What do Saint Francis of Assisi and the New Orleans Saints have in common? Goggle the term "saints" to find out.
An online search for "saints" first reveals the official site of the football team that won this year's Super Bowl and then a site for religious saints recognized by the Catholic Church.
These sacred and secular saints do have one thing in common: Saint Francis, the patron saint of animals and the environment, and the New Orleans Saints share a strong connection to place.
Today, stewardship of place has brought together diverse religious leaders -- Muslims, Jews, Christians -- who are playing on the same team to protect the earth, despite their differing religious beliefs. These faith leaders are standing in solidarity, united by a moral imperative to care for God's creation.
In his book Making Saints, Kenneth Woodward defines a saint as "someone through whom we catch a glimpse of what God is like -- and what we are called to be." From mosques to monasteries, these saints are revealing a new world where hopeful environmental action happens on an individual, congregational, and community level.
In that spirit of hope, I present a roster of 10 religious-environmental saints. The first five have gained national and even international recognition, while the second list features spiritual leaders encountered in my own daily life. All 10 saints offer lessons for a new world, where congregations model the principles and practices of sustainable communities.
Five Saints of the World
The familiar tune "When the Saints Go Marching In" calls for a new day: "Oh, when the new world is revealed, oh, when the new world is revealed, Lord, I want to be in that number, when the new world is revealed." These five saints have influenced my own belief that we must respond through faith to environmental degradation here on earth, rather than wait for heaven at St. Peter's gates.
- Rev. Sally Bingham: As a stay-at-home mom, the Rev. Sally Bingham questioned why clergy in her Episcopal church were not talking about faith and the environment. As an ordained priest, she now serves as the founder and director of the Regeneration Project and Interfaith Power and Light (IPL) Campaign, which provides a religious response to global warming. With IPL affiliates in 38 states, this campaign has become a powerful interfaith force to address climate change.
Five Saints in my Life
"I Sing a Song of the Saints of God" was one of my grandmother's favorite hymns: "And one was a doctor and one was a queen, and one was a shepherdess on the green. They were all of them saints of God and I mean, God helping, to be one too."
Religious-environmental saints are acting with conviction to conserve the places I love. One is a writer, and one is a priest, and one is a mother, just like me. If I can find these saints in my small circles, these natural saints are among us all.
- LeeAnne Beres: "A thousand acts of kindness can be wiped away with a single act of Congress," says LeeAnne Beres, executive director of Earth Ministries in Washington State. Among its many programs, Earth Ministries provides training in environmental advocacy skills for congregations. This organization has brought together interfaith religious leaders and legislators in a campaign to transition the state from coal to clean energy by 2015.
Fans of the New Orleans Saints chant this song with a religious fervor: "Who dat? Who dat? Who dat say gonna beat dem Saints?" The call and response creates a power greater than the individual voices in the stadium. Likewise, believers are creating collective momentum from individual acts: one cob oven built, one interfaith service organized, one church garden tilled, one piece of legislation passed.
Together, these people of faith represent a communion of saints rooted in God's earth, but moving forward, one step at a time. And I mean to be one too.