Over the past few years, an increasing number of churches are including the Season of Creation in their Christian year calendar (also known as the liturgical calendar or church year). The Christian year is a useful tool for organizing the preaching and worship schedule of congregations to ensure it encompasses the major Scriptural themes, particularly the birth, death, resurrection, ascension, and reign of Christ. But where does this new Season of Creation fit into the larger framework of the liturgical year? Why would congregations consider adopting it, and how might they do so? Reformed Worship posed those and other questions to Rachel Mash (South Africa) and Suzana Moreira (Brazil), co-chairs of the Ecumenical Steering Committee for the Season of Creation and Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home. We hope this interview will not only inform, but inspire more churches to consider focusing on Scripture themes related to the creation for one or more Sundays in the next year or to join with the global and ecumenical church in marking the Season of Creation itself.
Theology and Purpose of the Christian Year
Reformed Worship: Can you say a bit about the background and purpose of the liturgical calendar?
Suzana Moreira: The liturgical calendar wasn’t created by a specific person or at an objective point in time; rather, it is a result of an ancient tradition of faith communities seeking to celebrate the experience of God in their everyday lives throughout the year. The Jews also had feasts during the year that, in the annual experience of time, celebrated God’s benefits in favor of the chosen people, especially their deliverance from Egypt, the march through the desert, and the Sinai covenant. In the same way, the Christian tradition took on the main feasts of our faith, the actions of Christ, and distributed them over a year. The center of the liturgical celebrations is always the Paschal mystery, which illuminates all the moments of the year. Every year we then have the opportunity to celebrate a new cycle, drawing from the new perspectives of everyday life today, embedded in the ancient tradition and roots of our faith.
Rachel Mash: Western Christian liturgical calendars like the Revised Common Lectionary are based on the cycle of the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church and are followed in many Protestant churches, including the Lutheran, Anglican, and Presbyterian traditions, among others. It is one way to express Scripture’s truth that there is one faith.
RW: If the Christian year is meant to follow the trajectory of Christ’s life, how does creation fit in?
RM: We have seasons to celebrate the work of God the Son, such as at Easter and Christmas, and God the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. But we don’t have a traditional period for considering the work of God the Creator, and so the Season of Creation is dedicated to considering the Scriptures that teach about the work of God the Creator.
SM: In fact, Christ’s very first act in the history of salvation was, together with the Creator, the creation of the cosmos: “Through him all things were made” (John 1:3). That loving creative act is the prerequisite for the rest of the story. [In a 2008 interview] Pope Benedict XVI said, “If we do not proclaim God in his full grandeur—as Creator and as Redeemer—we also diminish the value of the redemption” (“Pope: To Care for Creation, Acknowledge the Creator,” Catholic Online, August 8, 2008, tinyurl.com/mr287hs4). That’s why we should celebrate much more intentionally the Season of Creation: as an opportunity to dive deeper into the great mystery of creation. And during the Season of Creation we are called to ponder and honor the two interrelated meanings of “creation”: the divine act that created the cosmos and the resulting gift from such an act. Moreover, creation has a key role often neglected in the other mysteries that we ponder the rest of the liturgical year, not only because it is the gifts of creation itself that provide the elements for the sacraments with which we celebrate our faith (water, bread, wine), but also because creation takes part in the redemption that we celebrate. This means that when we celebrate the Eucharist, we are celebrating the redemption not only of humankind, but of the whole cosmos.
Theological Benefits of a Time for Creation
A time for creation in the church year! It would have the advantage of bringing faith in God as Creator into relation with the whole creed. The talk of ecological responsibility today easily gives the impression that this is a new “political” task. But, in fact, we are talking about an imperative of the Christian faith. The way the gifts of the creation are treated today amounts to a denial of God. Whenever this responsibility is isolated from the entirety of the faith, it is faith which is being played down.
