Anglicans urged to serve God’s mission by caring for Creation

5 May 2016

(left to right): ACC delegates Ncumisa and Katherine in Lasaka Cathedral. Credit: Anglican Alliance

The strong call to work for environmental justice from the Anglican Consultative Council at its meeting in Lusaka, Zambia, last month has strengthened the Anglican Alliance’s ongoing focus on building a just and sustainable world.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby called for decisive action on climate change, urging Anglicans to look outwards and seek to “serve the work and mission of God in the world”, in his presidential address to the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC).

Archbishop Justin’s message followed a plenary on climate justice facilitated by the Alliance that sought to significantly enhance the Communion’s advocacy and its practical responses to environmental degradation around the globe.

As a worldwide body sharing a “coherent structure, Anglicans are uniquely positioned to make an impact on this huge pressing issue,” the Archbishop observed, describing the changing climate as an “actor that dominates the world stage”.

Archbishop Justin described a theological narrative, the “beautiful story” that Anglicans are called to share as “a narrative of relationship, of mutual protection, of order and human flourishing”. This story should be re-interpreted to all of humanity, he explained, through “practices of love, hospitality and generosity, and by setting examples of good practice and care in and for the world”.

Climate change – the challenges

Archbishop Justin agreed that climate change presents an urgent challenge. “It is not just potentially bad; it is potentially fatal, for the most fragile countries, communities and regions on earth; and for the billions of people who live in them.”

He described himself as a relative latecomer in understanding the true significance of this problem, and said that his conscience had been awakened by the voice of young people.

The Archbishop urged Anglicans to a deeper understanding of solidarity, and a willingness to take action now to prevent harm to future generations. “The Church exists in space and time,” he said. “We are joined by baptism to all past and all future Christians. Unless Christ first returns, the fate of those who belong to the Church – let alone the rest of humanity – in 2116 matters deeply to us now.”

Archbishop Justin expressed his gratitude to the many clusters of Anglicans around the Communion working to raise these issues, including the Anglican Communion Environment Network (ACEN), the Anglican Office at the United Nations – and the Anglican Alliance, which has identified climate change action as one of its major priorities and helped to coordinate the push for a petition for urgent action presented at the COP 21 climate talks in Paris last December.

He highlighted the Green Anglicans movement in the Province of Southern Africa, and the leadership shown by its Primate, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba. Archbishop Thabo led the Anglican delegation at the COP21 and has convened a group of bishops from across the Communion committed to raising climate issues.

Time for action

Earlier in the day, ACC delegates heard more about work being done throughout the Communion on climate change in a plenary session led by the Revd Andy Bowerman, Anglican Alliance Co-Executive Director.

The Revd Canon Jeff Golliher, Programme Director for the Environment and Sustainable Communities at the Anglican Office at the United Nations in New York, said that the time for discernment surrounding the issue had passed, and that urgent action was necessary.

Local congregations needed to be active in discussing climate change issues and in undertaking projects in their local communities, he underlined. “Our congregations need to see that this is a place where [they] can learn something about how to protect the earth.”

The Rt Revd Ellinah Wamukoya, Bishop of Swaziland, spoke about the theological basis for action on climate change, particularly the way Anglicans are called by their liturgy to “remember we are God’s stewards”. She described Genesis 2:15’s call to care for the earth as “the first commandment,” and highlighted the ways in which the prayers of presentation and offering in the Eucharist stress that “humanity and nature are interdependent”.

Christ’s atoning death, Bishop Ellinah stated, was for the healing and salvation of the natural world as well as for humans. “This Person who came and died for all humans and nature, because His blood on the Cross cleansed you and because it flowed into the ground, cleansed also the ground; He is the very same Person who will open the books and will ask what you do to protect this resource that [he] gave you to care for.”

Anglican Youth Call for Church to Lead by Example

A closing panel discussion featured representatives from Central and Southern Africa’s Young Green Anglicans movement.

According to ACC youth delegate Ncumisa Magadla, the movement began in this region because it is experiencing global warming at twice the worldwide average, with resulting droughts and floods.

“Young people in their regions have deep enthusiasm for climate change work, and there has been strong support for tree-planting initiatives in Swaziland,” she said. A three-day pilgrimage focusing on climate change issues in Zimbabwe helped to change many people’s attitudes about waste disposal.

Catherine Ngangira, ACC youth delegate from Zimbabwe, said: “As a church, by taking the lead in making the world green, we give others permission to care for the environment and to make the world green.”

Archbishop Thabo closed the panel with a prayer, during which ACC delegates committed themselves on behalf of the entire Communion to act with a sense of urgency to alter the climate crisis and its resultant social injustices. “We ask you to empower us, Lord, to work together with integrity as members of this Communion, in service to you and all creation and one another.”

At the close of the session, it was announced that Archbishop Justin had agreed to serve as the honorary chairman and patron of ACEN.

Partnering with ACEN

“Archbishop Justin’s new role highlights the issue’s importance on the Communion’s overall agenda,” Andy remarked. “We are hugely encouraged that we’ve seen the story continue to change within the climate conversation over the past 24 months.”

Andy said that the Alliance was now looking to connect with regional ACEN cells to help people throughout the Communion understand how the changing climate is impacting them and their food security.

Alliance regional facilitators can play a key role, according to the co-executive director. “Our facilitators help the regions prepare appropriate advocacy messages and share stories of how others have adapted their food production and lifestyles in light of the degenerating environment.”

Building on the momentum of COP21 and now the ACC’s renewed call to care for Creation, the Alliance is working together with ACEN towards a consultation in Argentina in late 2016 or early 2017 to think theologically and practically about climate change response in the region.

“We continue to seek ways that we can help the narrative change to one that moves from repentance and forgiveness to restoration and redemption,” Andy affirmed.

Mark Michael contributed to this story.