Lenten Carbon Fast: United Methodists cut carbon, not chocolate, for Lent

Morrow Memorial UMC’s booth at the Maplewood (N.J.) Green Day fair. The church is promoting a “carbon fast” again this year for Lent.


            Some Christians observe Lent by giving up meat, chocolate or Facebook.

            This year, members of Travis Park United Methodist in San Antonio plan are “giving up” carbon instead.

            They are part of a small but growing number of United Methodists who are committing to a “Lenten carbon fast”a series of daily steps to help reduce energy consumption (and thus reduce their carbon footprint) observed during the 40 days of Lent, which began on Ash Wednesday (Feb. 13 this year). 

            “Lent is not always just about ‘giving up,’ but also ‘taking on,’” said Betty Gibbs Curry, the church’s communications coordinator.  “So this is taking on the responsibility, in a more specific way, of being stewards of the earth.” 

            During the fast, participants follow a calendar with a challenge for each day of Lent, such as “turn down the thermostat one degree,” “eat meat-free for one day,” or “say no to bottled water and drink tap water.”

            Caretakers of God’s Creation, an environmental ministry based in the Virginia Conference, encouraged United Methodist churches throughout the denomination to embrace the Carbon Fast concept for Lent 2013.

            “Lent is a good time to examine my lifestyle in relationship to the earth, to see if it would be helpful to make any changes that would make my life a little more gentle in God’s creation,” said the Rev. Pat Watkins, the ministry’s executive director.   

            The idea was originally the brainchild of Anglican Bishop James Jones of Liverpool, England, in 2007. At the time, he was a vice president of a Christian anti-poverty organization in the U.K. called Tearfund, which adopted the carbon fast idea and created materials for churches to use during Lent.  

            In joining a carbon fast, United Methodists in the U.S. can share Tearfund’s daily devotion along with other Christians around the world. In 2012, churches in the U.K., the U.S., Australia, Brazil, South Africa, Hong Kong, India, New Zealand and the Netherlands took part, according to Sara Guy, Tearfund’s media officer.

            Travis Park promoted the fast during Lent last year and, as a way of boosting participation, invited members to sign a covenant to follow the carbon fast for all 40 days of Lent in 2013.   

             Morrow Memorial United Methodist Church in Maplewood, N.J., also ramped up its Lenten carbon fast in 2013. There’s a greater sense of urgency this year, according to the Rev. Chris Heckert, Morrow Memorial’s pastor.  The church is near the Jersey Shore, and while it escaped major damage, members witnessed the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, which many attribute to climate change.

            “It made talking about a carbon fast a no-brainer,” Mr. Heckert said.

            The church follows a carbon fast calendar developed by Greater Washington (D.C.) Interfaith Power & Light, a faith-based environmental advocacy group, and uses Facebook to post daily tips and reminders for church members to help them observe the carbon fast, such as “Unplug your chargers when they’re not charging” or “Bike or walk to work, instead of driving.”

            “It’s spiritual, because it reminds us of our need for God when we let go of some of our transportation and technology,” said Mr. Heckert. The Lenten initiative dovetails nicely with Morrow Memorial’s ongoing project of earning a GreenFaith Certification, a program that encourages environmental awareness and action in houses of worship.

            Cutting energy consumption affects more than just the quality of air and water. In promoting its carbon fast last year, Travis Park linked the Lenten initiative to caring for the poor.

            “A carbon fast addresses the fact that those of us with the power to help those suffering from climate change have a moral imperative to do so,” wrote Mona Kandeler, a member of Travis Park’s Living Green Task Force, in last year’s Carbon Fast promotion. “Those who are poor experience the greatest impact of climate change.”

            As a guideline for the observance, the task force adapted a carbon fast calendar from The Guardian (a U.K. newspaper). On Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, participants were instructed to remove one light bulb in the home and live without it for 40 days.  That cuts energy use, and the empty socket serves as a reminder for the rest of Lent.  For Day 28, members were urged: “Remember John Wesley’s admonition: ‘Do no harm, do good, love God.’”  For the 40th and final day of Lent, participants were instructed to replace the missing bulb with an energy-saving light bulb. “You will save 60 kg of carbon a year and up to $50,” the calendar promised.




Mary Jacobs

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