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Environmental Stewardship Commission

Episcopal Church in Minnesota

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Creation Season 2011 (Year A)
Arctic/The Poles

Welcome! We're glad you're planning on observing a liturgical season of creation. We have prepared some materials for you to use in worship, teaching, and personal reflection.

The Notes on the readings for this topic are available for you to use. You may

  • copy and paste what you wish from this page directly to your preparation materials or
  • download the materials as part of a reference materials for the individuals involved in preparing religious education, homilies, or special liturgical materials for your Service.

This Sunday's topic is the Arctic/The Poles. The following themes may be useful in preparing a sermon, prayers, or study:

Snow and ice; bears and water; fish and birds migrating; cycles of freezing and thawing; fear; isolation; stark; lack of control; damn cold; permafrost thawing and releasing methane; interdependence of humans and animals to survive.


  • Arctic tundra is located in the northern hemisphere, encircling the north pole and extending south to the coniferous forests of the taiga. (Source: University of California Museum of Paleontology)
  • There are no deep root systems in the vegetation of the arctic tundra, however, there are still a wide variety of plants that are able to resist the cold climate. There are about 1,700 kinds of plants in the arctic and subarctic. (Source: University of California Museum of Paleontology)
  • All of the plants are adapted to sweeping winds and disturbances of the soil. Plants are short and group together to resist the cold temperatures and are protected by the snow during the winter. They can carry out photosynthesis at low temperatures and low light intensities. The growing seasons are short and most plants reproduce by budding and division rather than sexually by flowering. (Source: University of California Museum of Paleontology)
  • The cultural identity of Alaska Natives and arctic rural residents is closely tied to their environment, and subsistence harvest continues to provide a large portion of the food consumed in arctic communities. Important subsistence resources include marine mammals, caribou, fish, and waterfowl. Climate change is already affecting access to some of these species. (Source: Western Alaska Landscape Conservation Cooperative - link opens a PDF document)
  • Changing ocean temperatures, circulation patterns and acidity may alter the entire marine ecosystem, affecting, among other things, the availability of prey for seabirds, marine mammals, and important commercial and subsistence fisheries. (Source: Western Alaska Landscape Conservation Cooperative - link opens a PDF document)
  • The circumpolar North, like much of the rest of the globe, has been subject to a succession of environmental crises. ...An ecosystem may adapt to stress in several ways. It has been said that ecosystem adaptation consists of a temporary change followed by a return to the previous condition; however, recent thinking suggests a much more varied set of possibilities. J.J. Kay (in 1993) identified five types of ecosystem response to stress:
    1. The system can continue to operate as before, even though its operations may be initially and temporarily unsettled.
    2. The system can operate at a different level using the same structures it originally had (for example, a reduction or increase in species numbers).
    3. Some new structures can emerge in the system that replace or augment existing structures (for example, new species or paths in the food web).
    4. A new ecosystem made up of quite different structures can emerge.
    5. The ecosystem may collapse and no regeneration occurs.

    Source: The Ecosystem Approach: Implications for the North, by Robert F. Keith, Canadian Arctic Resources Committee

  • Even in Antarctica, pollutants can be found in snow and ice cores. There is, however, no evidence of sulfur dioxide, which, as 'acid rain,' has caused so much damage in the Northern Hemisphere. (Source: Environmental Issues in Antarctica)
  • Ice in Antarctica – in this perpetually frozen land – comes in three forms, ice sheets, ice shelves, and icebergs. Source: GreenNature.com

Alternate Scripture Readings:

  • Job 24: 19; 38: 22
  • Psalm 2: 8 and Psalm 148: 8
  • Isaiah. 40: 28
  • Mark 13: 27

Non-Scriptural Writings

In place of or in addition to a scripture reading for the Sunday, you may use an alternative reading. The readings below are some we offer for your consideration:

An Arctic Quest

O proudly name their names who bravely sail
To seek brave lost in Arctic snows and seas!
Bring money and bring ships, and on strong knees
Pray prayers so strong that not one word can fail
To pierce God's listening heart!
Rigid and pale,
The lost men's bodies, waiting, drift and freeze;
Yet shall their solemn dead lips tell to these
Who find them secrets mighty to prevail
On farther, darker, icier seas.
I go
Alone, unhelped, unprayed-for. Perishing
For years in realms of more than Arctic snow,
My heart has lingered.
Will the poor dead thing
Be sign to quide past bitter flood and floe,
To open sea, some strong heart triumphing?

