Prepare to celebrate ‘Earth Day Sunday’
By Shantha Ready Alonso
On April 22, many churches across the United States will observe “Earth Day Sunday.” Since 1970, communities have taken one day each year to be especially mindful of the Earth and its many gifts: April 22, Earth Day. In this liturgical year, Earth Day and Sunday fall on the same day, but Earth Day conflicts with neither Holy Week nor Easter Sunday.
Each year, Creation Justice Ministries, an ecumenical continuation of the National Council of Churches’ Eco-Justice Program, provides Earth Day Sunday celebration resources. Ecumenical leaders choose the theme each year from Creation Justice Ministries’ member communions based on what issue they believe is most pressing. The resource urges embracing a “sense of place.”
“On any given day in the United States, it is possible to drink coffee from Guatemala, while wearing clothes made in Bangladesh, while sheltered under a roof that was partly manufactured in China,” according to the “Sense of Place” Earth Day Sunday resource. “The average U.S. adult devotes approximately ten hours a day to consuming media, spends 87 percent of their time indoors and passes another six percent of their time inside a vehicle. Today, connecting with our local communities requires intention.”
The “Sense of Place” Earth Day Sunday resource includes materials to reflect, teach, preach, pray and act to preserve a “sense of place” in our communities. The education section of the resource begins with a poignant quote from Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man: “If you don’t know where you are, you probably don’t know who you are.”3
Ecumenical leaders’ intention for the resource is to encourage Christians in the United States to engage in spiritual practices that help us be present to one another and our local watersheds. As the authors shared in the Earth Day Sunday resource: “Awareness of our surrounding watersheds reminds us that we are deeply connected to our neighbors — both upstream and downstream.”
The resource’s authors also encourage bioregional faith practices, such as becoming familiar with our watersheds and acknowledging indigenous territory at the beginning of gatherings. The Bible study in the resource includes an invitation to read Psalm 104 in context by imagining how it would sound when referencing plants, creatures and geological features familiar to our own watersheds.
The resource also explores connections between place and racism. It reads: “While places encompass all, and should include all peoples as co-inhabitants, places have often been seen as possessions and inhabitants as objects of conquest. Our relationship with our watershed and its inhabitants is affected by, and has shaped, our understanding of race and ethnicity.”
The piece touches on themes such as the Doctrine of Discovery, redlining, gentrification and sacrifice zones.
In the action section, the resource invites congregants to get to know their local public lands and waters, participate in garden ministries, care for water, and protect nearby threatened and endangered species. The resource also includes tools to assist faith communities in honoring Endangered Species Day on Friday, May 18.
Shantha Ready Alonso is executive director of Creation Justice Ministries, a Christian organization that serves 38 communions, including American Baptist Churches USA. Resources, including “The Sense of Place Earth Sunday,” are available at www.earthsunday.org.
1 Nielsen Total Audience Report, http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/reports/2016/the-total-audience-report-q1-2016.html.
2 National Human Activity Pattern Survey, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11477521.
3 Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man, New York: Vintage Books, 1982, p. 564.