MAHTOMEDI — The St. Andrews Lutheran Church Environmental Stewardship Team recently celebrated its 10th annual Caring for Creation weekend by inviting speaker David Rhoads to share his thoughts with the congregation.
The stewardship team, also known as the “Green Team,” was formed 10 years ago. It has a mission to “promote the stewardship of God’s life-sustaining creation,” according to the St. Andrews website. The team hosts special events over the course of year, such as the Caring for Creation weekend, and also strives to make the church as earth-friendly as possible through saving energy, reducing waste and using environmentally responsible landscaping.
The group has also been involved in community projects, such as the wind generator constructed on the Mahtomedi High School campus in 2011.
Environmental Stewardship Team co-founder Jim Malowski said the team was aware of Rhoads’ environmental message, and tried for several years to get him as a speaker before they met with success. Rhoads is an author and professor emeritus at the Lutheran School in Theology in Chicago, and known for his message about the relationship between religion and environment. He served as guest speaker during several services at St. Andrews, and later hosted a more in-depth forum at the church.
During the service, he examined the way the Bible describes the natural world with vivid imagery. He also noted that all forms of life are related to some degree, even sharing DNA, but humans tend to ignore this close relationship to the world around us.
“The rest of creation isn’t just window dressing. It’s not just backdrop or staging area,” Rhoads said. The statement that humans were given dominion over the earth is sometimes misinterpreted, he explained.
“We have sometimes thought of dominion as if it had to do with domination or exploitation, being there for our use or abuse,” he said. “But God was creating human beings last to take care of the garden, to be in God’s image as people who would continue to support and live out of this creation and see that all of creation thrived together.”
Since this year is the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation, there has been a corresponding movement called the Eco-Reformation. Rhoads said that he believes the environment will come to the forefront of church ministries as congregations change to reflect the times, just as they did during the first Reformation.
“Unless the church rises to this occasion, we’re not going to be prepared to give leadership, not prepared to show people how it is that we can address these issues, learn from them, grow from them, and be moral and just,” he said. “So the idea is to think comprehensively about a reformation of the church that is as fundamental, foundational (and) comprehensive as the first Reformation.”
Rhoads has encountered resistance to his ideas, especially because discussion related to the environment is sometimes described as being “just politics.”
“Sometimes I say that it’s not political — it’s religious, because we are called to love what God loves and cares for,” he said. “I sometimes as a New Testament scholar wonder if Jesus might have said, ‘Well, poverty is a political issue so I shouldn’t preach good news to the poor. Or, ‘Health care is a political issue, so I better stay out of that realm of healing people.’ Or for us to say, ‘Ecology is a political issue, so I shouldn’t be concerned about caring for the world of God’s creation around me.’ Well, in the end it doesn’t even matter what you may think of the ecological state of the world. We’re still called to care as Christians for what God has created and entrusted to us.”
Rhoads said there should be a guide to help direct churches and other community groups to make a change to care for the earth. He listed four steps to begin this type of work: First, people should educate themselves about the current state of natural spaces, such as the ocean and atmosphere.
Second, they should learn about traditions that are already in place, and that congregations can draw upon. Third, community leaders should learn about these things and determine what kinds of activity and behavior would serve the church. Finally, there should be a directive to different institutions of the church, such as seminaries and camps, to make it an important part and provide resources for the rest of the church.
Rhoads invited attendees to discuss the ideas he presented, and share with the group. One of the topics was how the effort to care for the planet will transfer to the next generation. Malkowski added his voice to the discussion, presenting what he called “the nature center illustration” to show that the change in ideology may be slow, but it does happen.
“Fifty years ago, if you mentioned the word ‘nature center,’ nobody knew what you even were thinking. There were none!”
Malkowski has helped establish and run several nature centers in his career as a naturalist.
“Fast forward … every major community has multiple nature centers,” Malkowski said. “I can remember, literally, when it was tough to find three people to stand together and talk about the environment … Look at now, every newspaper, every primary television program has something about the ecology environment, whether we like it or not. We are making progress, but it’s so glacial, so slow, that sometimes we don’t feel it. But I guarantee you it happens.”
This process is not limited to Lutheran churches alone, he said, but all communities.
“The fact that this could be for a Jewish community or a Muslim community doesn’t make any difference,” Malkowski said. “It’s our globe. It’s our nature. So why not just enter it into the formula of worship wherever?”
Rhoads and his wife currently lead the organization Greening Greater Racine in Racine, Wisconsin. Though he hopes that people will learn to respect and care for the environment more thoughtfully, he said it’s not a guarantee, and people have to be prepared for a darker outcome.
“What we do may not work,” Rhoads said. “I think that’s the challenge for Christian people. We do it for grace and for love, not because it will work.”
The St. Andrews Environmental Stewardship Team meets every third Monday of the month from 7-8:30 p.m. in Sanctuary Room 201. St. Andrews Lutheran Church is located at 900 Stillwater Road, Mahtomedi. Learn more at www.standrews.org.
Jackie Bussjaeger can be reached at 651-407-1229 or