Chocolate, television, soda—these are indulgences that you often hear on the list of what churchgoers are giving up for Lent.
Plastic products? Not so much. Until more recently.
Last year, the Church of England urged its worshipers to give up single-use plastics, distributing a calendar with environmentally themed Bible verses and suggestions on how to avoid using plastics. This year, they introduced “litter pilgrimages,” encouraging their congregations to walk together, pray and collect litter together.
“The land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants. Throughout the country that you hold as a possession, you must provide for the redemption of the land.”
Now, multiple churches across the US are midway through their #PlasticFreeLent, a challenge that involves giving up plastic packaging for the forty days of Lent. Following in the footsteps of the Church of England, The Cathedral in the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado as well as several Protestant churches in Portland have adopted the Church of England’s environmentally-themed calendar for their own use and joined the initiative to bring environmentalism into the church via a Lent kickstart.
The initiative is widely inspired by the nationwide trend of single-use plastic bag bans, posing an opportunity for product distributors to sell more branded reusable bags. Multiple Lutheran churches in the Pittsburgh area are asking their congregations to refrain from using single-use plastics, The Washington Post reported. For each week in Lent, they have been encouraged to give up a different item: Styrofoam, shopping bags, drinking straws, water bottles and food wrappers.
Also rising up to meet the challenge, St. Columba’s Episcopal Church in the Washington, D.C., area has been offering workshops that cover topics including solar energy and green homes; while St. John Neumann in Reston, Virginia, has been serving up meatless soup on Fridays—opting to use reusable ceramic bowls and utensils instead of the more commonly used, single-use plastic serving items.
Some have expressed concerns over the trend, like Stanley Hauerwas, a professor emeritus at Duke Divinity School, who insists that giving up plastic is straying too far from what Lent was meant to be.
“They’re giving up plastic as a way of doing something that seems to make the world a better place. It’s a confusion of categories,” Hauerwas explains. “Giving up plastic is aimed at a different set of problems than what Lent is about. Lent is about confession of sin.”
However, others insist that this initiative is completely aligned with values and focus of Lent. “It’s a way to think about it as more than just a personal thing, like chocolate or alcohol that’s enjoyable,” Reverend Sarah Rossing, pastor of St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church in Youngstown, Pennsylvania, told The Washington Post. “This is asking people to give up convenience … and be more intentional with things and the Earth.”
The world produces more than 300 million tons of plastic each year, according to Statista, and scientists estimate that up to 91% of plastic is never recycled, polluting the environment and threatening wildlife—most urgently, in our oceans
It begs the question, As stewards of the Earth, what is the church’s role in leading the initiative to keep it safe from pollutants like plastic?
God reminds us in Leviticus 25:23-24- that, “The land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants. Throughout the country that you hold as a possession, you must provide for the redemption of the land.”
Therefore, it is, in fact, the Church’s calling and responsibility to fulfill its prophetic mission by stating a strong position against the destruction of the environment, human rights abuses and the exploitation of our planet.
By this account, we can’t help but conclude that #PlasticFreeLent is a step in the right direction in a journey to respond to God’s call to protect His creation.