Since the first Earth Day 50 years ago, Christian communities have honored Earth Day Sunday: a chance for churches to celebrate Earth Day together in their houses of worship. This tradition has ecumenical, bipartisan roots.
Creation Justice Ministries, an ecumenical organization with a mission to educate, equip, and mobilize faith communities to protect, restore, and more rightly share God’s creation, equips faith communities with Earth Day Sunday materials on a different theme each year. Creation Justice Ministries’ board decides what the theme of the materials should be based on what they hear is most relevant in their communities.
2020 marks the beginning of a crucial decade of urgent climate action. According to the 2018 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we must act now to ensure God’s creation can continue to sustain life.
For this reason, the 2020 Earth Day Sunday theme is: The Fierce Urgency of Now. The theme is based on the Martin Luther King quote:
“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there ‘is’ such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”
I confess that in my recent years in the climate movement, even as I helped produce the 2020 Earth Day Sunday resource, I have experienced a sense of dread. God’s creation is groaning, as we are in the midst of a mass species extinction event, killer heat waves, increased suffering from pollution-related illnesses such as asthma, and merciless disasters such as 1,000-year floods and hurricanes. Each region of the country is feeling our climate crisis differently, but it has become hard to deny it is impacting us all. So often, people who did the least to contribute to our climate emergency are suffering the most. Yet, our public policymakers have been slow to respond, and most have not upheld their commitments to the Paris Climate Agreement. In fact, the United States is currently poised to be the only country in the world to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement. In times of prayer, I would ask God, “How will we ever have a climate breakthrough, given the powerful inertia of global forces of greed, apathy, and racism?”
A mere two months ago, collective, urgent global action for climate justice at the required scale seemed almost unimaginable. However, in the midst of the profound tragedy and suffering of the COVID-19 pandemic, I see a glimmer of hope. In response to an existential threat to our collective health and safety, it really is possible for people to dramatically change their individual behaviors, for businesses to shift their practices, and for policy-makers to take bipartisan collective action to address an existential threat.
As our individual actions as well as public policies help “flatten the curve” of the virus’ spread, the challenge to transform society in the spirit of the Fierce Urgency of Now seems more possible than ever. Yes, in the midst of the collective action, greed, apathy and racism persist. The socioeconomic, gender, and racial inequities in the COVID-19 pandemic are heartbreaking. Yet, the inertia of the entrenched old systems are profoundly interrupted, and we are called to bring about something new.
If we look back over the course of the last 50 years, there have been many milestones, including the passage of bedrock environmental laws, the naming and awakening to environmental racism issues, and the commitment to honor God’s creation in our prayers as well as actions. In 2030, I firmly believe that we will look back at 2020 as the definitive turning point in humanity’s relationship with the rest of God’s creation.
In our 2020 Earth Day Sunday materials, we speak of this crucial decade-to-come as a kairos moment for God’s creation. In the first chapter of Mark, Jesus declares, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” The Greek word for time in this context is kairos, a term that signifies the fulfillment of the right action at the right moment. In the New Testament, the coming of Jesus is what the apostle Paul describes as the fullness of time. In this kairos moment for God’s creation, we are developing new awareness of God’s saving grace at work among and through us, for the redemption of all of creation.
We are honoring the 50th anniversary of Earth Day in a very unique moment. Most of us are confined to our homes. Some of us are experiencing intense personal challenges. Let us make this a transformative time, and find strength in individual as well as collective (virtual) prayer. If you wish to organize a virtual Earth Day Sunday prayer service, find tools to do so at www.earthdaysunday.org, and this year’s theme materials at www.creationjustice.org/urgency. The materials include theological reflection, liturgical content, and action ideas.
Earth Day Sunday can be honored as part of Faith Climate Action Week, and you can find materials to join others in a week of climate action at www.faithclimateactionweek.org. Any time of year, including Earth Month, you can find virtual Christian education and action opportunities at www.creationjustice.org/action.
Shantha Ready Alonso has served as Executive Director of Creation Justice Ministries since 2015, and her work has been featured in The Hill, the Colorado Gazette, The Day, Sojourners, Patheos, Grist, NPR, Religion News Service, U.S. Catholic, and various podcasts. Shantha has arranged numerous stakeholder meetings between people of faith and their policymakers, as well as testified before the US Environmental Protection Agency, the US Department of Interior, and the White House Office of Management and Budget.