Church community looking for ways to protect environment

“And God saw that His new creation was beautiful and good.” Genesis 1:12

In 2015, Pope Francis issued an Encyclical on the environment condemning the way in which man has negatively impacted what God has created.

“Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last 200 years,” the Pope asserted in his writings.

The church teaches in Genesis that man is to have dominion over God’s creation.

“More than ruling over the land, we are challenged to live off of the land in solidarity with other creatures, with an attitude of kinship more than kingship,” said Katy Windels, coordinator for SERVICE and social justice with the Diocese of Scranton.

“Catholic teaching, including Laudato Si (Pope Francis’ Encyclical) tells us that, in order to be in solidarity with the poor and vulnerable, we need to care for the environment. Oftentimes, the poorest communities are most impacted by climate change and other environmental challenges, so we have a special social justice obligation to protect the natural world,” Windels added.

According to the Rev. Gwen N. Bernstine, of United Churches of Lycoming County, it all goes back to the word dominion.

In Genesis 1:28, God charges Man to have dominion over the “fish of the sea and over the fowl of the air and over the cattle and over all the Earth and over every creeping thing.”

“Man went in and conquered everything. We didn’t care for it,” asserted Bernstine. “We harvested it all.”

“We’re all to be stewards of creation,” she added..

Gail Landers, a spokesperson for the environmental justice team of Penn Central Conference of the United Church of Christ and a member of the New Covenant UCC, said that the idea that people are to care for the creation is very biblical.

“We didn’t create the original, but it’s our job to preserve it,” she said.

Landers, who has been an advocate for the environment for many years, sees some changes in churches, particularly relating to recycling.

Her home church has moved away from using Styrofoam because it cannot be recycled, it’s not reusable and it releases toxic chemicals when it breaks down, according to Landers. Compost containers have been placed in different areas of the church to make people more aware that placing coffee grounds there and not in the trash is a simple thing they can do to help the environment.

The United Churches group is also conducting a survey of local churches on plastic foam usage in congregations. The purpose is to make churches aware of the issue.

At St. Joseph the Worker Church, they are using up their supply of Styrofoam containers and moving to replace them with more environmentally friendly supplies.

Jim Foran, director of religious education at St. Joseph the Worker, noted that the parish is making a “conscious effort” to look for alternatives.

“St. Joseph the Worker Parish, hopefully, like many area congregations, are striving to ‘reduce our carbon footprint’ particularly in regard (to) faithfulness about recycling,” Foran said.

In the 13th century, St. Francis of Assisi, the namesake of Pope Francis, offered a different world view, according to Bernstine. He felt animals and people were brothers and sisters. He was the first western Christian to see in animals the kind of respect that was due to everything that God created, she added.

Pope Francis, in his Encyclical, issues a challenge “to protect our common home.”

He goes on to say “this includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change. The Creator does not abandon us; he never forsakes his loving plan or repents of having created us. Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home.”

Earth Day is Monday, a modern-day observance that focuses on the relationship of man as a wise steward of creation. It falls on the day after Easter this year.

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