Sunday, February 24, 2008
Penance for Lent traditionally has meant abstaining from meat or forsaking chocolates. In light of climate change, however, two Church of England leaders are calling on congregants to curb their energy consumption instead.
Bishops Richard Chartres of London and James Jones of Liverpool recently partnered with the U.K.-based nonprofit organization Tearfund (Jones is a vice president) to promote a Lenten "carbon fast," a plan that prescribes a household energy-saving tip for each of the period's 40 days. Carbon-cutting reflects the Christian value of caring for the poor, the logic goes, because coastal and drought-prone third-world regions are disproportionately affected by global warming.
Though we know of no other denominations that have formally recommended going green for Lent, the idea is catching on: A blog ( http://greenlent.blogspot.com) is devoted to the concept, and locally, Greater Washington Interfaith Power and Light, a nonprofit organization that works with area congregations to spread the sustainability gospel, is promoting a Lenten carbon fast in the D.C. area, offering pledges and tip sheets for distribution at worship services and church events.
"It's a biblical mandate that we take care of our planet," says Robin Simpson, pastor of D.C.'s Luther Place Memorial Church. "Lent is a great place to start; I would encourage that the idea continue all year." Luther Place, a Lutheran congregation and Washington Interfaith Network member, established an Eco-Stewards program in 2006 that includes alternative transportation and carpooling programs, weekly newsletter tips for congregants and initiatives for the church building itself, such as phasing out paper plates, placing insulating film over stained-glass windows, seeking out climate-appropriate landscaping and purchasing fair-trade, sustainably harvested palms for Palm Sunday.
Increasingly, religious leaders are coming around to the green way of thinking: The Presbyterian Church asked its members to become carbon-neutral in 2006; the Vatican hosted a climate change conference last year; the Church of England initiated "Shrinking the Footprint," a plan to reduce its carbon usage by 60 percent. And Call to Action, a group founded last year, seeks to make global warming a top political issue for evangelicals; its leaders include the Rev. Joel C. Hunter, president of the Christian Coalition of America, and the Rev. Richard Cizik, vice president for government relations of the National Association of Evangelicals. Some political analysts speculate that "eco-evangelicals" could be a crucial voting bloc in this fall's elections.
Here are a few of the carbon fast's Lent tips that are easy to implement, no matter your faith:
-- Eviana Hartman