It’s spring! At least it is according to the calendar – and the weather today (Saturday) seems to confirm this. Springtime for me always gets me outside looking for all the signs: buds on trees, snowdrops and crocuses, and robins finding worms in the yard. And I’ve seen them all in the last week! Being outside brings me to thoughts of “this fragile earth, our island home” from Eucharistic Prayer C. While we are enjoying the beginning of this new season, all we have to do is watch the news to see how our changing climate is affecting other communities around the world. From cyclones, to massive flooding due to torrential rains, the fragility of our beautiful planet has been in the news a lot lately. As a Church, we have not ignored the concerns of our planetary home but are, in fact, eager to express ourselves and work toward a more sustainable future. To that end, we have resolutions which seem particularly relevant right now. But before I share those with you, I’d like to tell you about something that truly did my heart good last week.
We must not dismiss or underestimate the passion and drive of the youth of this lovely world. Last Friday, March 15th, young people from more than 90 countries and 1200 cities around the globe participated in the Youth Climate Strike. This movement began last August when 16 year-old, Swedish Greta Thunberg began skipping school on Friday to protest outside her country’s parliament to insist that they support the Paris Climate Agreement. From Greta’s work #FridaysForFuture began. The group asks:
- Why study for a future, which may not be there?
- Why spend a lot of effort to become educated, when our governments are not listening to the educated?
The #FridaysForFuture website asks that participants remember that these “strikes” can take all kinds of forms: actual walk outs, the striking of the school bell at the right time, and the striking of the local church bells in solidarity. First and foremost, the website insists that these are peaceful, quiet, sitting protests and asks that all participants consider their own safety first.
Sarah Kaplan and Brady Denis of the Washington Post reported in their article that –
Since the beginning of the 20th century, the planet’s average temperature has risen by about 1 degree Celsius (1.8 Fahrenheit), transforming environments from the Arctic to the Amazon and contributing to deadly extreme weather around the world. A recent United Nations report found that people must cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 if we hope to avoid the most catastrophic climate impacts. By then, around the time when many of the climate strikers will be graduating from college and starting their first jobs, global temperatures may rise as high as 1.5C (2.7 Fahrenheit), if no action is taken.
The Post article also includes interviews with some students from around the country who participated last week. Isabella Fallahi, 15, from Indianapolis said:
“This is not a Republican issue; this is not a Democrat issue. This is a human rights issue. People are not going to have clean air, clean water if we keep letting the same patterns go on and on.” I, for one, am inspired by their commitment and perseverance. There are two walkouts scheduled in the future: Global Climate Strike with #FridaysForFutuer on May 24th and Youth Climate Strike on May 3rd. You can find more information about these two groups on their websites.
This week I also saw that The Episcopal Church has issued an invitation to all of us to join Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and “Take the Pledge” to care for God’s creation. We are looking for 1000 signatures in time for Earth Day which is April 22nd. Signing on is more than merely adding your name to a petition. In an article in the Episcopal News Service (ENS), the Rev. Melanie Mullen, Director of Reconciliation, Justice and Creation Care asks that we “pray with the pledge and the Reflection Guide during Lent. Think about what you love in God’s Creation, where your heart breaks over environmental injustice, and how you’d like to simplify your life – consume less, share more.” The ENS article goes on:
The three overarching elements of both the vision and the pledge: loving, liberating, and life-giving, arise directly from understanding ourselves as the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement and as people who live the Way of Love:
We long to grow loving, liberating and life-giving relationship with God’s Creation. In this urgent moment, we pledge to protect and renew this good Earth and all who call it home. Together, we commit to specific actions, trusting we can do more as a body than any person could alone.
LOVING: We will share our stories of love and concern for the Earth and link with others who care about protecting the sacred web of life.
LIBERATING: We will stand with those most vulnerable to the harmful effects of environmental degradation and climate change – women, children, poor people and communities of color, refugees, migrants.
LIFE-GIVING: We will change our habits and choices in order to live more simply, humbly and gently on the Earth.
Right now there are over 100 signatures on the pledge. Perhaps you will have creative ideas to tackle this project on your own or may choose to work with a group of friends or your congregation. Let’s see if our diocese can help the Church reach the goal of 1000!
