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2009-08-18 issue:

How to avoid the 'Styrofoam wars'

Creation Care Network launches new greening congregations project.

by Anna Groff

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Congregations addressing creation-care issues often find themselves caught up in "Styrofoam wars"—an argument that is rarely resolved about whether or not to use Stryofoam cups for hot beverages.

Luke Gascho, executive director at the Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center of Goshen (Ind.) College, says churches can avoid these conflicts when they set up activities that work at the issues in helpful, nonpolarizing ways.

"People tend to say [creation-care issues] are mostly a liberal idea," Gascho says. "To me that’s not the point at all."

The new Green Congregation Stewardship Score project from the Mennonite Creation Care Network (MCCN) provides one way for congregations to work at the issue through a creation stewardship self-assessment process.

"We as a council felt that some organizational process would help a church," Gascho says. "This will help churches not just go to the Styrofoam issue."

The project involves reviewing a congregation’s creation stewardship in nine criteria, rating the congregation’s creation stewardship and determining the congregation’s score. (Click here for scorecard and here for the form).

The nine concepts come from a chapter in Gascho’s book Creation Care: Keepers of the Earth, part of Mennonite Mutual Aid’s Living Stewardship Series.

"The intent of the form," Gascho says, "is to give some guidance to a congregation in assessing where they are in making commitments and taking actions related to caring for creation."

The easiest one for congregations to start with is the energy audit, according to Gascho. It offers a way to not only reduce energy use but also to save money.

Offering recycling at a church provides a non-threatening activity to green congregations, as some communities still do not offer recycling, says Gascho. He also hopes congregations have fun with greening projects. For example, hosting a meal with all food coming from within 100 miles of the church.

Congregations will probably face the most challenges in the “Creation Care Statement” section, which integrates creation care within the framework of the congregation’s mission and core values, Gascho says.

The Creation Care Network introduced the scorecard at Mennonite Church USA Convention 2009 and Mennonite World Conference Assembly 15.

At Convention 2009, more than 100 people signed up to act as initial contact people from their congregations for the project. The workshops and material in Paraguay at Assembly 15 also proved popular.

“We were amazed at how many people were interested,” Gascho says.

After MCCN receives the results, council members or interns will enter them in a database so churches can contact one another. The Network will also provide highlights of creation stewardship activities on its Web site,

Gascho says the Network aims to have 100 congregations make some kind of commitment to the project by spring 2010, followed by a rolling cycle to ask more congregations to respond.

When MCCN started in 2005, it worked mostly with individuals. Through the response at Convention 2009, Gascho says MCCN discovered that congregations also want to connect.

The project helps churches with the “idea that this is a ministry or missional activity. It really fits in well in the midst of everything else,” Gascho says.

MCCN is a binational Christian organization affiliated with the Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada.

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