Written by Brooks Berndt
In March, the UCC launched a new program called Creation Justice Churches. While “green church” programs are often associated with the physical operation of churches through activities such as energy audits and recycling, the Creation Justice Churches program emphasizes a broader and deeper focus. In terms of breadth, it asks congregations to discern how they can expand their circles of awareness and advocacy beyond the walls of the church, because ultimately as Christians we are called to love our neighbors and care for all of God’s creation. In terms of depth, it asks congregations to discern how they can make creation care and justice integral to their own ongoing theology and worship. This May the UCC recognized its first Creation Justice Church: MCC United Church of Christ in the Valley, North Hollywood, California.
Although the Creation Justice Churches program is recent, this church has been living out the spirit and practice of creation justice for at least the past eight years. In 2008, the church decided that true recognition of creation’s interconnected web of life necessitates recognizing the Earth itself as a member of the church. The Rev. Dr. Robert Shore-Goss, who serves as pastor of the church, notes that there was a realization of how “pastoral care included Earthcare.” In 2010, the congregation established a covenant for Earthcare which proclaims the church’s core values, professed beliefs, and sacred obligations in relationship to both God and God’s creation. The covenant states a commitment to the “biblical principals of taking only what we need,” healing the harm done to the Earth, and keeping “the Earth in repair for the future.” Each year the church renews its covenant on the Sunday closest to Earth Day.
Over the years the church has increasingly woven an ethic and theology of creation care into its services of worship. A typical Holy Week, for example, includes “an Earth-centered Seder on Holy Thursday, a Good Friday Tenebrae looking at the passion of Christ in the crucified Earth and the poor, and Easter as the celebration of the resurrected Christ the Gardener.” The church additionally celebrates a “Season of Creation” that establishes a creation-centered liturgical focus for four Sundays in September and October. The season ends with the feast of Francis of Assisi and the blessing of companion animals.
|The Solar Panels of MCC United Church of Christ in the Valley, North Hollywood, California.|
The outward-oriented advocacy of the church has been clearly evident over the years. Along with six other leaders, Shore-Goss was arrested for protesting outside the Los Angeles Federal Building over the inaction of the Obama administration in addressing climate change. On a regular basis, the congregation circulates environmental petitions to State legislators as well as members of Congress. Additionally, the church has sponsored five “Solar Nights,” which are public events to educate and encourage church members and the broader community about how they can acquire solar panels just as the church itself did. In recognition of the church’s strong environmental ministries, California Interfaith Power & Light awarded the church the “Green Oscar for Advocacy” in 2011.
Shore-Goss has authored a forthcoming book entitled God Is Green: An Eco-Spirituality of Incarnate Compassion (Cascade Books). He and his congregation are fitting evangelists for a movement of churches that recognizes creation justice as an integral strand in the spiritual DNA of Christians. Their pioneering efforts are to be lifted up and celebrated.
The Rev. Dr. Brooks Berndt is the UCC Minister for Environmental Justice. Read more about how to become a Creation Justice Church.