In April and May a delegation of leaders was hosted by ecumenical committees in eight cities across Canada, including many CPJ members, for Justice Tour 2015. They shared information about poverty in Canada and climate justice and listened to local reflections on engagement and advocacy.
The traveling church leaders included Rev. Willard Metzger, Executive Director of Mennonite Church Canada, Rev. Karen Hamilton, General Secretary of the Canadian Council of Churches (CCC), and Rev. Susan Johnson, National Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. I was honoured to accompany the Justice Tour throughout the country, speaking in some venues and moderating events in others. The tour visited Vancouver, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Kitchener, Halifax, Montreal, and Ottawa.
In 2011, important interfaith statements were issued on poverty and climate change. Yet most people in the pews were never made aware of their content.CPJ, an affiliate member of the CCC, has used these statements in various educational and awareness-raising opportunities, including our two books of reflections and action suggestions, to encourage the work of the churches and engage faith communities in further action.
These two priority issues for the CCC’s Commission on Justice and Peace are especially strategic in 2015 with the civic engagement that will occur during the federal election and because of two key international events: the UN Climate Conference in Paris (December) and the UN General Assembly on Sustainable Development Goals (September).
At events attended by over 700 individuals, the church leaders heard from dozens of experts, local politicians, and church members passionate about public justice issues. It was clear that people in the Canadian churches really care about poverty and climate change.
We heard a communal lament due to the breakdown of relationships: with God, with creation, and with each other. Canada, it seems, has changed, but there is a yearning to revitalize communities. It was recognized that faith communities can and must play a role in changing the dominant discourse. They must be active in bridging cultures, re-establishing hospitality, and recreating community.
Yet throughout the tour, we also discerned the presence of hope. Along with all of the analysis we heard was a sense of urgency in the need for action and change. Justice Tour participants focused on the CCC’s two priority issues (climate justice and ending poverty in Canada), because the 25 members of the CCC firmly believe Psalm 24: “the earth is the Lord’s and all that’s in it, the world, and those who live in it.”
So where do we go from here?
Drawing on what was learned during the listening tour, a Church Leaders’ Pastoral Statement will be developed and shared later this year for study and response from church constituencies, candidates for political office, and the public. Locally- led activities will follow the Statement, resulting in various engagement and advocacy plans, which will include meetings with candidates and the development of church resource materials – reflections, prayers, hymns, and liturgical activities. Canadian church leaders will participate in, and report back from, the UN meetings with international faithbased partners. A federal election resource, including sections on these two priority issues, has already been prepared for use by ecumenical committees.
Church leaders received these challenges in good faith during Justice Tour 2015, offering their valuable time and engaged attention to the many concerns expressed. The ecumenical participants and the many concerned persons who inhabit church pews are now invited to pick up the causes of poverty in Canada and climate justice and make them their own.