This leads me to our resolutions. At General Convention last summer, we passed a few resolutions addressing the care of creation; two of them seem particularly timely with the Youth Climate Strike and the Episcopal Creation Care Pledge:
A010: The Planting of “Paris Groves”
Resolved, That the 79th General Convention affirm the importance of Episcopal Schools, Camps and Conference Centers in educating generations of Episcopalians, especially in matters of stewardship and relationship with Creation; and be it further
Resolved, That the General Convention, recognizing the timely importance of these conversations, commend all Episcopal Schools, Camp and Conference Centers, or other church-owned properties in making environmental stewardship and care of creation key components of formation in the 2019-2021 triennium; and be it further
Resolved, That the General Convention, as part of The Episcopal Church’s response to stand with international partners in affirming the Paris Climate Accord, commend each of the eighty-five (85) camp and conference centers in the Episcopal Church to establish “Paris Groves,” plantings of trees at the camp and conference centers or other church-owned properties that will serve as a visible witness to the significance of the Paris Accord and do the practical work of sequestration of carbon from the atmosphere; and be it further
Resolved, that each camp and conference center determine both the tree species and appropriate timing for their ecosystem and plant those species; and be it further
Resolved, that each Episcopalian be encouraged to donate for the establishment of Paris Groves or the maintenance of an existing forest; and be it further
Resolved, that the General Convention invite each Confirmand, person received into the Episcopal Church and each person reaffirming his or her Baptismal vows to plant a tree in gratitude and to cherish the wondrous works of God and protect and restore the beauty and integrity of all creation.
This resolution has action items that any of us can fulfill. I imagine that many of us are confirmed or received members of our local churches. How difficult would it be to plant a tree in gratitude of this beautiful world we live in? Apartment dwellers might consider offering a tree to your church’s property. Our Emrich Conference Center is located in a lovely, natural setting with many trees yet perhaps the Emrich Board might also consider planting a tree or two as a public witness. I’m sure donations for this would be most gratefully accepted.
A018: Episcopalians Participating in Paris Climate Agreement
Resolved, That the 79th General Convention recognize that there is an important shift toward renewable energy which will help protect God’s good creation. Supporting this shift is part of the Church’s call to being part of The Jesus Movement in the world; and be it further
Resolved, That climate change be recognized as a human-made threat to all God’s people, creatures and the entire created order, while particularly placing unjust and inequitable burdens and stresses on native peoples, those displaced by environmental change, poor communities and people of color; and be it further
Resolved, That the 79th General Convention adopt the House of Bishops’ 2011 Pastoral Teaching on the Environment commitment as the official position of the church; and be it further
Resolved, That through our ongoing role as observers at the United Nations, we will continue to fully and completely “advocate for a fair, ambitious, and binding climate treaty,” and participate in future meetings of the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change as an active, faithful and engaged voice for all of God’s good earth; and be it further
Resolved, That as individuals and communities of faith, The Episcopal Church set an example, in the spirit of the Paris Climate Accord, by making intentional decisions about living lightly and gently on God’s good earth, for example, through energy conservation, renewable energy, sustainable food practices and gardening; and be it further
Resolved, That dioceses, communities of faith and individuals committing to the Paris Climate Accord consider reporting on their commitments, actions and successes to the Executive Council.
Since this resolution calls for the 2011 Pastoral Teaching on the environment to be considered the official position of the church, I thought we might need to see it:
A Pastoral Teaching from the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church
We, your bishops, believe these words of Jeremiah describe these times and call us to repentance as we face the unfolding environmental crisis of the earth:
How long will the land mourn, and the grass of every field wither? For the wickedness of those who live in it the animals and the birds are swept away, and because people said, “He is blind to our ways.” (Jeremiah 12:4)
The mounting urgency of our environmental crisis challenges us at this time to confess “our self-indulgent appetites and ways,” “our waste and pollution of God’s creation,” and “our lack of concern for those who come after us” (Ash Wednesday Liturgy, Book of Common Prayer, p. 268). It also challenges us to amend our lives and to work for environmental justice and for more environmentally sustainable practices.