~Helen Hunt Jackson (1830-1885)
Source: PoemHunter.com

Polar Night

is a sodden blanket
pulled in close
to the hulk of mountain
the scattered pebble
glitter of a city

morning is
a weft of muddy yarn
a pelt of scraped skin
thrown around the
jagged birch-sticks
of a laavu

noon is a puddle
of rising murk:
like reindeer milk
in a stomach sac
the light curdles
into dark

~© Siobhan Logan 2009
Source: Polar Poets

Waiting at the Breathing Hole

The white of this screen burns
my eyes. Its unswerving glare
might well make me snow-blind.

There was a time when words would fly
across the screen, like a dog-team speeding,
each at its peak and pulling
equally and all I’d have to do was leap
aboard the sledge, guide it
in the right direction, then
relish the ride.

But suddenly,
we hit uneven ice.
Bumped over ridges.
I fell from the sledge. The dogs fled.
The instructions I yelled
had no meaning.

So now, with tender eyes,
I must hunt for a hole in the white

and wait


at the rim
for the whiskered nose of inspiration,
for a flippered urge to surge to the surface.

And when it comes, I won’t shoot it,
harpoon it skin it rip its liver out and eat it raw
leave banners of blood on the snow.

No. I’ll feed it all the saffron cod and shrimp it needs,
teach it to move with the ease it knows beneath
the ice

but first, I’ll take a few steps back
and just let it

Breathing Hole from Richardson's blog posting

~ © Susan Richardson 2009
Source: Polar Poets

Why is Antarctica considered to be a desert?

A Desert is defined as a region that has less than 254 mm (10 in) of annual rainfall or precipitation. Antarctica can be classified as a desert by this definition. In the interior of the continent the average annual precipitation (in *equivalent of water) is only about 50 mm (about 2 in), less than the Sahara. Along the coast, this increases, but is still only about 200 mm (8 in) in *equivalent of water. Heavy snowfalls occur when cyclonic storms pick up moisture from the surrounding seas and then deposit this moisture as snow along the coasts.

Unlike other deserts, there is little evaporation from Antarctica, so the relatively little snow that does fall, doesn't go away again. Instead it builds up over hundreds and thousands of years into enormously thick ice sheets.

*this precipitation doesn't fall as water of course, but as snow, the "water equivalent" is the amount of water you would get if the snowfall were collected and melted.
~Source: Antarctica Fact File


Some additional readings can be found in Earth Prayers From around the World: 365 Prayers, Poems, and Invocations for Honoring the Earth, Edited by Elizabeth Roberts and Elias Amidon; Published by Harper Colllins. The readings below (with their authors noted) may fit within this topic.

Allah Renee Bozarth
Thomas Merton
Mary Rogers - Gaelic
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin*
Ashanti Prayer
Irish Blessing*
African Canticle

* Useful as litany or adapted to prayers of people


Out in the Cold, Cold Snow

Gracie Fields sang the original, indeed the chorus is the same. Hers was a humorous contemplation of suicide when all hope had gone… perfect for June '68!

We left Halley Bay last September
Our objective we did all know
We would reccie fresh tracks, a new route to the Shacks
Out in the cold cold snow


Out in the cold cold snow
Out where the cold winds blow
No one to love us and nowhere to go
Out in the cold cold snow

For weeks we were pushed further eastward
'Twas hardly the route for a crow
When new year came round, we were sledging new ground
Out in the cold cold snow


At last we spied rock cliffs and mountains
Just fifty miles distant or so
But success got the boot when BAS cancelled the route
Out in the cold cold snow


There's a depot way down by the Slessor
Alone like a dame with B.O.
But for us its no use when the kegs got no juice
Out in the cold cold snow


We then turned our eyes to the eastward
Laid depots and flags in a row
Equipment galore in one more useless store
Out in the cold cold snow


With aircraft to Shacks, kegs to Tottans
The programme is like a yo-yo
You won't think it a farce, when you're sat on your arse
Out in the cold cold snow


Vestfjella, Shackletons, Therons
Oh where will we finally go?
The answer is plain, so just take up the strain
Out in the cold cold snow

~Peter Noble


When driving snow tractors across the Polar ice-cap we found we could easily travel in winds up to fifteen knots because we could see over the spindrift, but at higher wind speeds the spindrift rose and visibility was nil. Whiteout however, the flat light resulting from total cloud cover, was different. Visibility was often many miles but because horizons were lost and there was nothing to focus on, one often realised one was gazing intently at the snow ten yards in front, hoping to see a route marker in the distance. It was like being in dense fog until a flag would suddenly appear with stark clarity two miles away. Whiteout did not prevent travel but it did hide the beauties of the snowscape… the wind sculpture sastrugi, the snow crystals glinting like sequins, the wonderful pastel colours. Whiteout was silent too, often eerily so.

