Lent begins in ten days. ‘Lent’ comes from an Old English word for spring, for the lengthening of days, and despite the ongoing snow and ice and cold temperatures in Nebraska, there are a few reminders that spring is on the way – the lengthening days, the appearance of flocks of geese, and the things we do in churches to prepare for observing Lent.
On the list of things to do now to prepare for Lent is ordering palms for the Palm Sunday liturgy. This year, parishes may want to do something different and order eco-palms. These palm branches are sustainably harvested. Instead of paying workers according to the quantity of palm branches brought in from the rainforest, the pay is for the quality of the branches. This encourages careful harvesting of only the most usable branches, with much less waste from branches that are harvested and then never shipped because of their poor quality. This way of harvesting and paying workers has increased the income for the workers, paying them more fairly for the work they do.
The eco-palms project originates with The University of Minnesota Center for Integrated Natural Resources and Agricultural Management (CINRAM). Their website provides links to pages from the Presbyterian Church (USA) , Lutheran World Relief, and the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR); it also has a page of links to news articles about how and why various churches have used eco-palms, and ordering .
The "eco-palms" are branches of the chamaedorea palm, suitable for use in vases or as branches to wave in the Palm Sunday procession. These are not the thin fronds that many parishes order to bend into crosses. The rubrics for Palm Sunday in the Book of Common Prayer (p. 270) talk about distributing “branches of palm or of other trees or shrubs” to people to be carried in the procession. In his Commentary on the American Prayer Book, Marion Hatchett noted (p. 225) that these rubrics encourage the use of branches rather than fronds or small crosses “which can hardly be waved and certainly fail to signify a parade”. However, if the palm crosses are a meaningful parish tradition, a parish could order the fronds from another supplier and eco-palms for use on the altar and by at least some of the people in the procession.
On Palm Sunday, we greet Jesus as our King. Prayerful consideration of how our purchase of palms for this celebration affects both the people who harvest the palms and God’s creation seems important if Jesus is truly our King.