In a twist on the traditional practice of giving something up for Lent, Anglicans across Canada are pledging to make personal lifestyle changes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions—and challenging the federal government to match them by pursuing policy changes to fight climate change.
Fourteen Anglican churches have agreed to participate in Give it up for the Earth!, a campaign organized by Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ), a national faith-based organization lobbying for a greater emphasis on justice in Canadian public policy, to “increase climate justice in Canada.”
The campaign encourages participants to use a postcard or an online pledge form to indicate something they are personally committing to giving up for Lent (which lasts from March 1 to April 13), and challenge the government to make certain policy changes.
For example, individuals can pledge to commute by foot, bicycle, transit or carpooling to cut down on fuel use, or cut down on their meat intake, and ask the government to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies and provide retraining for laid-off energy workers.
The postcards and online forms are addressed to Catherine McKenna, minister for environment and climate change, and will be delivered by CPJ during a closing event sometime around Earth Day (April 22).
For some of the Anglican churches involved, the issue of climate change hits close to home.
For example, the parishioners at St. Mary with St. Mark Anglican Church in Mayo, Yukon, are currently trying to shore up the foundation of their building, which is in danger of collapsing due to melting permafrost.
Valerie Maier, who serves as a licensed lay minister at St. Mary with St. Mark with her husband, Charles, said she thought the CPJ project would be a good cause to take up for Lent because of the importance the land holds for her community, which is predominantly Indigenous.
As a contribution, Maier said the parish is planning not to use disposable plastic cutlery, bowls, plates and cups.
“I just thought that this was something that we could take seriously during Lent, something to do that would be a bit of a sacrifice for each person, but also had a bigger effect,” she said.
Local concerns have also fired the engagement of the Anglican parish of Fenelon Falls and Coboconk, in the Kawartha Lakes region of the diocese of Toronto.
The Rev. Susan Spicer, incumbent priest at the parish, said she wanted to get involved in the project due to environmental “pressures” on the Kawartha Lakes system.
“I wanted to know—and others wanted to know—what’s happening in our watershed,” said Spicer, noting that there have been conflicts between some First Nations people and cottagers over the use of water in nearby Pigeon Lake, particularly as it relates to the right of First Nations’ people to grow wild rice.
Spicer said she wasn’t qualified to comment on the relationship between these pressures and climate change, and so she wants to use the Lenten project as an opportunity to bring speakers into her community who can talk about the matter with more authority.
She also liked that the project, insofar as it encourages making individual sacrifices, gives people a chance to feel they are concretely participating in a solution.
For her own Lenten practice, she is drastically reducing her meat intake and trying to eat only local and sustainably grown and harvested foods.
“[Climate change] seems like a huge, overwhelming challenge, and nobody knows quite what to do,” she said. “I was interested in focusing people’s attention on what they can do, [with] respect to climate change.”
For others, the impetus for getting involved was concern over the role of climate change in exacerbating global poverty.
The Rev. Heather Karabelas, a deacon at St. Mary’s Anglican Church in East Kelowna, diocese of Kootenay, said she decided to get her parish involved out of concern for how climate change is making people living in developing countries more vulnerable.
“People living in poverty…are dependent on the natural resources in their areas, and they don’t have much ability to cope with climate variances,” said Karabelas, who has committed to eliminating meat from her diet and driving less as part of the campaign.
She also sees the campaign as being part of her vocation as a deacon.
“The diaconate is supposed to stir up the church and turn its focus to serve God in the world,” she said. “I thought this was an easy, simple way to get people involved in looking at how climate change is affecting poverty and hunger.”
“Lent provides us space to reflect and refocus, tune-in to our Christian calling, and renew our commitment to God,” said Karri Munn-Venn, senior policy analyst for CPJ, in a March 6 press release. “By participating in Give it up for the Earth!, churches are making a meaningful sacrifice while also making their voices heard.”