Seeing “the footprints of Christ” in the Sustainable Development Goals

12 March 2020

Participants in the consultation.

“In order to deal with the challenges of poverty and inequality, we need to have a comprehensive plan. The Church has the Five Marks of Mission, which are a tool for the churches to engage, and the global leaders have come up with the SDGs. We find good good synergies [between these] – so we can engage with our governments and our local municipal councils in terms of the planning and we can say that the Church has a contribution to make to the SDGs. Partnership is key. Our partnership should be firstly with each other, across the Anglican Communion, to strengthen our voice and our action so that we are meeting one common goal of eradicating poverty. But also, at a local level, we need to partner with NGOs, other churches, other faith groups and also our local governments.”

This, according to Canon Delene Mark, was the most important message coming out of the recent consultation held by the Anglican Church of Southern Africa (ACSA) on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with a particular focus on climate change, poverty and gender. Canon Delene is CEO of Hope Africa, the social development programme of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa. The consultation was jointly organised by Hope Africa and Green Anglicans, the Province’s environmental network.

Taking part in the consultation were representatives of various provincial organisations, including the Provincial Theological College of the Transfiguration, the Mothers’ Union, Bernard Mizeki Provincial Men’s Guild, Anglican Women’s Fellowship, Anglican Youth of Southern Africa, Anglican Students Federation and Growing the Church, as well as the liaison bishops for Environment, Gender and Social Development.

The consultation was timed to coincide with ACSA’s Synod of Bishops, with the last session of the consultation held jointly with the first session of the Synod of Bishops. The following resolution, subsequently passed by the Synod of Bishops, is testimony to the value of this collaborative approach and the dedicated work of all involved. The Synod of Bishops’ resolution reads:

“Moved by the scourge facing communities in ACSA at this time, we urgently call on this Synod of Bishops to request the Metropolitan to issue a statement declaring Gender Based Violence and Climate Change a state of emergency in our Province, our Dioceses, our homes, our Parishes, our organisations and our communities. All Dioceses need to put in place programmes to deal with GBV and climate change, also heightening their awareness and engagement with the Sustainable Development Goals.”

Here, Revd. Dr Rachel Mash shares her account of the consultation and the rich opportunities for sharing, learning and action it provided. She writes:

On day one, Canon Delene Mark shared what the Sustainable Development Goals (or Global Goals) are all about. We then had a Bible Study (from the Anglican Alliance) looking at Jesus’ manifesto in Luke 4:14-21 and identified who are the poor, the prisoners, the blind and the oppressed in our own time.

Each organisation then presented the programmes that they are involved with in the areas of poverty, environment and gender. We also shared the results of a survey that had been sent to the development practitioners working on gender, poverty and environmental issues (including food security and agriculture)  in every diocese, which was carried out to assess people’s engagement with the SDGs. It was encouraging to realise that all dioceses are indeed involved in the SDGS, in many different ways, even though we do not name them in terms of the SDGS. For example, participants are engaged in programmes around health, education, nutrition, tackling poverty, providing micro-credit for people to start small businesses, water and sanitation, among other things. We discovered that there is also duplication as we don’t know what each other is doing.

Cecilia Njenga head of United Nations Environmental Programme in South Africa gave us an inspiring talk on the Faith for the Earth Initiative, which showed that the UN recognises the important work of faith communities. We were also delighted to have Hope Kabamba from United Nations join us for the whole day.

 Dr Kgabe, the Rector of the College of the Transfiguration, then presented the resolutions that had been passed at Provincial Synod and the Anglican Consultative Council on climate, gender and the SDGs.

We then brainstormed how the SDGs could become part of the mission and vision of the church and ended the day with an evening prayer on the theme of gender led by Toby Koloti from Anglican Students Federation.

 We began day 2 with an outdoor environmental eucharist and reflected on the theme of the just fast from Isaiah 58 – we are called to be prophetic and to loosen the chains of injustice.

We identified why we should work with the Global Goals, deciding: the Global Goals are the voice of the poor and the marginalised; they enable us to amplify what we are already doing into advocacy; they ensure implementation; they will improve partnership, and streamline programmes to avoid duplication.

At this point the consultation participants joined the bishops of the province and some of the vicar generals who had gathered for the Synod of Bishops. This joint session began with Canon Rachel Mash sharing the links between gender, climate change and poverty. Rachel continues:

We saw how the fact that the goals are global can inspire us to work together for our common home.

The bishops then divided into discussion groups (facilitated by the youth and organisation reps) to do a bible study on a vision for the New Earth from Isaiah 65: 17-25.

 The discussion groups then looked at the various resolutions passed at Province and by ACC and looked for a way forward for the Province of Southern Africa and the Sustainable Development Goals.

 It was felt that a process of awareness building, strategic prioritising and training should take place, underpinned with spiritual resources such as Bible studies and sermon materials.

The participants in the consultation felt that the SDGs provide a very useful tool to help us to work better together, strategise, and evaluate process. In the words of Bishop Ellinah- Diocese of Swaziland, “we can see in them the footprints of Christ”.

What are the SDGs?

In 2015, the world launched a set of goals which would “leave no one behind” in their ambition of ending poverty and hunger, ensuring healthy lives, education, clean water, sanitation, energy and decent work for all, and caring for the environment. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide “a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future”, which all 189 member states of the United Nations signed up to. One of the striking features of the SDGs is the breadth of their reach and their holistic nature – the recognition that “ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests”.

The SDGs have particular resonance for Anglicans, who have long held a holistic understanding of what it means to be disciples of Jesus who share in his ongoing mission. This understanding is expressed in the Anglican Five Marks of Mission, which are foundational to the work of the Anglican Alliance. The Alliance is currently working with the Ujamaa Centre in South Africa and others on developing a series of bible studies which explore the synergies between the SDGs and the Marks of Mission.

The Archbishop of Canterbury welcomed the adoption of the SDGs in 2015 saying: “”Humanity is called to justice, compassion and standing alongside the poor. If we root our response to the afflictions of extreme poverty and other major global issues in these values, we can ensure that the Sustainable Development Goals provide a vision and a framework through which all of us can play a part in working towards a more just world, in which all have the opportunity to flourish and where no one is left behind”.

 #Sdgs #faith4earth

Photo credits: Vicentia Kgabe, Bino Makalanyane, Toby Koloti