True climate change believers turn to Lenten carbon fast

March 24, 2014 by  
Filed under Solar Energy Tips

CARBON FAST: This Easter marks the Fourth Annual Ecumenical Lenten Carbon Fast, a sort of clearing house for carbon fasters everywhere led by the United Church of Christ’s Massachusetts Conference.

By Tom Steward | Watchdog Minnesota Bureau

It can be challenging enough for the faithful who observe Lent to give up chocolate, alcohol or Facebook for 40 days. How about cold showers, winter biking and cutting the thermostat and lights?

That’s just the tip of the iceberg of new climate-friendly options for Christians to atone for their impact on the environment through church-backed Lenten carbon fasting programs.

“It is time to repent and ask God for forgiveness for our carelessness with His many gifts to us,” reads “Carbon Fasting 101” from Creation Justice Ministries on behalf of numerous denominations. “A carbon fast is a great way to make small personal changes, while also drawing attention to our society’s unsustainable love affair with carbon.”

“What can YOU do to fast?” asks the primer. “Pile on sweaters and socks instead of turning up the heat, turn off your lights for one hour every day, utilize public transportation and dry clothes by hanging them” are among other options.

This Easter marks the Fourth Annual Ecumenical Lenten Carbon Fast, a sort of clearing house for carbon fasters everywhere led by the United Church of Christ’s Massachusetts Conference. Some 6,000 participants from 34 countries have signed up online, pledging to lessen their carbon footprint by following through on daily readings emailed and posted online.

Tips include eliminating “vampire” electrical use of cell phone chargers and similar devices, “military showers” and community gardening spread out over the 40 days leading to Easter. Other groups suggest ordering sustainable Palm Sunday palms, using old publications for wrapping paper and partaking in “low-carbon fun” that avoids consumption, such as board games.

“Christians have an expression from the Bible, Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today and forever,” said the Rev. Jim Antal, who coordinates the annual carbon fast in his role as president of the Massachusetts UCC Conference. “It turns out the Earth we live on today isn’t the same Earth we were born into. Creation is changing at a fantastic rate and I think if anybody is going to be concerned about that, it’s going to be people of faith.”

Faith United Church, a UCC member in International Falls, posts Antal’s daily Lenten readings on the congregation’s Facebook page. Located on the Canadian border in one of the coldest places in the lower 48 states, the church finds that the harsh climate in the city that made Die-Hard batteries famous makes some suggestions more practical than others.

“Especially in a winter like this, the average person isn’t going to ride a bike in the winter and we don’t have (buses) for people to take on a regular basis,” said the Rev. Sue Hanly, minister of Faith United Church. “So some things are hard to apply in a small town. But then there’s things that everybody can do like getting more energy saving appliances and being aware of what you do and turning off your lights when you leave a room.”

The Minnesota Council of Churches was an early promoter of carbon fasting in its statewide newsletter the first two years of the program.

“We compare it with some of these principles to see if it’s in line that we can at least share with other people,” said Jerad Morey, communications manager for the MCC. “But we didn’t call anybody up and say, ‘hey, there’s this carbon fasting thing.’”

No one’s suggesting churches refrain from practicing the ancient Ash Wednesday tradition of using ashes obtained by burning palm branches that emit at least trace amounts of carbon emissions into the atmosphere. Yet some worry the fasting fad points to a trend of politicizing and compromising their faith.

For example, the lobbyist for Evangelical Lutheran Church in America devoted her February “Living Earth Reflection” newsletter to extolling President Obama’s leadership on climate change and exhorting Lutherans to get involved. Interfaith Power Light, a national advocacy group with grassroots chapters in Minnesota and other states, features a wind turbine instead of a cross in the stained glass window logo on its Lenten calendar and website. Neither the ELCA nor IPL’s representatives responded to a Watchdog Minnesota Bureau request for comment.

“Personally, I’m very offended by that. I feel as if they’re making a mockery of Christ’s sacrifice and the crucifix,” said Mary Hartman, who helped stop a proposed wind turbine farm and belongs to an ELCA church in Rochester. “This is not a part of Christianity, where we’re replacing Christ with wind turbines and solar panels.”

A Catholic Lenten Carbon Fast 2014 calendar also offers “action ideas” for followers, such as buying fair trade Easter eggs and cuddling a hot water bottle on Silent Sundays devoid of electronic devices. The idea, however, appears to still be catching on.

“I have heard of the concept, so I am aware of it,” said the Rev. Erich Rutten, director of campus ministry at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. “I have not heard of folks doing that in any official capacity here on campus this year. I think it’d be wonderful if they did.”

Is there a danger of going too far?

“I think any time we imagine that somehow we can save ourselves we might run into trouble,” said Father Rutten. “However, I do think part of our faith is to do what we can to make the world a better place, so it’s absolutely appropriate to be doing. But we have to keep Christ in the message.”

Contact Tom Steward at tsteward@watchdog.org.

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