April 22, marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day! While events initially planned in the pre-COVID19 era must now be modified, our congregations can and hopefully will celebrate in various ways this month.
Here are some helpful resources and suggestions for celebrating the gift of God’s good creation even as we are physical distancing!
A Brief History
The first Earth Day was celebrated April 22, 1970. It is seen as the birth of the modern environmental movement. Author Rachel Carson raised public awareness to the links between pollution and public health in her book Silent Spring published in 1962.
Earth Day provided a voice for the emerging environmental consciousness. It was founded by Gaylord Nelson, Senator from Wisconsin, after the massive oil spill of the Santa Barbara coast in 1969. He sought to channel anti-war energy into public consciousness about pollution, envisioning Earth Day as a “National Teach-In on the Environment.” Pete McCloskey, Republican Congressman from California co-chaired the event, which was coordinated by Denis Hayes.
On April 22, 20 million Americans (10% of the population) took to the streets and parks and auditoriums, to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment. Multiple different groups united around shared common values. Ultimately Earth Day actions led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.
By 1990, Earth Day went global! As many as 200 million people in 141 countries mobilized to raise environmental issues worldwide, paving the way for the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. By the year 2000, focus sharpened on Global Warming and 5000 environmental groups in 184 countries reached out to hundreds of millions of people, calling for quick and decisive action on global warming and clean energy.
Today Earth Day is recognized as the largest secular observance in the world. More than a billion people worldwide work to change human behaviors and provoke policy changes. With growing awareness of our climate crisis, people young and old are demanding greater action be taken to protect our planet and its inhabitants, empowering through information and action together to make an impact and drive change. (Written by Karen McElfish, member at Mt Olivet UMC in Arlington VA and member of the VA Annual Conference Caretakers of God’s Creation ministry team)
How can we as United Methodist congregations participate in Earth Day 2020?
Encourage your pastors and lay leaders to participate in Earth Day in the Pulpit over the weekend of 4/17 – 4/19 or 4/24 – 4/26, to speak out on behalf of all God’s Creation. Go to earthday.org/campaign/faith-outreach/ for more information and take the pledge. Sample sermons to give a Creation Care message can be found at vaipl.org/resources/climate-prayers-sample-sermons.
Join the National Climate Prayer on 4/22 at 12noon. Sign up at faithclimateactionweek.org/prayers-and-climate-blessings/ to participate.
Download the faith Leaders tool kit from earthday.org/campaign/faith-outreach/ for tools and ideas faith leaders can use to help protect our environment, through learning, refection and action. Lots of hands-on activities for all ages!
Use digital teach-ins to inform on issues, promote values, empower others to act. Find available resources at earthday.org/take-action-now.
Read our Social Principles. The draft revised version consolidates our statements on care of God’s Creation in the section called Community of All Creation. https://www.umcjustice.org/documents/124
Make an Earth Day window sign to let your neighbors know how they can be involved, including #EARTHRISE, #EarthDay2020 or earthday.org. Check out earthday.org/actions/make-an-earth-day-window-sign/ for more ideas.
Host an online community climate discussion. See earthday.org/actions/host-a-community-climate-discussion/ for ideas.
Join the Just Energy for All 101 3-part webinar series on April 23, May 7, and May 21 to learn what just energy means, why United Methodist Women advocate for just energy for all centered on justice and equity, and how you can get involved. Register at unitedmethodistwomen.org/just-energy-for-all.
Join Earth Day Live 2020, for online activities from April 22-24, including teach-ins, musical performances and more. Find information at earthdaylive2020.org.
Join EARTHRISE intergenerational movement for climate action on April 22. Sign up at earthday.org/campaign/earth-day-earthrise.
Pledge to Vote Earth, for environmental progress in our next elections. As voting citizens, we have the power to make our voices heard, to protect our planet and defend our future. Go to earthday.org/actions/vote-earth-u-s for more information.
Take on the Green Church Initiative challenge, a congregational covenant ministry of the North Carolina Annual Conference. https://nccumc.org/outreach/2019/08/green-church-challenge/
Take part in the Great Global Cleanup worldwide campaign to remove trash, maintaining safe distancing. Or join a cleanup this fall. See cleanup.earthday.org for more information.
Join the North Carolina Council of Churches and NC Interfaith Power and Light for a Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day April 20 from 5 to 6 pm for a virtual happy hour. https://www.ncchurches.org/event-single/85th-anniversary-celebration-honoring-the-50th-anniversary-of-earth-day/
Fight climate change with diet change. Limit your meat consumption. Try the Foodprints for the Future calculator, to calculate and understand your food choices’ impact. Find it at earthday.org/foodprints-calculators.
Be a part of Earth Challenge 2020 citizen science initiative, to monitor and mitigate threats to environmental and human health. Join the effort at earthchallenge2020.earthday.org.
Make art! Through artwork you can express appreciation for the earth, engage people on environmental issues, and inspire them to act. As well, the act of creating art relieves stress and promotes well-being. Join Earth Day Network’s Artists for the Earth Campaign at earthday.org/campaign/artists-for-the-earth.
There is so much that we as people of faith can do to celebrate Earth Day 2020! This is just a sampling of the many opportunities. Please join the effort!
For more information:
Earth Day Network (earthday.org)
North Carolina Interfaith Power and Light (ncipl.org)
Faith Climate Action Week (faithclimateactionweek.org)
United Methodist Women Just Energy for All (unitedmethodistwomen.org/just-energy-for-all)
United Methodist Creation Justice Movement (umcreationjustice.org/contact-2/)