Creation Care: "It’s incorporated into our DNA"
Midway Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) located in Midway, Kentucky became a Creation Keeper partner community with Kentucky IPL in August 2020. Our VISTA, Audrie Lamb, spoke over Zoom with Adele Dickerson, Sandy Gruzesky, and Rev. Dr. Heather McColl from Midway Christian Church on creation care, being a Green Chalice congregation, and lessons learned from COVID.
Q: Thank you all for spending your morning with me! I wanted to start by asking how does your congregation’s faith align with creation care? What does your faith say about caring for the Earth?
Sandy: From my perspective, our faith completely aligns with what we believe the Bible says about God creating. God created all of this. If it is created by God, we need to love and respect it. To me, it’s as simple as that and it’s sort of infused in everything - in everything we think about and do.
Adele: I think I can safely say every Sunday our worship service has included in it reference to the earth and creation and care of creation, even if the topic of the sermon is something else. It’s always woven in that Heather includes that every Sunday. It’s also inspired on our national level, our Disciples of Christ general office, which is headquartered in Indianapolis. It’s very much included and just woven into our denomination.
Q: The Disciples of Christ sponsors the Green Chalice program as a way to lift up Disciples congregations that are caring for creation in unique and inspiring ways. In 2010, Midway Christian Church became a Green Chalice congregation. In 2015, the Certified Green Chalice congregation level was attained by meeting all necessary requirements including the adoption of the Green Chalice Covenant. Could y'all talk about your journey with getting that recognition?
Adele: The Green Chalice program for Kentucky started in 2009. Rev. Carol Devine, who is a part of our Kentucky IPL chapter, was a real leader in establishing the Green Chalice along with, at that time, our Regional Minister for Kentucky, Rev. Greg Alexander. Some of those meetings were held at Midway Christian Church and people from all over the state, which is amazing to think of now, came to our fellowship hall and met. It was kind of started then. Carol is now Minister of Green Chalice for the larger Green Chalice ministry that is nationwide and even has some churches in Canada. They are continuing to build the membership
Sandy: As we went through the process, we realized there were benefits aside from caring for God’s creation that would result from many of the ideas we were incorporating. There were long-term financial benefits, sustainability benefits associated with implementing the various ideas. Ideas like LED lighting, water conservation, better windows so we weren’t losing heat. That was a good way to engage everyone from the congregation because aside from the creation care aspect, everyone is concerned about the finances too.
Q: Even though COVID-19 has changed how many congregations or organizations operate, what are some ways either presently or in the past that your congregation has lived out creation care? A very open-ended question for whatever y’all want to talk about.
Adele: As we said earlier, sermons and our worship services are very inclusive of care of creation and references to that. We also have worked with Kentucky IPL for some workshops or events. One in particular was when Pope Francis published his encyclical. We had a program and Kentucky IPL helped to sponsor that. We had 25 to 30 people come and that was something very interesting. There was a movie through Interfaith Power & Light that we showed. Sandy might have to help me with the name.
Sandy: The one with Leonardo DiCaprio! Before the Flood. I think one of the things [to focus on], particularly post-COVID, about navigating the post-COVID world and how our creation care [operates] is what our technology team has done at Midway Christian to provide online services. Of course, the primary motivation of that is to be present and worship together during COVID but the other long-term benefit is reaching people who would not otherwise be able to travel for worship and to minimize travel necessary to participate in worship.
Heather: Our Creation Care team has interacted with Girl Scouts troops that meet at the church. Sandy came and did a presentation for the Girl Scout group. They wanted to do something with earth care, Earth Day, and Sandy came and talked about that, showing them the rain gardens at church. We have a Spring series for Lent. We used St. Francis of Assisi’s “Brother’s Sun” poem and had that as a part of our Lenten series. Members have written Lenten devotionals on creation care. We’ve hosted community events. Sandy’s husband Ron came and did a talk. He was connected to the Department of Defense and came and talked about how at one point our government was researching climate change and sea level rise because it was going to affect the refugee crisis. I don’t know why I didn’t put that together but to hear him present that information, it was very eye-opening and enlightening. It was heartening to hear that our government was connecting the dots, realizing that this is a crisis that is not just temperature rising but it is impacting real people in real ways that will eventually impact the United States because islands will be flooded, homelands will be flooded, and [people] will have to find a place to live.
Adele: It was because it had a whole lot of information. I think it was about five years ago. That was certainly the most detailed information that I had read or heard about that specifically.
