By Dennis Shock
St. Luke's UMC and Epworth UMC of Indianapolis are just two among many churches around the state who are taking action to care for God's creation. Betty Brandt, director of the Spiritual Life Center at St. Luke's, and Jodi Perras, leader of Epworth's "Green Team," have both initiated unique environmental ministries in their churches.
Both Brandt and Perras have been recently motivated by concern for global warming and how that will be detrimental to people, especially the poor. When asked why the church should get involved, Perras responded, "It's a moral issue. Wesley and Christ both emphasized simple living. John Wesley was concerned how environmental pollution affected the poor." Perras went on to explain, "Climate change will affect the poor of the world much more than in North America." Brandt stated in the Indiana Living Green magazine that "we have a moral obligation to clean up our act."
So what are their churches actually doing? Brandt said that St. Luke's has focused on educating their congregation. They have sponsored "low-carbon diet classes" for church members; two sessions led by Dr. Carol Johnston of Christian Theological Seminary on the biblical and theological foundations of creation care; monthly themes (hybrid cars, composting, home electrical usage); a monthly speaker series; promotion of re-usable shopping bags; and recycling efforts.
Perras emphasized that Epworth tries to combine "action with fun". They encouraged the trustees to do an energy audit of all church property resulting in one building having its heat bill "cut probably in half." She said at first the trustees were skeptical about the green team's suggestions, "but now they are believers."
Epworth members do paper recycling (which also is profitable) and they sponsor a monthly film series ("Inconvenient Truth," "Trashed"). They have sponsored a fashion show featuring second-hand clothes and a community meeting to discuss a commuter train line for Indianapolis. Perras said Epworth also held a Sunday morning "Earth Day celebration." The fashion show was especially successful with more than 150 people in attendance. The film series has been successful in attracting new residents from the community.
"The Green Team at Epworth has helped raise awareness of environmental stewardship as well as educated the people of this congregation," said the Rev. Doug Walker, Epworth's senior pastor. "In staff and committee meetings, I have seen environmental considerations become a part of the decision process."
Brandt emphasized the importance of clergy giving support to creation care through their preaching and verbal support from the pulpit. Perras would like to see greater support from the conference for environmental ministry - especially by providing resources through the conference library.
Carmel UMC, under member Julie Williams, is leading the formation of a green team as a part of the church and society committee's efforts. She became interested in this partly after hearing Brandt and Perras speak at a workshop on creation care. She says it has been very helpful to have the support of the senior pastor, the Rev. Greg McGarvey. It also has been helpful to tie in to a major initiative in creation care by the national UMW.
Broadway UMC of Indianapolis also has established a green team ministry. According to member Barbara Griffith, its focus is on education and action. For example, its bulletin will carry green advice for two Sundays in a row. Their custodians were sent to a product show in Chicago to search out green cleaning products. They brought several cleaning products back and tested them to see which worked best and now use only those green products for cleaning the church. One big accomplishment has been to create an "all-green" kitchen. They use only what they can run through the dishwasher except for some limited events. Even then the plastic and paper must be recycled.
The core issue is a spiritual one. CTS's Johnston said, "I don't know of any religious tradition that advocates destroying the natural world, or human beings doing what they want with it. The religious impulse, spiritual impulse, is to feel communion with other creatures, and understand that life is sacred."
For more information on green churches in Indy and ideas for creation care check out the web site for Creation Care of Interfaith Alliance by searching: Interfaith Indy - Creation Care and then clicking onto the many informative links. Also, sign your church up to attend the interfaith workshop on greening congregations to be held at Second Presbyterian, Indianapolis., Jan. 31, from 1 to 4 p.m.