For the Bible Tells Us So: A church’s biblically conservative approach to creation care

By Susan Drake Emmerich


Flourish, Fall 2011

Moraine Valley Church lies at the heart of an intersection with a Walgreens on one corner, a gas station on another, and strip malls lining the others. It is a church of 700 people located in Palos Heights, Illinois, a southwest suburb of Chicago that is the home of Trinity Christian College, Cook County Forest Preserves, and the Lake Katherine Nature Center and Botanic Gardens—a once unsightly area redeemed for the local community’s good. Palos Heights is also where Trinity Christian College (TCC) held a conference in 1965 to create the New International Version of the Bible.

Moraine Valley Church (MVC) is known by many Palos Heights residents for its love of God and people, as well as for its community involvement. This good reputation is due in part to a spirit of grace and humility that has been a hallmark of the church’s leadership and congregants for the past 60 years. That spirit is the reason this biblically conservative church has been open to exploring the creation stewardship responsibility of God’s people.

A Step of Faith

In 2009, I met with the pastor of MVC, Pat Peglow, and shared with him the biblical foundations for my 20-year-long vocational calling of stewarding God’s creation.

I was hoping that I could just get a Sunday creation care service, so I was thrilled when Chad suggested an entire week’s focus on creation care.

I shared a bit of my history, including work I’ve done in many of the world’s ecosystems through non-governmental, governmental, and international governmental organizations, as well as work I’ve done locally to revamp and strengthen the Lake Katherine Nature Preserve. As an example of how creation stewardship can be used to reach out to the surrounding community, I provided him with a copy of the film When Heaven Meets Earth: How a Faithful Few Inspired Change. The film is about my use of a biblical environmental stewardship and conflict resolution approach to mediate a conflict between environmentalists, the fishermen of Tangier Island in Virginia, and the farmers of Clearville, Pennsylvania.

Pastor Pat, as he likes to be called, admitted that he had never explored environmental stewardship as a biblical responsibility of the church but was open to learning more about it. “I believe in encouraging all my congregants to fulfill their callings so that their gifts may bless the church,” he says. “I certainly don’t want to get in the way of God’s work.”

Chad Negley, MVC’s worship director, was already interested in creation care and wanted to deepen his understanding of it; he came up with the idea of having the church’s first Creation Care Week. I was hoping that I could just get a Sunday creation care service, so I was thrilled when Chad suggested an entire week’s focus on creation care.

The first Creation Care Week took place in May 2009. It included a Sunday service with the pastor’s first sermon on creation care, the showing of the trailer for When Heaven Meets Earth, and an interview with me. The week also included MVC’s first midweek praise and worship service for creation care and a showing of Disney’s Earth, to which the larger community was invited.

United by faith, love of Christ, and creation care

Four months later, MVC held an eight-week Pathways class on biblical environmental stewardship. The class provided the opportunity to study Scripture about creation care using Calvin B. DeWitt’s book EarthWise. While there were many for whom creation stewardship was a new concept, there were also those in the class who already understood and had responded to the biblical responsibility to care for creation. God convened members of the congregation who were already united by their faith and love for Christ, but who were also uniquely bonded by their enjoyment and stewardship of God’s creation.

Marcia Horan, a participant in the class, says, “[The class] changed me and changed my spirit. I believe there is a lack of knowledge about creation care in the church that can only be helped by people stepping up and teaching courses full of biblical truths about our stewardship responsibility.”

From this class emerged 20 committed members who formed MVC’s Creation Care Group and crafted a creation care vision plan and activities for the church.

“All the principles of stewardship that I learned on the farm as it related to land, water, energy, and creatures are relevant to my life in a semi-urban area and in my church.”

The deaconate reviewed and accepted this vision, legitimating creation care as a responsibility of the church.

The Creation Care Group, with support from the MVC staff and leadership, launched five projects in preparation for the second Creation Care Week in May 2011. The group continued to educate about biblical creation care and the biblical reasons for their projects through a column in the church’s monthly newsletter and an essay about the biblical foundations for Creation Care Week in the church’s quarterly newsletter. As it began putting its convictions about stewardship into action, the group discovered that there was much good work at MVC that it could build upon and enhance according to stewardship principles. It also found tremendous support for its efforts among the MVC community.

From Styrofoam to stainless steel

The church’s first creation care goal was to reduce and eventually eliminate the 13,000 Styrofoam cups used in our after-service refreshment time and throughout all church ministries. Moraine Valley Church’s HeBrews Café had already instituted many creation- and cultural-stewardship practices, such as using fair-trade coffee and recyclable paper cups, recycling plastic and glass, using syrups from Davinci (which supports rural children in the majority world), saving coffee grounds for gardens, and supporting locally owned coffee roasters.

The Creation Care Group, with a loan from the deaconate, purchased special drip-free, stainless steel travel mugs to sell to the congregation. The HeBrew’s Café offered to sell the travel mugs and provided incentives for their purchase and use: a free coffee or tea with purchase of a mug, and a 25-cent discount each time the mug is used. With its excess proceeds, the Café will replace its Styrofoam cups with paper ones.