Heather: I think that post-COVID, I don’t know how we will live this out, but it was, I will use the language of disheartening, to learn of all the plastic waste we are generating. To think ‘Oh, we are recycling things that we are supposed to recycle’ but to then learn that recycling really isn’t the end-all-be-all we all assumed it was. We all bought into the narrative that ‘The recycling we are doing is going to save the planet’ and not that it was wrong, but it is only a portion of the truth. Sandy did a moment of creation on this when COVID hit. More masks and more plastics were kind of undoing what we’re hoping [recycling would do] to not create that waste. I don’t know what less plastic looks like in a post-COVID world. At church, we try to minimize our plastic use even though we aren’t in position to eliminate it. We are using the individual communions packages which are plastic. They’re not compostable. They’re not recyclable. But that’s what we have got to use now for health reasons. It will be interesting to see what that narrative looks like.
Q: What role does the Green team or green faith leaders serve in your congregation?
Sandy: It’s all very integrated. It’s sort of hard to say that there are particular roles that the Green Team has versus [admin.] When the Admin team talks, there’s things that are often considered that one might think ‘Oh, that’s what the Green team would talk about not the admin team.’ It all goes together when you’re making investments in property when you think long term about it. You have to think about the sustainability of that investment. And what the life cycle cost of it will be and what the benefits to creation and sustainability will there be. When we talk about planning community dinners, we talk about ‘Oh, let’s buy local when we can!’ and that sort of thing. The Green team is integrated throughout a lot of conversations and a lot of different roles in the church.
Heather: I’ll piggyback by saying that our Green team is separate, they have their own ministry and committee, but our leadership – Adele is our board chair, Sandy is our secretary of our board – so our Green team is a part of the leadership of our church. Sandy is right on that it’s integrated into our conversations. And I don’t think just because of Sandy and Adele’s leadership, I mean that’s a huge part of it, but I think it’s an important piece of who we are as a church. So, it’s kind of just in the water, it’s an ethos.
Q: While Midway Christian Church has been connected to Kentucky IPL for a while, the congregation recently became a Creation Keeper partner in August 2020 under our new covenant model. What excites y'all the most about being a part of Kentucky IPL?
Adele: Working with other faith groups and hearing how they incorporate care of creation. I like the partnership that it, KIPL, offers.
Sandy: It’s good to share ideas. Everyone brings new ideas to a conversation and I think that’s a really helpful dynamic when we get together and share ideas. I think it gets the wheels in my head turning ‘Well, what else could we be doing? How could that idea work here?’ That’s what I get excited about.
Q: What would y'all say to other congregations in Kentucky who are beginning their own journey into living out creation care?
Sandy: I think it’s easy when people think about creation care activities to focus on where it is organizationally in the church structure. I think it’s true that you have to have those individuals who are focused on moving creation care concepts forward but then I think the other important piece of it is how do you integrate it throughout – how do you incorporate creation care conversations into everything you do. It’s a mindset really. It’s a perspective on a way to look at the world! I credit Heather with really incorporating it into worship, and sermons, and prayers, and activities that we are involved with. So, my recommendation to churches that are considering is to think of it broadly instead of a compartmentalized fashion.
Adele: I think I heard Heather say it; it’s incorporated into our DNA.
Heather: I would say to a church that wants to get started is that you don’t do everything all at once, because it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Because sometimes the projects can be huge and you think ‘Well, we don’t have the resources’ – you don’t have to do everything at once. Again, it’s that old adage of think globally, act locally. Do small things. And the other piece is to let go of the guilt to think you aren’t doing enough. To realize that you’re taking these steps and each step raises awareness and sends ripple effects out and that’s what this process is. It’s a growing process and learning process that comes with grace. I don’t have to feel guilty right now to use plastic communion cups because that’s what is needed during this time and when it’s safe and we can do that, how can we rethink. And maybe that’s the benefit of COVID, it’s gifting us the opportunity to rethink some of these truths that we thought were foundational or realizing we can let go of those pretty easily. And then it’s forcing us to think outside of the box to come up with creative solutions on doing ministry and doing the mission. I think that’s [my advice.] Don’t get overwhelmed! And that’s the beauty of the partnership – it shows you’re not alone in it and it’s not up to Midway Christian Church uniquely to save God’s creation.
More information on Midway Christian Church, including their sustainability efforts, can be found at www.midwaychristian.org. Services are currently being streamed on both YouTube and Facebook. If you are interested in connecting with Midway Christian Church on their creation care efforts, you can email the office (firstname.lastname@example.org) and request to speak to Sandy.