We’ve gathered an extensive collection of tips, prayers, sermons, music, and journal articles to help Christians integrate care for the Earth into worship services and peoples’ spiritual lives. You’ll see these below the ecospirituality tips.
The leaves of the trees are for the healing of the nations.
Christian Eco-Spirituality Tips
By Rev. Fletcher Harper
More and more churches are integrating Creation and Creation-oriented themes more directly into their worship services. Here are our tips on how to do this well.
Too often, people feel disconnected from the natural world, and God’s presence within or through it. There are four ways that churches can integrate creation’s presence into worship – raw nature, refined nature, technology and collective silence.
“Raw” Nature in Worship
Worship leaders can integrate “raw” natural elements into worship services. For example, worship can include containers of water, earth, plants, leaves from local trees, or other natural elements placed in the worship space and visible to all. These natural elements can beautify a sanctuary and deepen worshipers’ relationship with God.
This presentation of nature in a “raw” form affirms the goodness (Gen. 1) to God of nature on its own – not just for its value to human beings. It can also remind us of the grace and rejuvenation we find in relationship with creation, and the ways in which our culture can draw us away from a strong connection with the earth and God.
Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good.
Genesis 1:11-12 NRSV
“Refined” Nature in Worship
Worship leaders can use “refined” nature – natural products or services shaped by human effort – to strengthen worshipers’ bond with creation. For example, worship leaders can use cuttings of local, seasonal flowers and greenery, real wax candles, or locally baked bread to model respect for Creation and to create a more engaging relationship with God.
This practice can be taken further. For example, churches can use worship bulletins printed only on 100% recycled paper, reduce their energy use during worship through energy-efficient lighting (or turning lights off), or purchasing renewable energy credits to offset carbon emissions from energy used during worship. Such a use of “refined” nature expresses gratitude for the Creator’s generosity and an appreciation of ecologically respectful human activity.
Nature Present through Technology
Nature Present Through TechnologyTechnology makes it possible to increase worshippers’ sense of nature’s presence through images and sounds. More and more churches are using PowerPoint slides with photographs of nature alongside the words of hymns, songs, psalms or prayers. Sometimes, words aren’t necessary - these photographs or images can also be used on their own – as visual preludes, postludes, or prayers.
Collective silence is a fourth way that leaders can integrate the environment into worship. Through silence, worshippers become more aware of surrounding sounds, natural and man-made. They have their senses sharpened, and can develop a stronger relationship with their surroundings and with God. In 30-60 seconds of silence, worshippers can experience a bird’s call, a dog’s bark, the rumble of traffic, the sound of a breeze. Many people commented that silence increases their awareness of their neighborhood and deepens their spirituality.
A Biblically-based sermon about the gift of Creation - and our obligation to conserve it – can be a life-changing experience for many people. Many people have never heard such a sermon, and therefore lack a well-grounded theological, spiritual or moral perspective on the environment.
There are many ways to integrate environmental themes into sermons. As part of interpreting the Biblical passage of the day in relation to the environment, preachers can:
- tell stories that describe outdoor spiritual experiences.
- describe the scientific evidence that human activity is harming creation, and preach on the need for repentance.
- share stories that link pollution to human health impacts, emphasizing Jesus’ commitment to healing.
- describe the impact of environmental degradation on the poor, and Christ’s commitment to those who are most vulnerable.
- discuss Christian teachings about restrained material consumption as an expression of moral maturity.
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.
Matthew 25:35-36, 40 NRSV
Certain Christian holy days lend themselves particularly well to a focus on Creation. Some of these days are more commonly observed in certain denominations than others – but they all offer an opportunity to celebrate the bond between God, people and the earth.
Here’s a short listing of some of these holy days or seasons, starting at the beginning of the calendar year:
The season of Epiphany
traditionally a season which celebrates the “showing forth of Christ to the world,” Epiphany offers opportunities to highlight the revelation of God in or through the earth. For example, the Transfiguration of Christ , which takes place on a mountaintop, serves as an example of the times when God affirms Jesus’ divine identity in a powerful natural setting.
Ash Wednesday and Lent
With their traditional focus on the importance of self-restraint, Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent offer an important opportunity to address issues of consumerism, consumption and Christian faith.
The bodily resurrection of Jesus represents God’s affirmation of the eternal significance of physical reality. During the Sundays following Easter, there are many opportunities Christ’s redemption not only of human beings but of “all things” (Col. 1:15 -20).
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. And through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
Colossians 1:15-16, 20 NRSV
The Feast of Francis of Assisi
Celebrated on October 4, this day offers the chance to highlight the ministry and witness of Francis, the patron saint of the environment and the single most important Christian leader in relation to the earth.
Observed on April 25 (or April 27 if Easter falls on the 25th), and on the 3 days prior to the feast of Christ’s Ascension, these days were a time during which farmers had their crops blessed by a priest. Some congregations today are re-interpreting this ancient custom as a time of prayer for the earth.
The Second Coming – a traditional focus of Advent – offers the opportunity to highlight that in the end, Jesus Christ renews all Creation, restoring and renewing the earth and people.
In addition to these religious holidays, many churches use Earth Day (April 22), or in fewer cases Arbor Day (observed on the last Friday of April) as an occasion to integrate ecological themes into worship.
For more ideas, see our listings of "Special Occasions" on-line resources and books.
