[Episcopal News Service] Caring for God’s creation may seem like a daunting task, the Earth being so vast and the threats to the natural world so pervasive, but The Episcopal Church is encouraging Episcopalians during Lent to pledge to take even the smallest of steps, because those steps together can make a difference.
That is the idea behind the church’s Pledge to Care for Creation campaign, which launched March 29 and runs through Easter, with the goal of collecting at least 1,000 pledges by April 22, Earth Day.
Discussion of these pledges figured prominently at the House of Bishops meeting in March, when a number of bishops committed to spreading the word to their dioceses. Such efforts seem to be having their intended effect: As of this week, more than 300 Episcopalians have gone online and completed the form identifying ways they will be better caretakers of creation.
“We can’t see this as a hobby. We have to see it as a vocation that we actually are called to care for this Earth,” said Olympia Bishop Greg Rickel, one of the bishops who participated last month in creating this brief video invitation to rest of the church.
Rickel told Episcopal News Service in a phone interview this week that he pledged to “eat lower on the chain,” meaning less meat and more food produced closer to home, which reduces the carbon footprint tied to food transportation. He also is considering switching from a hybrid to an electric car, and he pledged to deepen his diocese’s companion relationship with a diocese in the Philippines that involves a tree-planting ministry.
Kansas Bishop Cathleen Bascom, who serves on General Convention’s Task Force on Care of Creation & Environmental Racism, pledged to build on her long-time involvement in the cause of prairie restoration, and she is reducing her carbon footprint by choosing to live within walking distance of her new office after she was consecrated as bishop on March 2.
Her consecration itself was a conduit for creation care advocacy. The Diocese of Kansas, at Bascom’s direction, distributed pledge forms to the hundreds of people who attended the consecration at Grace Cathedral in Topeka, even though it occurred before The Episcopal Church launched its online pledge form.
Some of those attendees filled out the tear-off slip and turned it in the same day, and others have been sending them in a steady stream to the diocesan office for the past month.
“People do think about this issue, and I think our particular spirituality has so much richness,” Bascom told ENS. “The Episcopal Church is such fertile ground for this movement.”
General Convention in 2015 identified creation care as one of the church’s three top priorities, along with racial reconciliation and evangelism. In 2018, General Convention passed 19 environmental resolutions, including support for a national carbon tax, carbon offsets for church-related travel, ocean health and Episcopalians’ continued participation in the Paris Agreement.
Under Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, the church is emphasizing its role in promoting a “loving, liberating, life-giving relationship with God” through creation care as part of the Jesus Movement.
The online Pledge to Care for Creation features three parts. Participants are asked to submit one example under “Loving” for sharing the love of God’s creation, a second example under “Liberating” for standing with people being harmed by environmental injustice, and a final example under “Life-Giving” of individual actions they intend to take. Some examples include changing eating habits, increasing use of renewable energy and sharing related information with one’s congregation.
“We hope people understand this is more than adding your signature to a petition,” the Rev. Melanie Mullen, director of reconciliation, justice and creation care, said in a press release announcing the campaign. “Pray with the pledge and the Reflection Guide during Lent. Think about what you love in God’s Creation, where your heart breaks over environmental injustice, and how you’d like to simplify your life.”
Rickel, Bascom and other bishops also are emphasizing the Carbon Tracker that the Diocese of California is launching to give people a tangible way of measuring individual and cumulative progress toward improving the environment.
California Bishop Marc Andrus, in a prior interview with ENS, described the tracker as functioning similar to how a Fitbit or other fitness watch tracks steps or calories. “This is like that, for carbon and for sustainable lifestyle choices,” Andrus said.
The pledge campaign is “a great way to rally the church,” Rickel said. The news these days on climate change and other environmental issues often highlights the doom and gloom, but with so many Episcopalians taking the Pledge to Care for Creation, Rickel still sees reason for hope.
“I just believe as Christians we have to live in hope,” he said. “To not live in hope is to deny our faith and to deny Jesus.”
San Joaquin Bishop David Rice also is hopeful because he sees this campaign as a beginning, not as an end in itself.
“This is about behavioral modification,” Rice told ENS. “I think people are becoming increasingly aware of what’s at stake here.”
In his diocese, in California’s central valley, what’s at stake has a lot to do with water, or lack of it. The region has been in and out of a drought for several years, which affects the local agricultural economy.
Rice pledged to bolster his diocese’s water conservation efforts and also work toward eradicating single-use water bottles. He also aims to reduce his personal carbon footprint by riding his bike more and driving less.
His diocese is spreading the word about the Pledge to Care for Creation through numerous videos and promotion on social media, and as he schedules one-on-one meetings with each clergy member in the diocese during Lent, he is bringing up the pledge in every meeting.
Across the diocese, “people are so wonderfully receptive in their responses, and there’s significant conversation being generated here,” Rice said.
– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.