By G. Jeffrey MacDonald
The Episcopal Church’s Baptismal Covenant needs an update to address Earth’s environmental crisis, according to a California bishop who will help pioneer a new “eco-confirmation” rite this weekend.
Communicants of the Diocese of California will gather May 10 in the redwood hills on the Sonoma Coast for what they believe is the Episcopal Church’s first eco-confirmation. When seven confirmands make vows that day at the diocesan camp of St. Dorothy’s Rest, they will pledge to care for God’s creation.
Based on the confirmation liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer, the rite will include some “liturgical creativity,” said the Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews, working group head for the diocese’s communications.
Diocese of California Bishop Marc Andrus will ask each confirmand: “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of the earth and every human being?”
“As we live into the implications of the Baptismal Covenant, we can begin to see, attentive to the world we live in now, how it needs to change and grow to meet the urgency of now,” Bishop Andrus said. “The Earth is in crisis, and Eco-Confirmation invites us to make vows of service, as ever to the human community, and also to the entirety of creation.”
The ritual will include one major twist on the traditional confirmation. In place of a liturgy of the Word, participants will observe a Cosmic Walk after hearing the prologue of John’s Gospel read aloud.
The walk will involve watching one person travel a spiral while carrying a container of blessed water around to 12 stations. Each station will mark a major moment in geological and human history, with particular emphasis on religious events.
“The one walking the spiral pours this water into containers at each station, thus connecting all to baptism,” Peters-Mathews said. “The congregation sings or hums during this part of the liturgy.”
The Cosmic Walk is a ritual designed by Dominican Sister Miriam MacGillis, director of Genesis Farm, an environmental education center of the Dominican Sisters of Caldwell, New Jersey. Aiming to link spirituality and environmental awareness, Genesis Farm sponsors events such as “seasonal celebrations” marking the summer solstice, winter solstice, and Samhain. The Diocese of California has shortened and adapted the Cosmic Walk for use in its eco-confirmation.
The eco-confirmation will be one of three confirmations in the Diocese of California this spring. The other confirmations are more traditional and will not include the eco-confirmation elements.
Those making vows on May 10 will include both youth and adults. In addition to the seven confirmands, two participants will renew vows.
“The Eco-Confirmation unfolds our understanding,” Bishop Andrus said, “of being servant leaders in service to God’s whole world.”
TLC Correspondent G. Jeffrey MacDonald is a freelance journalist and author of Thieves in the Temple: The Christian Church and the Selling of the American Soul (Basic Books, 2010).