. Deborah S. Taliaferro says:

      Fascinating information. I love Eucharistic Prayer C, the words and the ’79 BCP. Thanks for the wonderful insights.

  5. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas says:

    I am heartened to read this article about Episcopalians addressing the urgency of the climate crisis. One missing piece is any discussion of the power of divesting from fossil fuels. The World Council of Churches, the United Church of Christ, Anglican dioceses in Australia/New Zealand, Episcopal dioceses in the U.S., and many other religious bodies have spoken out about the moral and financial reasons to divest from fossil fuels and have made a commitment to divest (for a list of groups that have divested, visit http://gofossilfree.org/commitments/).
    Divesting from fossil fuels is a way of withdrawing the social license of the fossil fuel industry. And it is a moral act: if it is wrong to wreck the Earth, it is also wrong to profit from that wreckage. Unlike engaging in stockholder advocacy, divesting gets to the heart of the problem: the core business of the fossil fuel industry — extracting and burning coal, gas, and oil — needs to stop. In order to avert climate chaos, fossil fuels must stay in the ground and we must move as quickly as possible to clean, safe, renewable sources of energy, such as wind and sun.
    Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who knows first-hand about the spiritual, political, and moral power of divestment, has repeatedly urged divestment from fossil fuels. When will the Episcopal Church make a plan to divest from fossil fuels? I hope that we pass a strong divestment resolution at General Convention.

  6. Doug Desper says:

    While care for the natural creation (our island home) is being sought — and very rightly so — let us remember that there is a holocaust of the human family as seen through abortion in this country. Most abortions are not for the extremely rare incidence of a threat to the mother or the in vitro child’s life, which means that most abortions are performed for the sake of convenience. A past General Convention rejected the idea that such a decision for convenience or gender selection is acceptable. However, the left-leaning politics of the day dissuade many of our spiritual and pastoral leaders from stating that “freedom to choose” is a morally bankrupt basis to decide life from death. Quite the opposite shows itself; even with one seminary dean’s proud announcement that “abortion is a blessing”. The politics of gender won out over the call to be a steward of creation.
    This Church hasn’t awakened to the unborn creation and their vulnerability at the hands of situation ethics, gender politics, crisis of convenience, and ignorance. The unborn, as a part of the creation, are at much greater risk than many parts of the creation. God called us to be stewards of the whole of creation, not to be arbiters of the value of the life therein. Stewards. Caregivers. Guardians.
    Fellow stewards: where are our unwed mother supports? Where are our adoption efforts? Where are our homes for the abandoned? The track record of the Episcopal Church is abysmal in this. We are behind – and the MDGs have room to embrace better care of the unborn, untimely born, and vulnerable women. Are we stewards or arbiters? Watch our efforts and decide.
    Thankfully, many of today’s parents get to see the new life that is in the womb through imagining — and it is nearly impossible to defend such a casual and flippant idea as “freedom to choose”.
    It’s hard to deny the value of that tiny creation – someone that God has hidden away in trust to we who are called stewards of the WHOLE of creation.
    Maybe one day our Church will catch up.

  7. Anne Rowthorn says:

    Thank you for this heartening article. I would like to share that the Diocese of Connecticut is proposing to General Convention the addition of a 6th question to the Baptismal Covenant: “Will you cherish the wondrous works of God and protect the beauty and integrity of all creation?” Please share the news of this proposal with your bishops and convention deputies and work with us to make sure it is carried.

  8. Bill Simon says:

    To Margaret Bullitt-Jonas:
    You go first and set the example. Give up what ever part of your lifestyle has at its root fossil fuels. Let’s start with your clothes. If any of your apparel is synthetic, get rid of it for it is derived from fossil fuels. If it is cotton, unless you hand planted it yourself, harvested it by hand, processed it without modern tools, sewed it by hand using thorns for needles and flint for cutting fabric then you are not setting a very good example. If you drive any vehicle that is not a Flintsone auto or one you personally crafted from recycled materials and powered by wind or gravity, then you are not setting a very good example. Electric vehicle you say? All the materials used to fabricate any vehicle of transport was born of the utilization of fossil fuels. Even the electricity used to power your electric car or bicycle is generated from fossil fuel. Oh, and the degradation of efficiency from using gasoline to the generation, transport, and storage (batteries) of electricity is significant. The pollution caused in the manufacture of batteries alone will cause you to shudder.
    If you are serious about divestment from fossil fuels, you will not possess anything that is derived from fossil fuels. Since you seem so adamant about this divestment from fossil fuels, you must already have an alternative source of energy in mind and in use. Please let the rest of us in on your secret.
    I personally believe that the existence of of all the earth’s resources were part of God’s plan for the benefit of mankind. Man is as much a part of nature as the polar bears that your ilk like to reference in your doomsday climate chaos hysteria. By the way, the polar bears are flourishing like never before and the caribou in Alaska are thriving in the shadow of the pipeline.
    Real science agrees that climate change is real and has been since creation began and will continue to happen despite our attempts to control it. What is being sold by the politicians is climate hysteria for the purpose of controlling the masses, not the preservation of the earth – God will take care of that as He always has.
    But I have no doubt that you will stay the course on your ‘group think’ journey and will have many followers. I will not be one of them.

Comments are closed.