Advancing Creation Care and Climate Justice with Earth Keepers


In February 2021, the Diocese of Maine Climate Justice Council met for the first time. The council, consisting of nine lay and ordained Episcopalians who include the three of us, crafted a resolution that asked the bishop to declare a climate emergency. The resolution also encouraged each parish to appoint an Earth Keeper who would work to create and oversee the implementation of a Covenant to Care of Creation. The resolution passed by an overwhelming margin.

Calling & Equipping Earth Keepers

The council sent a letter on Earth Day 2022 along with a letter from Bishop Brown urging each parish to commission an Earth Keeper, either an individual or a small group, to fulfill the following goals:

  • informing parishioners of creation care actions in the local community
  • suggesting educational opportunities on climate change
  • coordinating with the diocesan Climate Justice Council
  • encouraging sustainable practices at both parish and community levels
  • engaging in local, state, and federal advocacy for systemic change

With the letters, we included a handmade wooden cross as a symbol of creation care for a member of the parish’s eucharistic team to wear each Sunday.

The Climate Justice Council has been coordinating all the diocesan Earth Keepers in periodic Zoom meetings in order to support one another and initiate constructive ways to move forward. We have been in touch with Earth Keepers in 15 parishes so far and have been working to increase their number.

The Response to Earth Keeper Ministries

Throughout 2023 until now, these 15 parishes have planned a variety of Season of Creation liturgies and events, including book study groups of Love in the Age of Climate Change and Sacred Earth, Sacred Soul, sponsored speakers from the indigenous tribes of Maine and watershed protection organizations, and nature walks and community suppers. One parish in Newcastle, Maine implemented a series of actions, including the following: organizing a meatless potluck lunch one Sunday and a labyrinth walk on a weekday; phasing out the use of styrofoam and plastic during coffee hour; inviting the director of an indigenous activist group to preach at two services one Sunday; and custom designing liturgies for each Sunday of the Season of Creation with poetry, prayer, and special music.

Other parishes started recycling and composting programs, planted Good News Gardens, and scheduled energy audits. One parish raised money and purchased a commercial dishwasher for their local shelter for unhoused members of the community. The shelter had been using plastic-coated paper plates and plastic utensils. With a dishwasher, the shelter is now able to serve unhoused residents with ceramic dishes, which not only gives these residents respect and dignity, but also eliminates the use of plastic at all daily meals. Another parish began including climate change as part of the new confirmation class curriculum.

Currently Earth Keepers are beginning to plan for Earth Day 2024 and the upcoming Season of Creation.

Lessons Learned

While we celebrate the ways these churches have embraced creation care, the Climate Justice Council has also met a few obstacles in developing the Earth Keepers program and learned valuable lessons along the way. The program has started more slowly than we had hoped. Our initial attempt at disseminating information about the program was hampered by the fact that communication to parishes via a mailed letter is not very satisfactory. The aptly named “snail mail” is not only slow, but liable to get on the wrong desk or in the wrong cubby hole in the parish and be overlooked. We are still getting notices from parishes that say, “We never got the initial letter,” or that ask, “Where is the cross you said you would send?” The cross was intended to be a visible sign of commitment to creation care, but it can’t be that sign if it gets lost in postal or parish systems.

Several other factors have slowed the adoption of the Earth Keeper program, including:

  1. The general overwhelming nature of the challenge that is climate change. Parishioners may feel that it is just too big and complex of a problem for parishes and individuals to cope with.
  2. The fact that many of our parishes are small and feel themselves unable to find volunteers for the program who are not already overcommitted.
  3. The fact that most of our parishes are aging. While there are many seniors who are passionate about and active in creation care, there are more whose health or energy level prevent them from stepping forward into a new role. 

Pressing Forward in Hope

We are addressing these stumbling blocks in a few key ways:

  • Digital communication – We are using our website and the regular diocesan digital newsletters to communicate about our programs rather than relying on paper mail.
  • Lifting up small steps – We try always to emphasize the importance of taking small steps in a positive direction in our communications as well as in our meetings with the Earth Keepers.
  • Hope in the Christ of creation – We work to ground ourselves and our church members in the promise of God and in the hope we have in the risen Jesus, the Christ of creation. Despair about the environment can only be overcome by faith and by doing what we can where we are.

We will continue this year to keep the importance of commitment to creation care in front of our parishes and to find new ways to support the development of Earth Keepers, both young and old, in every community. We also encourage more churches and dioceses to do the same and to consider initiating Earth Keeper programs in their congregations. The members of the Climate Justice Council of the Episcopal Diocese of Maine are united in agreement that now is the time for all churches to take proactive steps to support their communities in the face of climate change and to equip them with tools to mitigate an environmental crisis advancing on a daily basis. The invitation of God to the first humans to “till the earth and keep it” (see Genesis 2:15) has never been more insistent. Let us all say yes to God and lead the way to becoming better stewards of this magnificent creation, our “island home” (“Eucharistic Prayer C,” The Book of Common Prayer, 370). 

Editor’s Note: This article has been adapted from an article originally published in “Open Channels,” a newsletter of the Society of the Companions of the Holy Cross.

Featured image is by Natalia Jones on Unsplash

  • Sarah Braik is Earth Keeper for The Cathedral of St. Luke in Portland, chair of the Diocese of Maine Climate Justice Council, and co-leader of the Portland ME chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. While she loves the natural beauty of Maine, her spiritual home is the Catskill Mountains.

  • The Rev. Dr. Jenny Reece is a retired Episcopal priest who lives in Orland, Maine, where they run the Oranbega Retreat Center ( Their early life in Scotland and later ministries in the Hudson and Mohawk Valleys of New York, and in parishes in Maine from Bar Harbor to Rangeley, helped form them as an eco-theologian, as did seminary studies of Hildegard of Bingen, Teilhard de Chardin, Matthew Fox, Rosemary Radford Ruether, and others. A founding member and first Chair of the Climate Justice Council of the Episcopal Diocese of Maine, they now write poetry and prose, provide pulpit supply, and enjoy life on the banks of the Narramissic River with Angelica, a Maine Coon Cat.

  • Steve Ward has spent more than half of his life in Maine, as a child then later from 1980 on as a lawyer for the state of Maine until retirement. Since retirement, Steve has been active in the Diocese of Maine in its Committee on Indian Relations, the Climate Justice Council, the Diocesan Council, and the Special Commission on the Study of Diocesan Investments.


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