‘In tune with creation’: How the Anglican Church of Canada is taking on climate change

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Protesters participate in the Global Climate Justice Strike, part of the Fridays for Future movement, in Toronto, September 2019. Photo credit: expatpostcards/Shutterstock

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Record-breaking temperatures. Melting polar icecaps. An entire continent literally on fire. And around the world, youth-led mass movements demanding action in response.

The global climate emergency has reached a new level of public awareness in recent years, spurred by phenomena such as the Fridays for Future movement—youth climate strikes—led by Greta Thunberg. Recently, scientists cited climate change as a factor in the unprecedented intensity of bushfires in Australia in 2019-20.

In the face of this crisis, Archbishop Linda Nicholls, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, has called on the church to take action on climate change, calling stewardship of the earth and the care of creation “a core responsibility of our faith.” The primate compares concern of young people for the future of their planet with the fear of nuclear annihilation she experienced growing up during the Cold War.

“The question,” she asks, “is how do we proclaim that vision of creation as a gift of God that we are called to steward and that we should be at the very forefront of those that are fighting for it?”

The church’s response to the climate emergency has found expression in numerous venues, through the work of Public Witness for Social and Ecological Justice (PWSEJ) and through ecumenical initiatives. But supporting all the church’s efforts at the national level to confront climate change is Resources for Mission, which is tasked with raising funds for all General Synod ministries, including PWSEJ.

As a ministry of General Synod, the work of PWSEJ to coordinate the church’s response to climate change is based to a large extent on donations made through Resources for Mission.

“The ministries of the church are supported directly by the work that Resources for Mission does, and we couldn’t do some of those ministries without the support of the people who respond to Resources for Mission,” acting general secretary the Rev. Peter Wall says.

The immediate body tasked with formulating sustainable environmental policies across the Anglican Church of Canada is the Creation Matters working group, a subgroup of the PWSEJ coordinating committee.

At their most recent meeting on Jan. 31, Creation Matters members decided to break into small groups that would determine how the church can put into practice three resolutions from General Synod 2019 related to climate change.

“With the small groups, we’re able to do more, I think, and get into…the actions that we’re asked to take and do something with them,” co-chair Gerald Giles says.

Creation Matters Working Group members Sue Carson (left) and Nancy Harvey. Submitted photo

These groups will focus on three resolutions. Resolution A201 encourages Anglicans to reduce their use of single-use plastics—a major contributor to carbon emissions through their production and refining—with a goal to ending their use by parishes and dioceses no later than 2023.

Another resolution is A202, which encourages dioceses to celebrate the annual Season of Creation from Sept. 1 to Oct. 4, and directs Creation Matters to network and share resources.

Finally, Resolution A203 encourages the Anglican Church of Canada and Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund to support the UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development and produce resources for Anglican parishes and dioceses to raise awareness of the goals.

Though these resources are still in the early stages of development, they will likely include practical recommendations to help parishes and dioceses reduce their carbon footprints.

“What do we have to do so that we live in accord with what we believe?” Primate Nicholls asks. “That calls us to do the greening of our churches…living in ways that are in tune with creation, to the degree that we’re able to and can change.

“We’re caught up in all the systems that everybody else is,” she acknowledges. “If you live out in the country, you can’t decide you’re never going to drive again…. But you can live more sustainably than we do now, and we start where we are, and we start small.”

PWSEJ director Ryan Weston expects that resources produced by Creation Matters will also offer theological reflections on the stewardship of creation, as well as advocacy tools to push governments and other institutions towards environmentally sustainable policies.

“There’ll probably be some liturgical prayer pieces…. There’ll probably be some policy pieces…because we know that the impact that we can have at a personal or at a congregational level is not significant enough to address what needs to be addressed,” Weston says.

Among the climate-related motions carried at the last General Synod was Resolution C003, moved and seconded by youth delegates Brynne Blaikie and Alexa Wallace, respectively.

Thousands of people (and some furry friends) took part in the September 2014 People’s Climate March in Vancouver. Photo credit: Sergei Bachlakov/Shutterstock

The resolution commits the General Synod to recognize, on behalf of the Anglican Church of Canada, that there is a global climate emergency; to encourage Anglicans to prioritize the baptismal covenant and fifth Mark of Mission (“To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth”); to seek collaboration with other Canadian faith communities to “strengthen our voice on climate change”; and to urge the PWSEJ coordinating committee to organize more sustainable meetings of the Anglican Church of Canada.

Wallace, a postulant for the diocese of Saskatoon who serves as Sunday school and youth ministries coordinator at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, welcomes the possibility of new resources for climate action.

“With my position at the cathedral, I work with children and youth all the time,” she says. “What we discovered experiencing the last Season of Creation is there’s really been no resources prepared to work with children and youth. There are a couple programs from the churches in southern Africa, but that’s it…. They’re good programs, but it’d be nice if there were more.”

Besides developing its own resources, the Anglican Church of Canada is also responding to climate change on an ecumenical and interfaith basis.

Networking is a major priority for Creation Matters. As part of that effort, the church is working towards coordinated action through its membership in organizations such as KAIROS Canada, Citizens for Public Justice, the Canadian Council of Churches and the Anglican Communion Environmental Network.

Some members of Creation Matters, such as co-chair Nancy Harvey, have also been active in the Fridays for Future movement. “I have grandchildren and really, really worry about the future for them,” Harvey says.

The ranks of those concerned for the future of the earth span all generations.

Blaikie, who first brought Resolution C003 before her fellow youth delegates at General Synod, says addressing the climate emergency is an obligation for all who live and depend on the earth. But, she believes, it may also determine the future of the church.

“One of the biggest problems the Anglican Church faces is a decreasing number of young people in worship,” Blaikie says. “Some young people do not feel any connection to faith communities. I believe one of the biggest ways to connect with younger generations is showing support for what they find important. Now is the time to actively make the life of the earth a priority in our faith.”

Deborah Barretto, director of Resources for Mission, concurs with the need for the church to prioritize the climate crisis and hopes her department can help.

“We have to change people’s ways of doing things nationally, but also globally,” Barretto says. “I think if we can play a part in that, that’s important…. But I still think we have a long way to go in making people aware of what needs to be done.”

Contributions to Resources for Mission to support the church’s climate ministry can be made through individual one-time donations, monthly donations or planned gifts. To learn more, visit anglican.ca/gifts.

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Matt Gardner
Matt Gardner is a staff writer for the Anglican Journal. Most recently, Gardner worked as corporate communicator for the Anglican Church of Canada, a position he held since Dec. 1, 2014. He previously served as a city reporter for the Prince Albert Daily Herald. A former resident of Kingston, Ont., Gardner has a degree in English literature from Queen’s University and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario. He will continue to support corporate communications efforts during his time at the Journal.

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