Begin with a simple cup of joe

By on April 1, 2010

Fair trade organic coffee beans in Guatemala.

If congregations want to take action on environmental and climate change issues, they can begin with a simple cup of joe.  

“Virtually every church has a coffee hour,” says the Rev. Daniel Spencer, who recently delivered a lecture on the greening of religion at Emmanuel College at the University of Toronto. “It doesn’t take very much to make sure that the coffee you’re serving is fair trade.”

An associate professor of environmental studies at the University of Montana in Missoula, Spencer described conservation efforts of many different faith communities, from Hindu women in India’s Chipko movement who hug trees to save them from bulldozers and developers, to the ecumenical community of Holden Village in Washington state, where the spiritual discipline of “garbology”  involves the daily gathering and sorting of the remote community’s refuse.

Spencer also spoke about the environmentally sustainable community of Tierra Madre (“Mother Earth”) in New Mexico. Founded by Roman Catholic nuns, Tierra Madre gives low-income families the opportunity to build and own ecologically designed and affordable straw bale homes.

There were early “green” voices in the Western religious world. They include A Theology for the Earth, a 1954 essay by American Lutheran theologian Joseph Sittler, and The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis, written by lay person Lynn White, Jr. in 1967. Today, the greening of religion is happening in virtually all of the world’s great religious traditions, including Buddhism, Hinduism and indigenous spirituality.

Still, taking those first steps can be daunting for some churches. Ecological issues can seem large and abstract; for that reason, it is important to put a “face” on the issue, said Spencer, a United Church of Christ minister.

Switching to coffee beans produced without pesticides by small farmers is just one way of introducing congregations to eco-friendly activities. “I do think it’s really important to have practices that are both green but they’re also fun and engaging,” said Spencer, citing the example of community-supported agriculture (see Small steps, above). “Kids love it, and they learn about where their food comes from.” Ω

Leanne Larmondin is former editor of the Anglican Journal.

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