Walking gently and using less

The Creation Care Group’s desire is to leave a small a carbon footprint so that we reflect the nature of God in walking gently and meekly on the earth. One way it has decided to do this is by using non-renewable resources more sparingly and efficiently. Three years ago, church planners were already thinking about energy stewardship when they built a new worship center and café with energy efficient technology. The Creation Care Group contacted the Evangelical Environmental Network to solicit assistance from its G.I.V.E.R. (Green Initiative for eVangelical Environmental Renewal) program to further enhance its energy efficiency. Moraine Valley Church was chosen as one of 60 Midwestern congregations to participate as a pilot church in addressing the energy efficiency of its older buildings.

Fresh air prayer

The Creation Care Group also took its stewardship work outside by converting of a section of church property into a butterfly

prayer garden. The garden consists of 12 large plots planted with native species that require little water and attract butterflies. Unexpectedly, a church attendee who owns a landscaping business donated the materials and plants for the garden. The group also received two large rain barrels that use rain runoff from the church’s rooftop for the garden. Now the Creation Care Group is establishing a “Steward a Garden Box” effort to encourage different church ministries to maintain each garden box.

Keith Buell, MVC’s Church Administrator, is encouraged by all of the creation care projects MVC is undertaking. “The Creation Care Group has given us new insight and new opportunities to care for God’s creation,” he says. “We are just beginning, but we think the projects will spark more creative ideas on ways to more lovingly care for our beautiful earth.”

Creation Care Week 2011

Clearly, a lot has happened at MVC since its first Creation Care Week in 2009.

I’ve learned that caring for creation is not just another thing we have to do as Christians. It’s a humbling privilege.”

With all of the Creation Care Group’s initiatives on the congregation’s radar, this year’s Creation Care Week was informative, but it was also more of a celebration of the work of God in creation—something the MVC community is recognizing and appreciating more every day.

The May 2011 Creation Care Week began with a Creation Sunday service. Pastor Pat gave a sermon entitled “The Royal Privilege of Caring for Creation,” and it was followed by worship with songs focused on God’s revelation in creation and a drama, called “Attitude of Gratitude,” that wove together the gospel and the privilege God gives us of stewarding creation.

The service concluded with an interview with Dr. Larry Brown, a teacher of physics and the chair of the Creation Care Group’s energy efficiency project. The creation care experience has had a striking impact in my life,” said Brown. “I came from a Kansas farm where I experienced land stewardship first hand from my parents, although it wasn’t referred to as stewardship…The extent of my biblical understanding of stewardship was as a steward of our family’s money. I now understand that the biblical concept of stewardship is also about the King’s creation and that our role as Christians is as stewards of God’s creation. All the principles of stewardship that I learned on the farm as it related to land, water, energy, and creatures are relevant to my life in a semi-urban area and in my church.”

A creation care curriculum was taught to elementary school-age children during the service, and the learning and worship continued at a midweek prayer and worship service, where people continued in praise and were provided with a list of prayers for creation at the global, local, and church levels.

“Caring for the world around me has nothing to do with me and everything to do with loving God and others,” explains MVC Worship Director Chad Negly. “Creation Care Week at our church made me consider how much I choose not to love God and others by not doing enough to care for the world around me. I’ve learned that caring for creation is not just another thing we have to do as Christians. It’s a humbling privilege.”

Marcia Horan agrees. “I have quoted Colossian 1:15-16 often when I have shared the gospel, but Creation Care Week caused me to perceive further truth about this scripture—the relational, biblical and Trinitarian truth that the Jesus who saves created all things. This was the part of our Pastor’s sermon that helped me understand that I need to have a holy respect for creation.”

Even The Regional, a local newspaper with a readership of 100,000, recognized the import of Creation Care Week.

Moraine Valley Church (MVC) is known by many Palos Heights residents for its love of God and people, as well as for its community involvement.

It published an article on the week’s activities, taking the story of Bible-believing Christians who are serious about creation stewardship to the larger Palos Heights community. Hopefully that community and the community of MVC will understand that the church’s creation care efforts are about encouraging and providing ways for people to live out our royal privilege as stewards of God’s earth with Jesus’ servant attitude and heart of grace, humility, and gratitude.


For information about Moraine Valley Church and to hear the creation care sermon by Pastor Pat Peglow, visitwww.morainvalleychurch.org. For more information about Moraine Valley’s creation care efforts, contact Susan Emmerich at Susan.Emmerich@gmail.com.If you would like to purchase a copy of the DVD When Heaven Meets Earth, please visit www.whenheavenmeetsearth.org.


Susan-Drake-EmmerichDr. Susan Drake Emmerich is a nationally known speaker on faith-based environmental stewardship. She is currently the CEO of Emmerich Environmental Consulting and director of the Creation Care Program for the Center for Law and Culture. She is the co-producer of the award-winning film, When Heaven Meets Earth: Faith and the Environment in the Chesapeake Bay, and the documentary, When Heaven Meets Earth: Faith-based stewardship spreads to the urban and suburban communities. Her action and faith-based stewardship research work are also the subject of the PBS documentary, Between Heaven and Earth: The Plight of the Chesapeake Bay Watermen. As part of her work with the Tangier watermen, she founded and directed the Tangier Watermen’s Stewardship for the Chesapeake.

Dr. Emmerich is a former Harvey Fellow and Presidential Management Fellow. She spent 10 years in the federal government and was a U.S. Delegate to the U.N. and U.S. negotiator for the Department of State. She also worked for the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the World Bank, EPA, and Department of Interior.

Dr. Emmerich lives in Palos Heights, Illinois with her husband, Professor Charlie Emmerich, and daughter Lydia. The Emmerichs attend Moraine Valley Church in Palos Heights.

 

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