Worship leaders are increasingly integrating messages about Creation into various parts of worship services - calls to worship, prayers of intercession, prayers of confession, and prayers of praise.
The earth is the LORD’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it; for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers.
Psalm 24:1-2 NRSV
Calls to Worship
Many worship services begin with a call to worship which acknowledges or invokes God’s presence. These calls to worship can be written to praise God for the creation’s majesty or to recognize God’s ownership of the earth. “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, (Psalm 24:1) is a common Biblical verse used for this purpose. We’ve also seen Biblical verses turned into affirmations of God’s power or creativity (e.g. “Oh Lord our God, you made all that is and declared it good …” from Genesis 1)
Finally, we’ve seen Biblical passages used to recognize creation’s beauty, complexity or subtlety as a sign of divine providence or wisdom (e.g. “As Elijah heard you not in the stormy blast but in a still, small voice …” from 2 Kings 2; or “As Jesus affirmed your care even for the tiny sparrow …” from Mt. 10:29).
Prayers of Confession
Through prayers of confession, worshippers confess that human mistreatment of nature is sinful. In most cases, these confessions make broad references to creation, like the broad language used in traditional confessions of sin to acknowledge our mistreatment of other people or our inattentiveness to God. By including nature in these confessions, worship leaders affirm that treating nature badly is sinful, as is mistreating other people or disregarding God.
Confessions can include a description of various forms of environmental degradation – pollution of land, oceans and atmosphere, harm done to human health through pollution, and more. Confessions can also focus on the underlying human sins, such as greed, lack of gratitude, or alienation from creation, that lead to environmental harm.
Confessing ecological sin can be emotionally painful, evoking guilt and despair. Because of these reactions, worship leaders may want to include prayers of gratitude for creation or prayers which call for resolve to restore the earth as a counterbalancing force.
Prayers of Intercession
One of the most common forms of group prayer is the prayer of intercession, a prayer that seeks God’s care for congregants, families and friends, and for larger groups of people suffering from hunger, illness, or more. These prayers can be modified to include nature. For instance, a congregation can include domestic animals, endangered species, watersheds, forests or contaminated sites in its intercessory prayers, along with the individuals and groups who benefit from a church’s prayerful concern.
Prayers of Praise
Praising God is one of worship’s central activities, and nature offers a unique way to offer such praise. Whether through the use of language from psalms of praise (Psalm 8, 148) or through language designed by the worship leader, praising God for the beauty and majesty of Creation is a powerful way to connect people to the divine.
O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?
Psalm 8:1, 3-4 NRSV
Worshipping outdoors is hard to beat as a way of connecting people with God in and through the earth. Many congregations worship outside during the summer, when the weather is mild. Here are a couple of tips to make your outdoor worship meaningful.
As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?
Psalm 42:1-2 NRSV
- Remember - Jesus regularly prayed outdoors. This simple reminder offers people a new way to connect with Jesus, as well as with the earth.
- Make sure that there is safe seating and footing. For people to enter into worship deeply, they need to feel safe. So, make sure that you’ve got places to set up chairs (or blankets) in a secure fashion.
- Use silence. Especially outdoors, periods of silence can be powerful ways to help people connect with God. In 30 seconds of silence outdoors, people will hear a range of sounds they don’t normally notice – wind, birds, and a range of human sounds. Silence can help people relax, and allow the Spirit into their lives.
- Encourage movement and body awareness. Too often, people don’t move during worship, and their bodies don’t get to enjoy the experience of movement as a way to praise and connect with God. Make it possible for people to move freely, whether together or individually.
- Worship at odd hours. Different times of day evoke different moods, and different ways to connect with God. Try small worship services as the sun is rising or setting, or by candlelight in darkness.Use props creatively. Burning incense outdoors or waving a banner in the breeze, can heighten people’s awareness that God’s presence surrounds and envelops us.
- Connect Scripture with the earth. If you are worshipping near a stream, consider using a reading such as Psalm 42 – “As the deer longs for the running brook, so my heart longs for you …”
- Enjoy Fellowship outside. When you’ve finished worshipping outside, make it easy for people to stay outside to enjoy refreshments and each others’ company.
Christian Web-Based Eco-Spirituality Resources
Here we have compiled an extensive listing of the various Christian Eco-Spirituality materials and resources that are available online. For most of the categories, we have selected a few sites as "Top Picks"--sites we feel are a good place to go during an initial search. However, there is also a link to the full listing of sites on each category's page for those wanting to make a more exhaustive search for materials.
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it. Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the LORD; for he is coming, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth.
Psalm 96:11-13 NRSV
Please select a category below:
You are the LORD, you alone; you have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. To all of them you give life, and the host of heaven worships you.
Nehemiah 9:6 NRSV
Christian Eco-Spirituality Journal Articles
For those wanting to search for Eco-Spirituality materials beyond what is available in books or online, we have compiled this bibliography of journal articles.
The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Psalm 19:1 NRSV
Christian Eco-Spirituality Books
Here we have compiled an extensive bibliography of various Christian Eco-Spirituality materials and resources that are available in print. Below, you will find four of our "Top Picks"--books we feel are a good place to start when building a Eco-Spirituality library. However, there is also a link at the bottom of the page to the full bibliography, organized by type of material, for those wanting to make a more comprehensive search.
Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it. Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth. O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.
1 Chronicles 16:32-34