For decades, tens of thousands of Earth Day Sunday celebrations have enriched Christian communities.
Earth Day began in 1970, after Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson witnessed a horrifying oil spill in Santa Barbara, Calif., and realized environmental protection was not on the national political agenda. Sen. Nelson announced a “national teach-in on the environment” to the national media, recruited California Republican Sen. Pete McCloskey to co-chair the effort, and recruited a coordinator to put together and promote 85 environmental education events across the United States on April 22. That day, 20 million people engaged in public demonstrations in support of a healthy environment. Groups that may not have communicated before found common cause, as gatherings helped groups such as clean water advocates to connect with others such as wildlife enthusiasts and toxic dump protestors. It was a moment of rare political alignment. Since then, Earth Day celebrations have spread to 184 countries and been observed by millions of people.
Soon, Earth Day events became part of the fabric of our nation’s community life: churches began taking the Sunday service before or after Earth Day to pray, learn, and take action for God’s creation. As one 2006 Fox News article about Earth Day Sunday put it, “The environment has historically taken a back seat to common faith initiatives like the fight against poverty or hunger ... But now, congregations increasingly see a connection between care for God's creation and social issues.”
Over the years, Creation Justice Ministries, of which the Christian Church (DoC) is a part, has offered Christian education materials to equip faith communities to protect, restore, and more rightly share God's creation. Each year, a different theme is chosen for Earth Day, based on what issues the leadership of the member communions and denominations believe is most pressing.
The 2019 theme is "Next Generation Rising" and focuses on children and youth leading the way for creation justice. Among people of faith, a countercultural ethic is emerging that is rooted in the generational outlook of the Bible. This outlook has enormous consequences for how we think about God’s creation and particularly time-sensitive moral challenges which are difficult to remedy as they worsen—such as species extinction, loss of safe accessible water, and climate change. Notably, in his encyclical on ecology, Pope Francis declared “[i]ntergenerational solidarity is not optional, but rather a basic question of justice, since the world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us.”
Monumental change in the way we live takes energy and fresh ideas. As we look to new ways of using our earth’s resources and living our daily lives in radically different ways, we will need energetic leaders with fresh ideas… We will need new young leaders who are able to take on the big job of entering a new world of harmony with nature and make this new world sustainable for everyone.
Reflect: What part are you playing to help care for creation? How are we empowering the next generation to share their creativity, energy, and vision