In 1991, the heads of many denominations from most of the major world religions met at a Summit on the Environment to discuss their growing concerns about environmental issues. In their resulting published statement, they called upon all people of faith to work towards “preserving the earth” saying, “no one perspective alone is equal to the crisis we face.” For our part, we are grateful to strengthen collaborations with distinguished scientists and to take stock of their testimony on problems besetting planetary ecology.” From these historical talks, many denominations around to world continue to work on re-defining their approach to stewardship of the earth.
To take part in these ongoing global discussions, The Greater Lynchburg Environmental Network (GLEN) will host their upcoming spring seminar, April 15th, on the topic of Faith-Based Sustainability featuring Rabbi Yosef Zylberberg of Lynchburg’s Agudath Sholom as guest speaker. I recently spoke with the Rabbi and with David Edwards, Pastor for Lynchburg Church of the Covenant, about what they and their congregations are doing to think and act green.
Rabbi Zylberberg points out that Judaism includes a rich tradition of promoting environmental awareness and green practices. He says, “As a people, we are very committed to Creation Care.” Many of their traditional celebrations like the minor holiday Tu Bishvat in winter, which is tied to planting trees, are steeped in ecological concepts and call followers to care for the land along with its people. However, the Rabbi says, “This is not just a part of one religion, but all the world religions. All the major religions understand this concept.” He believes adamantly that this is not just a particular political or religious agenda, but one that crosses all party, cultural, and theological lines.
David Edwards agrees, “It is very important to affirm and protect our spiritual connection to nature….It is important to rethink our own faith traditions in terms of caring for The Creation” particularly as they pertain to the environmental crisis we now face. He believes, “By destroying the environment, we are destroying our sacred connection to the creation of life,” and meeting the current environmental crisis will take lots of people working from many different angles, different belief systems, and world experiences in order to affect change.
Rabbi Zylberberg says, “God may have promised not to destroy the earth again, but God has not said God won’t let us destroy it either… If we fail this test, then what?” Regardless of how you pray or don’t pray, no human will be able to survive on this planet if we continue down our present path of destruction. How many are willing to face the possible wrath of God should we indeed have to answer for our actions one day?
In order to promote green living for people of all beliefs and traditions, David Edwards has been working with his congregation on their new Chrysalis Interfaith Retreat Center located on the grounds with Lynchburg Church of the Covenant. Seated on about forty acres just off Boonsboro Road and near downtown, the property was set aside by Bev Cosby in conjunction with Lynchburg Covenant Fellowship to start a day camp for children of all races, creeds, economic, and ethnic backgrounds. The church has now renovated rooms in its main building as well as a cottage on the grounds to be used as a retreat center. This offers a place where Edwards says, “People can get back in touch with themselves in relation to nature.”
By helping to care for these forty acres, Edwards feels his congregation has been given “a real laboratory in responsibility when faced with the need to preserve this property.” Looking beyond their own back yard, his congregation has also signed a national resolution, The Statement on Climate Change. As a result, they are working with other congregations nationally to look for ways each as a community can become more responsible stewards of the earth. Locally, this includes things like raising money for new energy efficient windows for the church, reducing waste and recycling, and even smaller things like providing organic shade-grown coffee for their meetings and gatherings.
The congregation of Agudath Sholom is also promoting green awareness. They have formed a group called Shomrei Olam, which means “Keepers of the World,” and one of their goals is greening their congregation. For instance, they make regular suggestions in services and newsletters about “walking gentler on the planet.” Rabbi Zylberberg says it is important to remind people that small decisions every day can make a difference. Perhaps everyone cannot afford to get rid of that SUV right away, but they certainly can make easy choices “like changing their light bulbs [to the energy efficient variety], or choosing paper over plastic in the grocery store.” (Better yet, choose to bring your own re-usable bags.)
Rabbi Zylberberg and his congregation are also planning a “green service” at the end of April to speak about the need for remaining vigilant in looking for ways to help with Creation Care. The Shomrei Olam has created a “wish list” which will be read in conjunction with this service; a list of things the congregation might do together to help the environment both globally and locally.
The Rabbi is careful when speaking about environmentalism not to be “holier than though about it.” He feels, “That would be wrong.” Instead, he wants to show people that they do have options which can make them feel good about their choices and empower them towards a “reverence for this planet,” towards a need to protect and preserve it for future generations.
The Rabbi also speaks about “a beautiful Midrash,” a teaching story which was “probably written around 900 A.D.” In this Midrash, God shows Adam around the Garden and says in effect, “This is my Creation. You take care of it, because it you don’t, no one else will.” He feels discussions about being green must “also be religiously effective, making these things connect with spirituality.” Both Rabbi Zylberberg and David Edwards are working with their congregations to “raise a religious consciousness” that connects them to nature and inspires them to care for “God’s beautiful Creation.”
To learn more about Faith-Based Sustainability, come to the GLEN spring seminar this coming Wednesday, April 15th from 12 to 1 pm at the Region 2000 Conference Room, on the 12th floor of the Bank of the James at 828 Main Street in downtown Lynchburg, and hear Rabbi Yosef Zylberberg speak. For more information visit the GLEN site.
Photo by Amanda Sandos, “Bedford and Campbell Counties“