By Tyler Sprouse, TWK Communications SpecialistThere’s an apocryphal quote attributed to the 16th century Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther, that reads: “Even if I knew the world would end tomorrow, I would still plant my apple tree.”
The question of authorship aside, the quote captures well the heart of the Christian hope: however bleak things seem, the promises of God and the presence of the Spirit empower us to work for a better world—to actively “hope against hope”—today.
In the face of urgent warnings resounding from the U.N. and top climate scientists concerning the severity of the climate crisis, there seems to be a dearth of hopeful signs. However, at West End UMC in Nashville, hopeful climate justice action is alive.
“In our creation care work,” said West End UMC’s Pastor of Mission and Outreach, Rev. Stacey Harwell-Dye, “we are trying to engage both sides of the brain. We believe this holistic approach is most effective, because we need both critical reflection and aesthetic imagination in our fight for climate justice. Churches have multiple ways to think about creation care. This month we have done some of our most creative work, and we were able to ‘close the loop’ with practical actions as well.”
During Earth Month, West End UMC hosted an Earth Month Art Show that featured pieces both from members and friends of the congregation. Through a diversity of media, these works came together to illustrate artistically the awe of creation.
From the stained glass mosaic of Mother Earth’s grieving rage to the oil painting of grape vines heavy with violet clusters of blessing; the pencil sketch of a family’s beloved Shetland Sheepdog to the intricate scratchboard of a lioness lovingly protecting her cub; a quilt dyed with garden materials to junkyard scraps turned suncatchers by youthful vision–these and an array of other works bore witness to the ancient lyrical refrain: “… and God saw that it was good.”
“With this exhibit,” reflected Rev. Harwell-Dye, “we wanted to emphasize the wonder of God’s creation.
“So often,” she continued, “people tend to focus on the doom and gloom of the climate crisis, which can cause stagnation and inaction. Although it is important to emphasize the real threat we face, we believe it is equally important to awaken people to the beauty all around them; to remind people why it is so important to protect the environment.”
For Crys Zinkiewicz, West End UMC’s Creation Care Committee Chair, the Earth Month exhibit bore witness to the creativity of God.
“When we think about the Creator,” said Zinkiewicz, “we must remember: we are made in the Creator’s image. Look at the creativity on display! The colors, the different art forms, the delicacy of the lighting, the diversity of landscapes—all this testifies to the gift of creativity.”
Playing at the exhibit was a documentary, created by West End member, Clare Bratten, about the “Barefoot Farmer,” Jeff Poppen, who is known for his “biodynamic” and eco-friendly farming practices, as well as his principled resistance against Concentrated Animal Farm Operations.
The congregation had other initiatives and learning opportunities throughout Earth Month, beginning with a toy swap. With the resulting toy supply exceeding the event’s demand, the church was able to donate toys to the Nashville Foster Love Closet, a local nonprofit that provides goods for foster families in the metro area.
At other times, the Creation Care Committee hosted educational presentations and training sessions on how to write local, state, and federal representatives advocating for climate policies that will help shape a livable future for our planet. The congregation also has big hopes for sweeping changes to its energy consumption.
Whether urging U.S. Senators to cut global carbon emissions or planting trees around its yards, West End UMC continues to work for a healthy environment—on both global and local scales.
West End’s example shows that, in the fight for climate justice, the church can awaken people to the beauty all around them—a beauty that must be protected.