During this year's Lenten season, members of Honolulu's Church of the Crossroads United Church of Christ will leave their cars at home and instead walk, bike or use public transportation one day per week. They will pledge to start a garden or shop at local farmer's markets more often this spring. They will wash the majority of their laundry in cold water, and advocate on behalf of energy conservation and renewable energy policies. In recognition of this year's Ecumenical Lenten Carbon Fast, members of the church will partake in 40 days of activities that will reduce their carbon footprints and help them become more conscientious of their daily habits that impact the world they live in.
"During the Lenten season, we have persuaded our congregation to go on a carbon fast to reduce global warming and climate change, adapting the activities to Hawaii's climate," said Chuck Burrows, chair of the Greening Congregation team and the Peace, Justice and Stewardship of Creation team at Church of the Crossroads. "For example, instead of reducing the heating thermostat, we might say not to use the air conditioning or make it colder in one's home."
This year marks the fourth Ecumenical Lenten Carbon Fast, an initiative of the UCC endorsed by the Episcopalians, which provides participants the opportunity to recognize this time of repentance, fasting, and prayer through actions that benefit Mother Earth. Beginning on Ash Wednesday, March 5, through Easter Sunday, April 20, Carbon Fast participants will receive a daily email with a suggested carbon-reducing activity. The activities range from very simple, such as eliminating unwanted electrical use, to moderately challenging, like taking shorter showers and driving more slowly. Some activities are meant to inspire long-term change, such as buying local food and getting involved in a community garden.
The intention is to provide doable activities that can make a difference, and empower participants to challenge themselves to do more. By working as a congregation, individuals are likely to be more accountable for their actions and see more progress than they would working alone, said the Rev. Meighan Pritchard, the UCC's minister for environmental justice.
"Like Mission 4/1 Earth last year, this initiative gives us the opportunity to take action in community, thereby multiplying the effects," Pritchard said. "The Lenten Carbon Fast calls us to mindfulness about habits that we probably take for granted and don't think about much. Lent is the perfect amount of time to try out a new practice and develop it into a new habit."
Every conference minister of the six New England conferences of the UCC has signed on in support of the Ecumenical Lenten Carbon Fast, and several of their local congregations are already planning ways to participate in this year's fast, including Newman Congregational Church UCC in Rumford, R.I., Congregational Church of Weston UCC in Weston, Mass., and First Churches of Northampton UCC in Northampton, Mass.
"For hundreds of years, Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of a time when Christians engage in spiritual disciplines involving repentance, fasting, prayer, study, and works of love," said the Rev. Jim Antal, conference minister and president of the Massachusetts Conference of the UCC. "Living as we are at a time when our actions – along with the actions of only a few generations – have threatened creation as we know it by the excessive burning of fossil fuels, it is fitting to engage in a spiritual discipline of fasting from carbon."
Members of Church of the Crossroads UCC got the idea of reducing their consumption of fossil fuels rolling through a Valentine's Day preach-in on energy and climate change. During the Carbon Fast, church members will receive the daily suggestions from the Ecumenical Lenten Carbon Fast, as well as ideas from Hawaii's Interfaith Power and Light. They will also gather weekly for meditation, reflection and the sharing of a simple meal to lift up and celebrate their progress.
While in theory, each participant may be giving something up, Pritchard thinks they will actually receive much more in return.
"Some people think of Lent as a time of making sacrifices, like giving up candy, for example," Pritchard said. "But really it is about finding ways to draw closer to God, to nurture one's relationship with the divine. The Carbon Fast gives us an opportunity to live in closer harmony with all of God's creation."
To sign up for the Ecumenical Carbon Fast and receive the daily activity suggestion emails, visit the event's webpage.