Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Worship today brought to you by Max Weber

Written by: on February 15, 2019

While we were in Hong Kong, many of us chose to worship at the Hong Kong Baptist church.   The entire service was both foreign and familiar to me.  Though I had never been there before, and didn’t understand the language, many of the hymns were familiar, the feel of the worship space was familiar, even the order of service was familiar. But one of the most familiar things I noticed was the large flower sign-up sheet at the front of the church.  Without being able to read a single word of Chinese, Cantonese or Mandarin, the sheet clearly listed the Sunday dates of the upcoming year with the opportunity for anyone to write their name down, thus sponsoring the flowers for worship that morning.  This was familiar to me because it looked almost exactly like the flower sign-up sheet we have at the church I currently serve.

Every week here at Huguenot we list two names in our bulletin.  First, we list the name of the person who sponsors the flowers in worship.  Second, we list the name of the person who sponsors the coffee hour fellowship time immediately after the worship service.  We have listed these folks every week for at least the last nine years and probably for decades before.  But we are toying with a new idea.  We are preparing to offer to members of the congregation the opportunity to offset the carbon that is emitted to prepare and host our worship services by purchasing carbon credits that would make our entire worship experience a carbon free worship.

Now, we are not the first faith community to try and lower our carbon footprint.[i]  Tax benefits for solar panels have given congregations the opportunity to think critically about how they collect cleaner energy.[ii] Through Eco Audits, retroactive fitting, and intentional purchasing, buildings can save money and burn less carbon if they so desire (and as this great webpage from the UCC shows, there are bountiful resources for anyone if they take the time to learn and pursue a greener facility and lifestyle.)[iii]  In the relocation of their World Headquarters, the Jehovah Witness have gotten into the green building game as their new construction in Warwick, New York received the highest possible marks from the Global Building Initiative, an organization which offers environmental certification for construction projects.[iv]  Pope Francis has encouraged all Catholics to lower their carbon footprint since his Encyclical in 2015.[v]

But for us, this initiative would be new territory.  We would be partnering with an organization that would allow us to choose different programs (either through the planting of trees, educational programs that help finance wind power for schools, clean water programs that help provide water purification tools for communities that would traditionally need to boil their water before they could drink it, etc) depending on what the sponsor had in mind that day.  Every other time I have bought carbon credits, it has been an additional charge on top of either a conference or a flight fee, and I had no choice in how the charge was used.  By partnering with sustainable programs that lower the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere we would not only be helping those communities, but also helping to offset what we emit every time we gather to worship and praise God.

But we are not there yet.  It is going to take more work to get this through at least two more committees and then finally approved by the church Session.  Then it will take some additional work to educate the members of the church about the new program, and to have routine sign ups occur in the same fashion as flowers and coffee hour.  But that work is worth it for us because of our collective goal of lowering our carbon footprint.

In his 1905 classic The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Max Weber writes that Calvinist Protestantism was the seedbed of a modern, rationalist capitalist economy[vi], which “fueled the spirit of modern capitalism characterized by endless accumulation of wealth combined with strict discipline.”[vii]  And he may be right.  But as the environmental crisis becomes more noticeable by the day, may the strict discipline be what we hold fast to, while we continue to create financial vehicles that promote the sharing and distribution of, and not just the strict accumulation of, wealth.



[i] “Get Green with your Carbon Footprint,” United Methodist Communications, last modified, February 13, 2019, http://www.umcom.org/learn/get-green-with-your-carbon-footprint.

[ii] “Earth Day: Celebrating service to the environment,” Presbyterian Mission Agency, last modified, February 13, 2019,  https://www.presbyterianmission.org/story/earth-day-celebrating-service-environment/.

[iii] “Carbon Neutral Resources for Congregations,” United Church of Christ, last modified February 13, 2019, http://www.ucc.org/carbon_neutral_web_resources_for_congregations.

[iv] “Witnesses Receive Highest Rating by GBI for Sustainable Design of New World Headquarters,: Jehovah Witness, las modified February 14, 2019,  https://www.jw.org/en/news/releases/by-region/united-states/gbi-awards-four-green-globes-sustainable-design/.

[v] “Encyclical Letter Laudato Si of the Holy Father Francis on Care for our Common Home,” The Vatican, last modified, February 14, 2019, http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html

[vi] Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (New York: Scribner’s Sons, 1958 [2003]), 43; cf p35.

[vii] Munyaradzi Felix Murove, “The Quest for an African Economic Ethic,” Mankind Quarterly (45 N4, Summer 2005), 391.

About the Author

Rev Jacob Bolton

One response to “Worship today brought to you by Max Weber”

  1. Jenn Burnett says:

    I really appreciate these connections Jacob! I love how you’ve tied together local and global experience and it is always useful to hear how other churches are engaging environmental action. In Oz our church put on solar panels which eliminated our hydro bill while helping the environment. We planted some fruit trees because trees are always helpful and the fruit was fresh and available to the homeless folks who often used our outdoor tap and outlets. Since I’ve left they’ve added composting and increased how many things are recycled. So encouraging! What a great challenge to link the historic notion of discipline with our current need for environmental action. My prayer is that the body of Christ would use our global presence to really set an example in this area. How might we reclaim our call to discipline without becoming legalistic? How do we break off the defeatist sentiment? What might a mass call to repentance sound like? Look like? Thanks for your important work my friend.

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