We see daily the destructive costs of the warming of Earth’s climate. Natural disasters of fire, drought, floods and wind are smashing weather records across the world. Their intensity and increase are matters of life or death. It’s frightening to imagine what the future will hold for the children of today as the crises grow. For those who believe in a creator God, it is a religious concern.
The words of Genesis, “Then God saw everything that he had made, and indeed it was very good,” have come alive in two Haywood County churches that have joined the Creation Care Alliance (CCA) of faith communities in Western North Carolina: First United Methodist and Grace Church in the Mountains, both in Waynesville.
The alliance is a network of congregations who unite around a moral and spiritual call to preserve the integrity, beauty and health of God’s creation. It is an expression of love for God and God’s love for the Earth and all life.
“This is the work we are called to as stewards, charged by our creator to tend the garden,” says Susan Williams of Grace Church in the Mountains. “We have abandoned our posts; we have let personal and cultural desires for wealth and power lead us astray from our primary role as caretakers of creation.
“Our first task at this tipping point must be to acknowledge God’s presence throughout all of creation: the water cycle, soils, atmosphere and climate. When we live in peaceful gratitude with creation, we can see and embrace one another as neighbors within this garden, sharing the common work of healing and protecting the planet for the benefit of all of us.”
Sarah Ogletree is director of the CCA and earned a master of divinity degree from Wake Forest University School of Theology. “As a person of Christian faith,” she said, “I strive to center my life around the greatest commandment to love God and my neighbor. I know that God made this world and called it good. I also know that I cannot love my neighbors without loving the air they breathe, water they drink, and ground in which their food is grown. This is why the work of creation care is so vital to my faith and to my life. It is the work we are called to: the work of compassion and justice.
“In Matthew 25, Jesus tells us that whenever we give water to the thirsty, feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, visit the prisoner, or clothe the naked we do so unto him. Right now, people are in need of food as a result of extreme droughts and floods. Right now, people are in need of shelter because of severe storms and wildfires. People are thirsty because the river that has offered them water for generations has gone dry. In a world impacted by climate change and ecological degradation, the needs of Jesus are seen in the needs of our neighbors. When we do the work of creation care, we respond to Jesus in our world.”
The purpose of the CCA is to bring practical solutions to member congregations and the broader communities by engaging hearts and minds through inspiration, education, service and advocacy.
Children and young adults know the urgency needed and difficult action required to confront the human-caused increase in natural disasters. Rebecca Lile, who was instrumental in First United Methodist becoming a church committed to caring for creation, said, “My personal foray into creation care ministry came in late 2018 when my young adult son asked me what the church was doing about caring for wildlife and endangered animals. He is in the environmental, conservation, wildlife field so this was a very pertinent question given the United Methodist belief that all of creation, which includes every part of the natural world, is God’s. And that God has called humanity to be responsible for the ways in which we use and/or abuse it.”
“I was challenged to find a deeper way to connect our church with caring for God’s creation. This led me to Creation Care Alliance based in Asheville, and to begin First United Methodist’s Creation Care ministry. The alliance connection broadened my view of what we, as a faith community, could be doing. It’s often seen as the three Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle), which are important, but creation care is so much bigger, so much wider than this. It is about clean water, about clean air, about politics, about education, about wildlife, about land, about energy, about children, about race, about community. Everything is connected. And the more faith communities join together in this work, the more work can be done.”
Laura Armour, who serves on the Grace Church in the Mountains vestry, said she is proud that Grace is now part of the Creation Care Alliance of Western North Carolina. “(It) allows people of faith to come together to pursue a common goal, enabling us to become better stewards of God’s creation and know that we are doing our part, however small, to protect the beauty and majesty that surround us.”
Roman Catholicism’s Pope Francis is the first pontiff to directly address the crisis. He has called on all Christians to understand the immorality of ignoring climate change or calling it a hoax. In his 2015 encyclical, Pope Francis wrote, “Human-induced climate change is a scientific reality, and its decisive mitigation is a moral and religious imperative for humanity. In this core moral space, the world’s religions play a very vital role. What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?”
As a child, Mary Thomas of First United Methodist, Waynesville, watched the South River in Atlanta flow past, its black water covered in suds. The buildings in downtown Atlanta showed evidence of acid rain. She also read and heard about the demise of the bald eagle and other raptors. Later as an adult, she observed the work of the Nature Conservancy on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay and learned of newly created sanctuaries for plants and wildlife.
“There are many victories and numerous defeats throughout the years since the book, ‘Silent Spring’ by Rachel Carson, was published,” says Thomas. “The victories were the result of citizen and scientist action.
“As a Christian, I believe we were given a job as important as the Great Commission. (‘Go ye into the world and preach the good news of salvation.’) The job is found in Genesis, following the story of creation, when we were instructed to care for God’s creation, not abuse and misuse it. Our track record is dismal. We need a new heart for that work.”
The Creation Care Alliance has worked with more than 70 faith communities in western North Carolina. Approximately 20 of those communities have become covenant partners of CCA. In addition to First United Methodist and Grace, who are members, CCA has worked with the community at Lake Junaluska and St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Canton.
The next CCA regional gathering will be held over Zoom on Thursday, Aug. 19 from 6-7 p.m. It will be a time to gather in fellowship and meet the CCA’s new director, Sarah Ogletree. She will share her story of what Pope Francis has called “ecological conversion” and invite meeting attendees to consider their own stories and motivation in this work. To attend, please register on the CCA website at creationcarealliance.org/event/creation-care-alliance-regional-gathering-2/.