Rogation Sunday fosters environmental awareness

May 17, 2009

Care for the earth and its resources--more specifically, water--formed the theme for this year's Rogation Sunday services held May 17 at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Burlington, Vermont, a port city located on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain.

"It's the day our parish celebrates the earth. We don't use the secular Earth Day," said Sylvia Knight, coordinator of St. Paul's earth care ministry, in a telephone interview. "It's important for the church to bring earth care matters into our liturgy; if our liturgy doesn't address the natural world around us, we won't be thinking about it."

The cathedral's earth care ministry focused this year's Rogation festivities on water—conservation, protection, purification and its life-giving and- life-sustaining properties. In addition to the Sunday service, the ministry sponsored three adult education workshops and the Vermont chapter of Episcopal Church and Visual Arts (ECVA) staged a water-themed art exhibit, which runs through the end of May at St. Paul's.

The exhibit, "Water as Sacrament," shows 30 works of art by 17 artists exploring water through human interaction, ecology, baptism, healing and recreation characterize the ECVA exhibit, said Judith McManis, the exhibit's coordinator, in a telephone interview.

Rogation Sunday is the first of four days preceding Jesus' ascension that were traditionally set apart to ask for God's mercy on all creation and to bless the fields. In more modern times, rogation days, because of their proximity to Earth Day, have evolved to include environmental protection, said the Archdeacon Catherine Cooke, of the Diocese of Vermont and a deacon at the cathedral, in a telephone interview.

Daniel McDonald, a candidate for ordination whose focus is eco-theology, wove the environment and care for creation into the day's lesson, and some parishioners brought water to pour into a communal pitcher for blessing and to pour on the cathedral's memorial garden and on the garden of a neighboring assisted living community following a procession, Cooke said.

Mary Tuthill brought a mason jar full of water from a spring that has fed her farm in nearby Williston, Vermont, since 1796, to add to the communal pitcher. The farm once belonged to Truman Chittenden, son of Thomas Chittenden, the first governor of Vermont, and has been in her family since 1952, she said in a telephone interview.

During the service, she offered this prayer: "We thank you, God, for your gift of water, which is in all life and a thing of beauty. Amen."

The adult education forums, especially the one focused on a new generation of contaminants entering Lake Champlain energized Sarah Flynn, who attends worship services at St. Paul's.

Flynn remembers as a child hiking in the Texas Panhandle and coming up on windmills pumping groundwater for livestock tanks; water she drank to quench her thirst.

"The water was cold, clear, crisp and tasty," she said in a telephone interview from her home in Burlington.

In 1998, 30 years after leaving home, Flynn returned to rural Texas and was shocked to find that fertilizers and extensive irrigation use had polluted the region's groundwater.

"We were out in the middle of nowhere; no cities or towns around, light industry," she said. "It jarred my consciousness… up until then I was fat, dumb and happy thinking that water purification took care of itself."