I was at the student climate strike in Ottawa on September 27. It was a moving experience. I was thrilled to see huge crowds of youth and supporters carrying placards demanding action by political leaders.
There were messages of anger. Anger at government stalling and inaction. There were messages of hope. Hope that this is the generation that will force change. There were messages of love. Love of creation and all the creatures inhabiting the land and water.
I keep hearing of youth and young adults being absent in religious services. Yet here they were expressing solidarity with the disadvantaged, those most impacted by the climate emergency.
I keep hearing that the younger demographic has lost interest in religious activity. Yet here they were chanting messages of common concern for the environment.
I couldn’t help but feel that this was an unconventional type of worship experience. The usual elements of worship were missing, but the love of creation and fellow humanity was evident.
Rather than a few people meeting in a sanctuary, thousands of people were convening under the canopy of the clouds and sunshine. Rather than the faithful seeking immediate personal blessings, youth were concerned about the future, the animals, and the earth.
Could this be considered a form of worship? I am sure many will push back and decry such a suggestion as heresy. Others might critique it as a secularization of worship. Religious people might declare that concern for the environment has no place in religious expression.
Yet I was taught that God created the earth, so dismissing the environment as a secular concern doesn’t seem reasonable. I was taught that God loves all humanity, so to disregard a concern for the disadvantaged as a temporal, non-religious responsibility seems counter intuitive to a basic understanding of a loving God.
I am still sorting out the experience in my own mind and heart. But it seems to me that if faith communities were to echo the commitment of the youthful masses at these strikes, religion might experience a revival. Maybe the solution to youth disengagement lies with the willingness of the faith communities to join their passions and concerns.
Maybe it is a risky venture. But I embrace these actions as a work of the Holy Spirit. After all, what is worship but an expression of gratitude and commitment to the One we call Creator God.