Has the time come for a Feast of Creation?

I am back from a trip to Assisi, Italy, to join an Anglican delegation of liturgists, theologians, and church leaders at an ecumenical gathering hosted by the Laudato Si’ Research Institute, and sponsored by the Anglican Communion, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches, the World Council of Churches, and other partners.

The garden behind San Damiano
   The garden behind San Damiano

The seminar had a mouthful of a title: The Feast of Creation and the Mystery of Creation: Ecumenism, Theology, Liturgy, and Signs of the Times in Dialogue. But its focus was clear: Has the time come to add a Feast of Creation to the liturgical calendars of Western Churches?

It was a delight to make new friends and a thrill to meet the Rev. Canon Dr. Rachel Mash at long last. Based in South Africa, she serves as secretary of the Anglican Communion Environmental Network, and she is one of the leading lights in the movement to support a Season of Creation. In her remarks at the conference, “A new season for the calendar of the Church? I hope so!,” she gave a brief overview of Anglican engagement in a Season of Creation and explained why many of us now believe that the time is ripe for the Feast of Creation to be formally integrated into Western liturgical calendars. (I hasten to correct two points in her address: first, I am by no means solely responsible for the Season of Creation worship guides that were released in many Episcopal dioceses in 2022 and 2023 – my colleague, the Rev. John Lein, did most of the heavy lifting; and second, 28 dioceses, not 16, endorsed last year’s edition.)

The ecumenical seminar began and ended with prayer. Before plunging into questions of theology, liturgy, and practice, we spent an afternoon in the garden behind San Damiano, the church that St. Francis re-built and where he wrote most of his Canticle of the Creatures. In the company of birdsong and wind, sunshine and grasses, we sang and prayed our way through his poem. Then, after walking back into town, we gathered outside Cittadella Laudato Si for a prayerful, sunset contemplation of Brother Sun. Again, after the conference ended, many of us hiked in silence up Mount Subasio, the mountain where St. Francis and his followers lived and prayed in caves, and we shared in an ecumenical outdoor Eucharist at the altar of St. Francis.

                                     The Anglican delegation

Conversations at the ecumenical seminar were lively, intense, and sometimes deeply moving. None of us yet knows what will come of this effort. But I do know that it was a blessing to spend time with global Christians from diverse communities who share a passion both for the God who creates, redeems, and sustains all things and for the beautiful, threatened planet that God loves so much.

Here’s an excerpt from a prayer composed by one of the liturgical scholars who attended the Assisi conference, with my suggested addition in brackets.

O loving God, who spoke
and all things were created –
O eternal Word made flesh,
who became one with your creation –
O creator Spirit, who breathes in us,
who renews the face of the earth –
O holy and glorious Trinity,
we praise you and we pray to you
with all our heart!

Bless us with clarity and courage
for our mission to cherish and tend
earth and air, seas and rivers,
peoples and communities.
Guide your Church
to the patterns of prayer that will form us
to be [loving kin of our fellow creatures] and
good stewards
of all that you have entrusted to us.
O holy and glorious Trinity, Creator God,
we praise you and we pray to you
with all our heart. Amen.

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Episcopal News Service published a good article (3/25/24) about the seminar: “Anglicans take part in ecumenical seminar in Assisi about God as creator

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