Episcopal Church in Minnesota

Environmental Stewardship Commission
Duluthians help Episcopalians honor creation
News Article that originally appeared in
Duluth Budgeteer News, 2001-11-15
by Joan Farnam

Photo by Joan Farnam
Five Duluthians are on the 14-member 
Minnesota Episcopal Environmental 
Stewardship Commission including, 
from left, Nan Stokes (co-chair), 
the Rev. Margaret W. Thomas, 
Nelson Thomas (co-chair), and 
Helen Hanten

The Minnesota Episcopal Environmental Stewardship Commission has developed a Web page to provide information for churches and congregations about how to develop an environmental stewardship focus in church services. The Web page includes not only liturgical and lectionary information, but writings, bibliographies and more.

The Web page address is http://www.env-steward.com.

Nelson Thomas walked over to the pine tree at St. Andrews by the Lake Episcopal Church and gave it a big hug.

He looked back at the group of women watching him and joked about being a tree hugger.

They all laughed.

"We're all tree huggers here," said Nan Stokes as she took her place beside Thomas. "We might as well admit it."

Tree huggers or not, this group of Duluthians is having an impact on how Episcopal congregations across the state, and the country, are looking at the Earth and their responsibility to it.

They are all members of the Minnesota Environmental Stewardship Commission, a 9-year-old statewide organization that focuses on educating Episcopal churches throughout the state on how to be good stewards of the environment.

It's a mission of faith, a mission of spirituality, said Helen Hanten, deacon at St. Andrews and one of the charter members of the commission.

The Bible teaches that God created the Earth, but do churches teach how to care for this creation? Not always, but they should, she said.

"The creation is God's gift to us," Hanten said, "So stewardship of the creation becomes a theological and spiritual issue. Good environmental practices are not done for their own sake, but become a piece of caring for God's creation."

The commission, which grew out of a national meeting of Episcopal churches, has grappled with a number of questions since it was first founded nine years ago, said Nancy Stokes, who co-chairs the commission with Thomas. They are charter members as well.

When the group first met, it focused on encouraging churches to recycle to express their concern for the environment, she said.

But that didn't quite meet the issue head-on.

There were more fundamental questions here, she said, like incorporating into church services an awareness of how all creation is sacred as well as giving people a new understanding of how to be good stewards of the Earth.

This concern has led to an extraordinary development in church history. The commission has developed a Web page to serve as a source of information about how to do that.

There are commentaries on readings from the Bible that are used in Episcopal churches throughout the liturgical season, pointing out connections to teachings on the creation that can be incorporated into services, as well as possible sermon topics.

There are suggestions for a series of creation services, where the focus is on the environment and all living things. It starts with the Feast of St. Francis and offers suggestions on how to develop a creation season in the church.

There are even hymns on the site. Click a button and one can hear hymns with a creation theme.

The Web site, which has been expanded substantially by Chuck Morello of Ely Lake since he joined the commission in 1996, had 15,000 hits last month. "We've got close to 400 pages online," he said. "We're just expanding and expanding."

The commission also holds workshops and summer camps and it gives presentations at meetings and conferences of the Minnesota Episcopal Diocese.

"We are trying to help people to think theologically about the creation," Hanten said.

The commission has also proposed resolutions about environmental concerns like energy use, creation-focused liturgy and the spirituality of food production to the Minnesota Diocese conventions. All of the resolutions have been passed.

In some ways, it's been an uphill battle. "Sometimes we think we're banging our heads against the wall," Stokes said.

But interest and enthusiasm for the project is growing.

"It's overwhelming what we've accomplished," said the Rev. Margaret W. Thomas, Nelson's wife and acting priest at St. Edward's.

In fact, the commission is planning a trip to Alaska next year where they will work with the Rev. Mark MacDonald, a Duluth native who is the bishop of Alaska.

"It will be a joint training where we would work with the native people," Nelson said. "I'm not sure if we will learn more or they will learn more. We're looking forward to it."

This article was reproduced with permission of Duluth Budgeteer News.

We welcome your comments. Please address your comments or questions to Nan Stokes or Nelson Thomas 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 web site.

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