A time for creation prepares the ground for a deeper understanding of Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. The structure of the creed is replicated in the church year. God as Creator of heaven and earth is the pre-condition and the background for everything that follows. In becoming a human being God enters into the creation, and through the resurrection makes new life break forth, and pours out the gift of the Spirit upon humankind and the whole creation. The time for creation would make possible a deeper understanding of the Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The time for creation is both the beginning and the end of the church year. In reflecting upon the Creator, our attention is directed to God’s new creation. God’s creation cannot ultimately be fully understood without its fulfilment in Christ. Over the horizon of this creation, from the beginning, shines the light of God’s reign. In the time for creation we celebrate both the origin and the fulfilment—Alpha and Omega.
Above all, the time for creation reminds us that we too are creatures, among many others. It gives us an occasion to think about the way we have used God’s gifts, and how we will do so in future. It gives the church an occasion to put a new, more responsible lifestyle into practice. The Ecumenical Patriarch’s message says with great urgency: “We must attempt to return to a proper relationship with the Creator and the creation. This may well mean that just as a shepherd will, in times of greatest hazard, lay down his life for his flock, so human beings may need to forego a part of their wants and needs in order that the survival of the natural world can be assured. This is a new situation—a new challenge. It calls for humanity to bear some of the pain of creation as well as to enjoy and celebrate it. It calls first and foremost for repentance—but of an order not previously understood by many” (Orthodox and the Ecological Crisis, 1990). If a time for creation contributes to this conversion, it has fulfilled its task.
—Lukas Vischer, ”Reflections on the Proposal of a Creation Time,” in Time for God’s Creation: An Appeal to Churches in Europe, © ECEN, 2006.
RW: What would you say to those who might think that this season is politically motivated?
RM: The motivation for the season comes from an awareness of the importance of creation and the need to explore what Scripture is saying about creation, which leads Christians to pray for and act to protect creation.
SM: While for many participating in the Season of Creation has led to a deeper awareness of the crisis in which we live, it has also led to a deeper awareness of creation’s connection to the faith we profess in the Holy Trinity, the Creator, Redeemer, and Spirit that gives and sustains life on earth. This deeper understanding comes from acknowledging our sins against creation, against the divine intention of a communion of love within a creation without blemish.
History of the Season of Creation
Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios I [leader of the Orthodox Christian Church from 1972–91] proclaimed 1 September as a day of prayer for creation for the Orthodox in 1989. In fact, the Orthodox church year starts on that day with a commemoration of how God created the world.
The World Council of Churches was instrumental in making the special time a season, extending the celebration from 1 September until 4 October.
Following the leadership of Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios I and the WCC, Christians worldwide have embraced the season as part of their annual calendar [other major European churches in 2001, the Uniting Church in Australia in 2004 under the leadership of Old Testament scholar Norman Habel, and the Roman Catholic Church under Pope Francis in 2015].
In recent years, statements from religious leaders around the world have also encouraged the faithful to take time to care for creation during the month-long celebration.
The season starts 1 September, the Day of Prayer for Creation, and ends 4 October, the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of ecology beloved by many Christian denominations.
Throughout the month-long celebration, the world’s 2.2 billion Christians come together to care for our common home.
—Season of Creation, seasonofcreation.org/about.
An Ecumenical and Global Movement
RW: Why do you think this season has gained the support of the global ecumenical church?
RM: The awareness of the triple planetary crises of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution have made us realize that our common home is under threat. As a global ecumenical family, we are the producers of plastic waste; we are the informal waste pickers; we are those whose health is damaged by burning plastic pollution from other nations. We are those who create carbon emissions, and we are those who lose our homes and livelihoods through cyclones supercharged by warming oceans. The challenges we face are global, so the responses need to be global. Yet the main environmental challenges we face are selfishness, greed, and apathy, so we need a spiritual response.
