By Rev. Jenny Phillips
Earth Sunday, celebrated in many churches on the Sunday nearest to Earth Day, can be a challenge for church leaders. The majority of the world’s scientists tell us that failure to change our energy systems could have cataclysmic impacts, ranging from food shortages and refugee crises to flooding cities and entire island nations, to mass extinction of plants and animals. While many United Methodist pastors serve churches where these warnings easily resonate with those in the pews, others serve flocks where the topic of climate change can be taboo or considered ‘too political.’
The United Methodist Social Principles (¶160) remind us of our Biblical calling to stewardship of all of creation including the “water, air, soil, minerals, energy resources, plants, animal life, and [even] space.” In our Book of Resolutions, we have committed actions in recognition of the global warming for a number of the past quadrennia.
Coming to General Conference? Consider volunteering at the General Conference Climate Vigil! Sign up here.
Still, if we allow ourselves to really take these warnings in, the subsequent distress can lead to a sense of paralysis, in which anxiety displaces hope. We don’t quite see how we can make a difference from our places in the world, and we struggle to imagine what change might look like. We fail to start telling the story because aren’t sure how it will end. Yet as stewards of God’s creation, we are called to engage our churches in climate conversations that lead to action. Here’s a great way to start.
This May, delegates to General Conference will consider legislation that positions the church to provide significant moral leadership in mitigating climate change. To support their discernment, the Pacific Northwest Conference is hosting the first-ever General Conference Climate Vigil where delegates and visitors can pray for God’s creation. This vigil will start at 7:30pm on Thursday, May 12, at the Oregon Convention Center Plaza.
In anticipation of this event, all United Methodists are invited to make or decorate prayer lanterns representing their prayers for God’s creation and for communities impacted by climate change. These prayer lanterns will be lit with solar-powered lights and carried by delegates and visitors at General Conference during the vigil. After the vigil, the lights will be distributed to partners in central conferences with limited or no energy access and to Pacific Northwest Conference families living without electricity as they recover from extreme wildfires in central Washington.
Decorating prayer lanterns is a simple, fun Earth Sunday activity. It works well with intergenerational groups as well as Sunday School classes for young people and adults. A discussion exercise in which participants reflect on their experiences of God in the natural world is available. The instructions for decorating are simple, and the supplies can be ordered quickly online or purchased in many stores. When you’re done, send your lanterns to the Pacific Northwest Conference Office.
Deep love for God’s creation courses through all of humanity. This love can overcome the fear and hopelessness that blocks our action when it comes to climate change if we witness to it over and over again.
The Rev. Jenny Phillips serves as Minister for Environmental Stewardship and Advocacy for the Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Methodist Church.