Christians cannot be indifferent to global warming, pollution, natural resource depletion, species extinctions, and habitat destruction, all of which threaten life on our planet. Because so many of these threats are driven by greed, we must also actively seek to create more compassionate and sustainable economies that support the well-being of all God’s creation.
We are especially called to pay heed to the suffering of the earth. The Anglican Communion Environmental Network calls to mind the dire consequences our environment faces: “We know that . . . we are now demanding more than [the earth] is able to provide. Science confirms what we already know: our human footprint is changing the face of the earth and because we come from the earth, it is changing us too. We are engaged in the process of destroying our very being. If we cannot live in harmony with the earth, we will not live in harmony with one another.” (i)
This is the appointed time for all God’s children to work for the common goal of renewing the earth as a hospitable abode for the flourishing of all life. We are called to speak and act on behalf of God’s good creation.
Looking back to the creation accounts in Genesis, we see God’s creation was “very good,” providing all that humans would need for abundant, peaceful life. In creating the world God’s loving concern extended to the whole of it, not just to humans. And the scope of God’s redemptive love in Christ is equally broad: the Word became incarnate in Christ not just for our sake, but for the salvation of the whole world. In the Book of Revelation we read that God will restore the goodness and completeness of creation in the “new Jerusalem.” Within this new city, God renews and redeems the natural world rather than obliterating it. We now live in that time between God’s creation of this good world and its final redemption: “The whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for . . . the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:22-3).
Affirming the biblical witness to God’s abiding and all-encompassing love for creation, we recognize that we cannot separate ourselves as humans from the rest of the created order. The creation story itself presents the interdependence of all God’s creatures in their wonderful diversity and fragility, and in their need of protection from dangers of many kinds. This is why the Church prays regularly for the peace of the whole world, for seasonable weather and an abundance of the fruits of the earth, for a just sharing of resources, and for the safety of all who suffer. This includes our partner creatures: animals, birds, and fish who are being killed or made sick by the long-term effects of deforestation, oil spills, and a host of other ways in which we intentionally and unintentionally destroy or poison their habitat.
One of the most dangerous and daunting challenges we face is global climate change. This is, at least in part, a direct result of our burning of fossil fuels. Such human activities could raise worldwide average temperatures by three to eleven degrees Fahrenheit in this century. Rising average temperatures are already wreaking environmental havoc, and, if unchecked, portend devastating consequences for every aspect of life on earth.
The Church has always had as one of its priorities a concern for the poor and the suffering. Therefore, we need not agree on the fundamental causes of human devastation of the environment, or on what standard of living will allow sustainable development, or on the roots of poverty in any particular culture, in order to work to minimize the impact of climate change. It is the poor and the disadvantaged who suffer most from callous environmental irresponsibility. Poverty is both a local and a global reality. A healthy economy depends absolutely on a healthy environment.
The wealthier nations whose industries have exploited the environment, and who are now calling for developing nations to reduce their impact on the environment, seem to have forgotten that those who consume most of the world’s resources also have contributed the most pollution to the world’s rivers and oceans, have stripped the world’s forests of healing trees, have destroyed both numerous species and their habitats, and have added the most poison to the earth’s atmosphere. We cannot avoid the conclusion that our irresponsible industrial production and consumption-driven economy lie at the heart of the current environmental crisis.
Privileged Christians in our present global context need to move from a culture of consumerism to a culture of conservation and sharing. The challenge is to examine one’s own participation in ecologically destructive habits. Our churches must become places where we have honest debates about, and are encouraged to live into, more sustainable ways of living. God calls us to die to old ways of thinking and living and be raised to new life with renewed hearts and minds.
Although many issues divide us as people of faith, unprecedented ecumenical and interfaith cooperation is engaging the concern to protect our planet. And yet, efforts to stop environmental degradation must not be simply imposed from above. Those most affected must have a hand in shaping decisions. For example, we welcome efforts in the United States to involve Native American tribal leaders and to empower local community organizations to address environmental issues. Similar strategies need to be employed in myriad communities in various locales.
Our current environmental challenges call us to ongoing forms of repentance: we must turn ourselves around, and come to think, feel, and act in new ways. Ancient wisdom and spiritual disciplines from our faith offer deep resources to help address this environmental crisis. Time-honored practices of fasting, Sabbath-keeping, and Christ-centered mindfulness bear particular promise for our time.
