Worship and Wildfires

A recent news headline caught my attention: “Californian winemakers are learning firefighting techniques.”  Of course, humans have long been familiar with the injury, death, and destruction that fires can cause.  What struck me about this headline is the direct connection between wildfires and the wine that is used in Christian liturgy.  In regions of California, at least, wine country no longer merely abuts wildfire country but *is* wildfire country.  I have no evidence to suggest that the world is going to run out of wine any time soon.  Still, I wonder about how the ways in which our liturgies, which sacramentalize wine into the Blood of Jesus Christ, contribute to the circumstances which make wine country into fire country.

For example, do we heat / cool our worship spaces to an excessive degree, all the while drawing on fossil fuels?  Can we convert some spaces in our parking lots into EV charging stations, which can be used when the worship space is not engaged?  For at least some parishes, is it feasible to install solar panels to mitigate reliance on fossil fuels?  Can we use wine with integrity in our Eucharistic liturgies if we do not at least begin to consider questions such as these?  What other “questions such as these” should we be raising?

The risk is not simply to the grapevines themselves.  When our ways of celebrating liturgies and running our parishes contribute in however small a way to global warming, we also place the lives of others (e.g., firefighters) at hazard.  The “fruit of the vine and work of human hands” we raise to God in our liturgies should involve the work of vintners who tend the vines, those who harvest and process the grapes, those who oversee the fermentation, those who ship it.  As a general rule, it should not have to involve the work of emergency crews battling fires burning thousands of acres.  Can we worship with integrity if our parish affairs and personal decisions simply take for granted the risks those affairs and decisions impose on others?

The news item from California sacramentalizes the wider field in which liturgical practices are inevitably and inexorably situated, namely, the entire ecosphere.  Regarding liturgy and the ecosphere as two mutually exclusive domains is an error which we must always challenge, first of all in ourselves.

One thought on “Worship and Wildfires

  1. the same issue — of eucharistic wine and justice — was present already in the mid-1960s Grape Boycott in CA, at least for Cesar Chavez.

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