SM: As Christians, many times we forget to acknowledge the cultural differences and geographical contexts that influence our lives and even the ways we can celebrate our faith. The season is global so that we can remember that to truly care for creation we need to think globally while acting locally. The changes we can make in our personal lives and in the lives of our communities will always be at a local level, according to the realities we are familiar with and have the capacity to improve. But those local actions are what sustain and empower a global movement of better care and justice for the whole of creation.
RW: Why should congregations include this Season of Creation?
SM: It is a beautiful reminder that Jesus became human, a man with a body that walked on this earth. He ate from the gifts of creation, drank from the waters that are the same waters that continue to exist through centuries of water cycles. He was a man who encountered the Father through prayer in creation, through the desert, through the mountains and the seas, who proclaimed the kingdom of God through images of creation, such as flowers, seeds, trees, and birds, who ultimately saved us through creation by being nailed to the wooden cross from a local tree, and who gave birth to new life for the whole cosmos right by the garden where the tomb was found. The more congregations and different denominations celebrate this season, the more we grow closer to the mystery of faith in the incarnation and redemption and to one another.
RM: We need to hear what God is saying to us at this point in history, so we must explore the Scriptures. This season gives us an opportunity to focus on the Scriptures, on prayer, and on action. We believe that the role of faith communities is of great importance in facing the challenges.
My personal experience with the Anglican church of Southern Africa is that the Season of Creation has been the single most important thing to help the church become more environmentally active.
Season of Creation Prayer
Creator of All,
From your communion of love, life sprang forth like a mighty river.
On this Earth of overflowing love,
the Word went forth with the life-giving waters
proclaiming peace and justice for all creation.
You called human beings to till and keep your garden.
You placed us into right relationship with each creature,
but we failed to listen to the cries of the Earth
and the cries of the most vulnerable.
We broke with the flowing communion of love.
We lament the loss of our fellow species and their habitats,
we grieve the loss of human cultures
along with the lives and livelihoods that have been displaced or perished,
and we ache at the sight of an economy of death, war, and violence
that we have inflicted on ourselves and on the Earth.
Open our ears to your creative, reconciling, and sustaining Word.
Bless us once again with your life-giving waters
so that Creator Spirit may let justice and peace
flow in our hearts and overflow into all creation.
May the many streams of the living waters become a mighty river, bringing God’s justice
and mercy to our suffering brothers and sisters, the creatures around us, and all creation.
In the name of the One
who came to proclaim good news to all creation, Jesus Christ.
—Suzana Moreira © 2023, Season of Creation.
Next Steps and Resources
RW: Do you need to follow the liturgical year and celebrate the season from September 1 to October 4? What if we wanted to do something during the summer months or for only one Sunday?
RM: We have many churches participate who do not follow the liturgical year. You understand your church and context; the important thing is to be preaching, praying, and acting at the time of year that best suits you!
RW: If I am interested in encouraging my church to participate, what are some steps you suggest?
RM: Register on the website (seasonofcreation.org) to receive information. Check back regularly to see what other churches in your area are doing. Consider a joint ecumenical service. Form a team for the season who might think of themes for the different weeks and look for speakers, creative activities for youth, liturgical resources, and hymns/songs on the theme.
RW: What resources are or will be available?
SM: Currently you can find on the home page a video with different faith leaders inviting Christians to celebrate the season, a form to sign up for updates on the latest news on Season of Creation, and a PDF with the information on this year’s theme (“Let Justice and Peace Flow,” with the symbol of “a mighty river”). On the website people can find a reflection on this year’s theme to guide and inspire the activities and celebrations. On June 5 we will be launching the Season of Creation Celebration Guide, which contains practical ideas for prayer services and how to incorporate the symbol, reflections on advocacy related to this year’s theme, and more. The website will also be updated with more resources.
RM: You can also find resources from past years on the site. The Uniting Church Season of Creation website has thematic materials, such as Ocean Sunday, Forest Sunday, etc.
Resources are available in English, Spanish, French, Italian, and Portuguese.