Fasting disciplines and heals our wayward desires and appetites, calling us to balance our individual needs with God’s will for the whole world. In fasting we recognize that human hungers require more than filling the belly. In God alone are our desires finally fulfilled. Commended in the Book of Common Prayer, fasting is grounded in the practices of Israel, taught by Jesus, and sustained in Christian tradition. The ecological crisis extends and deepens the significance of such fasting as a form of self-denial: those who consume more than their fair share must learn to exercise self-restraint so that the whole community of creation might be sustained.
Sabbath-keeping is rooted in the Book of Genesis, where the seventh day is the day in which God, humans, and the rest of creation are in right relationship. In our broken world, keeping the Sabbath is a way of remembering and anticipating that world for which God created us. Sabbath requires rest, that we might remember our rightful place as God’s creatures in relationship with every other creature of God. Such rest implicitly requires humans to live lightly on the face of the earth, neither to expend energy nor to consume it, not to work for gain alone, but to savor the grace and givenness of creation.
The practice of Christ-centered mindfulness, that is, the habitual recollection of Christ, calls believers to a deepened awareness of the presence of God in their own lives, in other people, and in every aspect of the world around us. Such spiritual perception should make faithful people alert to the harmful effects of our lifestyles, attentive to our carbon footprint (ii) and to the dangers of overconsumption. It should make us profoundly aware of the gift of life and less prone to be ecologically irresponsible in our consumption and acquisition. In assuming with new vigor our teaching office, we, your bishops, commit ourselves to a renewal of these spiritual practices in our own lives, and invite you to join us in this commitment for the good of our souls and the life of the world. Moreover, in order to honor the goodness and sacredness of God’s creation, we, as brothers and sisters in Christ, commit ourselves and urge every Episcopalian:
– To acknowledge the urgency of the planetary crisis in which we find ourselves, and to repent of any and all acts of greed, overconsumption, and waste that have contributed to it;
– To lift up prayers in personal and public worship for environmental justice, for sustainable development, and for help in restoring right relations both among humankind and between humankind and the rest of creation;
– To take steps in our individual lives, and in community, public policy, business, and other forms of corporate decision-making, to practice environmental stewardship and justice, including (1) a commitment to energy conservation and the use of clean, renewable sources of energy; and (2) efforts to reduce, reuse, and recycle, and whenever possible to buy products made from recycled materials;
– To seek to understand and uproot the political, social, and economic causes of environmental destruction and abuse; (iii)
– To advocate for a “fair, ambitious, and binding” climate treaty, and to work toward climate justice through reducing our own carbon footprint and advocating for those most negatively affected by climate change.
May God give us the grace to heed the warnings of Jeremiah and to accept the gracious invitation of the incarnate Word to live, in, with, and through him, a life of grace for the whole world, that thereby all the earth may be restored and humanity filled with hope. Rejoicing in your works, O Lord, send us forth with your Spirit to renew the face of the earth, that the world may once again be filled with your good things: the trees watered abundantly, springs rushing between the hills in verdant valleys, all the earth made fruitful, your manifold creatures, birds, beasts, and humans, all quenching their thirst and receiving their nourishment from you once again in due season (Psalm 104).
This resolution also calls on us to set an example through our commitment to energy conservation, renewable energy and sustainable food sources which sounds a lot like the desires of the Youth Climate Strike and the Pledge for Creation Care we’ve just discussed – so we’ve come full circle.
Take some time to enjoy the sunshine and spring-like weather in the forecast this week. Perhaps you will be inspired to join in the work of caring for “this fragile earth, our island home.”
Let us pray –
Creator God, in the beginning you made all things and wove them together in interdependence and community. You have called us to tend and care for your creation and all the life within it. Give us wisdom, courage, reverence, strength, and delight in the ministry of Creation Care. Guide us to make right decisions, not only for ourselves but for the whole ecosystem. And show us the way to form more loving, liberating, life-giving relationship with you, with our neighbors and with the earth you made and love. All this we ask in the name of Jesus and in the power of the Spirit. Amen.
~ The Rev. Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council