No Easy Answers
One phrase returned to me again and again at the
“Holy and Beautiful: Greening Sacred Spaces” conference
at Duke in February. In 24 hours, the phrase became
mantra-like: “It’s a no-brainer…it’s a no-brainer ….”
Of course, we should consider the environment when
building churches; of course, we have a theological mandate
to be good stewards of the earth’s resources; of
course, the church should be leading the way in the area
of environmental responsibility…it’s a no-brainer.
Yet, we know it isn’t that easy. Good theology also
informs decisions such as the type of car we drive, how
we raise our children, how we talk to our neighbors, what
we eat and how we care for our bodies. These are all “nobrainers,”
yet the church continues to pride itself on gluttonous
covered-dish suppers, our parking lots are full of
gas-guzzling vehicles, and we continue to whisk the children
out of worship for “children’s church” because they
are a “distraction.”
Of course, our belief requires action. Of course, it matters
what we do with our money, our bodies, and our little
plot of earth. The question is not "how do we move from
belief to action," but rather, how are we formed in a
belief in the triune God that compels us to action? When
we begin to understand who God is and who we are as
his creatures, then it matters what kind of car we drive,
what we eat, what kind of church buildings we build . . .
if, indeed, we need to build at all.
I am convinced that our greatest barrier is a deficit of
imagination. For too long, the church’s imagination has
been shaped not only by the popular culture, but by a
poor understanding of who God is, and what God calls
the church to be. Ellen Davis reminded us that as slaves
in Egypt the Israelites built storehouses for the Pharaoh’s
excessive wealth. For too long, Christians have been in
the business of building storehouses for our souls—
places to sit comfortably in padded pews waiting for
Christ to return and whisk us off to heaven. Why build
green? Jesus is coming soon.
When we see the church as a sign of God’s Kingdom
on earth and ourselves as a resurrection people, we realize
we were freed long ago from the slavish work of
building storehouses. Rather, we have been given the
good work of building training grounds—holy and beautiful
spaces that are not only a reflection of the triune
God, but whose form also contributes to our formation as
God’s beautiful people.
Ellen Davis reminded us that we are called to reflect
the ecological virtues of wisdom and restraint: Wisdom
to use science and technology as sacred vehicles; restraint
to operate within an economy of sufficiency—resulting
in simple, but beautiful, spaces for worship. Building
green churches—and houses and barns—becomes a
“no-brainer” because of who God is.
As I write this column, we are about to move into a
new church building. One thing I have learned is this:
Building provides the opportunity to sharpen theology
and to learn together what it means to be the church. While our new building does not meet the stringent
requirements for a “certified” green-space, we choose
to use local construction materials and labor whenever
possible. We bought a used commercial kitchen at the
fraction of the cost of a new one. Dormers were added
in the sanctuary to bring in additional natural light.
At a recent United Methodist Women gathering, someone
commented that we needed to stop using Styrofoam
at church dinners. During our Wednesday night Lenten
suppers, individuals brought their own cup, bowl and
spoon. Plans are underway for “Free Food Fridays” where
we will distribute excess garden produce this summer in
the church parking lot.
The mindset is beginning to change. Our imaginations
are expanding. But there is still work to be done. Come
Sunday morning, God’s people will gather to worship in
the “beauty of holiness,” seeking to be built into a holy
and beautiful people, a sign of God’s Kingdom in the
here and now.
Grace Hackney D’03 is the pastor of Cedar Grove United Methodist Church, near Hillsborough, N.C. She inherited plans to rebuild the historic church building, which was destroyed by fire during Advent 2000. The Service of Consecration and Thanksgiving for the new building will take place June 5, 2005.