One aspect of the Christian life that often gets little attention in most Lutheran confirmation programs is environmental stewardship. Granted, most programs will touch on this subject when discussing the first article of the Apostles’ Creed. Yet, given today’s serious environmental challenges, both locally and globally, it is appropriate to make stewardship of the environment a much higher priority than in the past. This is an excellent opportunity to talk with youth about situations that impact their lives on a daily basis. Faith in God can have a major influence on how we treat our environment.
Six Session Program
Following is a six-session program that concentrates on how each individual person interacts with his or her surrounding environment. The program has three basic goals; an awareness of how many resources it takes for each of us to live, an awareness of the amounts and kinds of waste each of us generates, and an awareness of our human and Christian responsibility to steward the use of God’s creation. I suggest that this program include a lot of field trips, as well as home surveys and hands-on projects.
Session No. 1 – Introduction
The purpose of this class is: to introduce basic Christian principles about creation and stewardship; to frame environmental concerns as stewardship concerns; and to provide an overview of this program. Encourage parents to attend this session, since their participation will be necessary for future sessions.
Begin with an introductory discussion. Ask the students if they know which power plant supplies electricity to their homes, how their homes are heated, what happens to the exhaust from automobiles after it is released into the air, where their garbage goes, etc. Indicate that this program is designed to help students discover the answers to these questions. Next, introduce a short discussion about why Christians should care about environmental concerns. Discussion should lead to thinking about creation as a gift from God and about our responsibilities for preserving it for future generations.
Finally, end this session with an introduction to the remaining sessions. Each student should be asked to complete some type of environmental awareness project during this program. Ask the parents for a commitment (financial and time) to help their son or daughter with this project. Prepare a hand-out with suggested projects: planting a tree or shrub, installing water-saving devices in the home, beginning a recycling program in the home, building a compost pile, etc. Give students the opportunity to come up with their own projects as well.
Session 2- The Problem with Garbage
The objective of this class session is to help each student become aware of the enormous amount of garbage generated by the people of their community. Schedule a trip to the closest, open, garbage landfill in your area. Try to schedule the trip during operating hours. Make sure the person from the company who gives the tour provides information about cost of dumping, landfill construction, environmental regulations, and what will happen when the landfill gets full. Provide ample time for students to experience sights, sounds, and smells. If time permits, stop by an automobile junk yard on the way home. As a homework assignment, ask each student to monitor how many bags of garbage his or her family generates each week.
Session No. 3 – Making Water Clean
The object of this session is to help each student understand just what is involved in generating clean drinking water and cleaning up the waste generated by the community. Schedule a tour of the local water and sewage treatment plant. Be sure to ask the manager about operating costs, sources of water pollution, how clean is the water we drink, from where does it come, and how clean is the water. As a homework assignment, ask each student to estimate how much water his or her family uses each week. The facilitator may have to provide average usage rates for various fixtures (showers, sinks, toilets) and equipment (washing machines, dishwashers). However, water bills are the best source of usage information.
Session No. 4 – Making Electricity
The objective of this session is to help students become more aware of what is involved in generating and delivering electricity to their community. Schedule a tour of a local power generating plant. Ask the manager what type of fuel is used, how long the plant will last, where will electricity come from when it is closed down, what kinds of pollution does the plant generate, and how can individuals conserve electricity in their homes. Be sure to plan this trip carefully since the generating plant could easily be one or more hours away from your congregation. If the distance is impractical, consider having a speaker from the power company visit your church (and make sure he brings a video-tape of a power plant!). As a homework assignment, ask each student to determine the usage of electricity in their homes by using electric bills.
Session No. 5 – Down on the Farm
The objective of this session is to help students understand the environmental costs involved in providing healthy, low-cost food for our country. Schedule a field trip to a local farm. If possible, utilize a farmer from your congregation, since this will give the students a chance to see a Christian they know striving to be a good steward in his or her everyday life. Be sure to pick a farmer who is educated in and who uses environmentally-sound farming techniques. Ask questions about soil erosion, alternative planting methods (low-till, no-till, organic farming), fertilizer use, herbicide and pesticide use, disposal of manure, and wetland protection. Again, give students ample time to experience the sights, sounds, and smells of the farm. Make sure the farmer gives a good tour.
Session No. 6 – Pulling it all Together
The purpose of this class is to put into focus all that has been experienced and learned. Revisit the questions discussed in the first session. Are your students better prepared to answer these questions now? I am sure they will be. Discuss each field trip. Find out what surprised the students, what they liked, what they disliked, etc. Ask each student to spend a few minutes discussing or demonstrating what they did for their hands-on project. Finally, close this session with a brief overview of Christian stewardship principles, and most important, send your students off with an exhortation to be good environmental stewards throughout the rest of their lives.
© Copyright 1996, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
This essay first appeared in the Spring1996 issue of Faith in Action. Articles in Faith in Action may be reproduced for use in ELCA and ELCIC congregations provided each copy carries the note: © Copyright 1996, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Reprinted with permission.