A heavy bright blanket enshrouds our world
A world of unbroken white
A new canvass awaiting it's Renoir
A manuscript hoping for Brahms
A clean page before its Joyce
A dead thing pleading life,
Pleading new horizons

For there are no horizons
They have fled this white world
As though demanded elsewhere
To separate laughing deck-chaired sands
And shrilling bare legged sea
From blue-white, gull gliding summer skies,
That little children might look up from their castles in the sand
(Castles in the air?)
And exclaim "Look Daddy
“A Ship out there on the horizon!"

We have no horizon
And no ship defines it.
All around a silent battle is engaged
Cloud and ice vying for superiority.
Suns rays, that once gave form and colour
Now are scattered and contorted,
Refected and distorted,
Diffusing confusing,
Until some sympathetic wind
Or frolicsome breeze
Drives off the cloying cloud.
Then once again
Sun shines, shadows cast,
Form is restored, distance exists,
Horizon reorders ice an sky

But now, cloud ensnared
But three things define our world
~Peter Noble

Educational Ideas:

SSSSNo Seals: Paul Lukosi is a high school teacher in the lower Yukon River Delta, 6 miles from the Bering Sea...as the slough goes. The village he teaches in is heavily focused on family and culture, and has survived for thousands of years by subsistence living. Ssssno Seals is an application of the lessons learned dealing with the Law of Conservation of Mass, the water cycle, and the food web. The lesson will tie into the life cycle of an ice seal and how we are all connected in nature. This will also include taking care of our environment as an additional topic of study.

Some reading resources for Children:

  • Polar Bear, Arctic Hare by Eileen Spinelli, self-published 2007, ISBN: 978-1-59078-344-3
  • A listing of arctic poetry for children


Arctic-Led Prayer

Creator (of all names) we give you thanks for our wonderful creation. You are related to everything you made. We are asking you with one voice to help us renew Mother Earth. Give us strength to respect one-another, like brothers and sisters, to help your creation. The Power of Your voice is like lightening. With your great power we can wake up and be true Earth Guardians.

O men and women of the earth. Please humbly pray with the holy ones for all our wildlife: including our polar bears, fish, birds, as well as return of the bees. For all our water, soil, rain, snow and ice. People all over the earth need fresh air to breath, water to drink, and foods that nurture. Send your good spirit upon every country, Creator.

We have lost our way and turn to You as we see Mother Earth getting so contaminated that we are headed for extinction unless we change and heal Her. Creator have mercy on us and guide each of us toward making a difference so our children may continue to survive and harmoniously thrive here. Our hearts are full of thanks for all your love, as well as blessings for our Earth Mother. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
~ Rev Trimble Gilbert, from Native American Olympic Team Foundation

Some discussion topics:

  1. Do you live in an area where you rarely see snow? What kind of images do the Arctic and Antarctic come to your mind.
  2. Considering the loss of ice cover, do you think you will experience any changes to the environment where you live?
  3. Are there things you (individually and corporately) can do to slow down or reverse the effects of climate change and/or pollution at the poles?
  4. Do you have a partner diocese or church in an arctic area? What have they been telling you about their concerns about the environment where they are?

Revised Common Lectionary Readings:

PDF Version of these notes:

To the other Topics in this series
Arctic/the Poles
May 1, 2011
May 8, 2011
May 15, 2011
May 22, 2011
May 29, 2011
June 5, 2011
This Page

Note: The Reflections and Notes for this Sunday were prepared by the Rev Wanda Copeland and Chuck Morello, with contributions from the Rev Margaret W. Thomas and the Rev Tom Harries.

  • The Rev Wanda Copeland was Interim Rector of St. Christopher's Episcopal Church, Roseville, MN, when she originally prepared these materials.
  • Chuck Morello was the MEESC Webverger and a licensed lay preacher who attended St. James' Episcopal Church, Hibbing, MN, when he contributed to these materials.
  • The Rev Margaret W. Thomaswas a retired Episcopal Priest residing in Duluth, MN, and doing supply work when she contributed to these materials.
  • The Rev Tom Harries was the co-chair of MEESC and the rector of the Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion, St. Peter, MN, when he contributed to these materials

Wanda, Margaret, Tom, and we welcome your comments. Please address your comments or additional reflections to Wanda Copeland, Chuck Morello, Margaret Thomas, Tom Harries, or any MEESC member, or mail them to:

c/o C. Morello
4451 Lakeside Drive
Eveleth, MN 55743-4400 USA

The MEESC assumes that all correspondence received is for publication on this web site. If your comments are not for publication, please so note on your correspondence. The MEESC reserves the right to decide which items are included on the website.


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