COP21: Three Next Steps for Churches

By Miriam Mahaffy

From The Catalyst, Spring 2016

Last year saw climate change become a mainstream issue. International leaders gathered to negotiate the Paris Agreement at the COP21 climate negotiations. The Pope delivered his encyclical, Laudato si’: On Care for Our Common Home, and the Canadian Council of Churches released a statement, On Promoting Climate Justice and Ending Poverty in Canada. Faith leaders have declared that climate change is a moral issue requiring concrete action.

However, brave words in legal documents or religious declarations alone won’t achieve climate justice. It requires countries, communities, and individuals to courageously embody these intentions. As our world continues to heat up, here are three ways Canadian Christians can turn bold words into meaningful action on climate change.

Pray: Incorporate Climate Justice Into Worship

Climate themes can be incorporated into worship in many different ways—big and small. (Read a few examples of how faith communities used CPJ’s Prayers for COP21 in Paris resources during the climate negotiations.)

By using prayers and readings focused on creation, churches can invite individuals to engage with the complexities of this global issue at a personal level. This can help diverse congregations find common ground and facilitate conversations about creation care. In this way, our worship can be an invitation to—not a demand for—a greater awareness of the problem of climate change.

Through sermons and small group studies, Christians can learn about the causes and consequences of our environmental crisis. Through meditation, prayer, song, and discussion, churches can foster a spirit of willingness to change habits and extend generous compassion to those who are most vulnerable to the impacts of a warming planet.

Act: “Green” Your Church

“Now more than ever, especially since the Pope’s encyclical (which recognizes that climate is a common good for all), climate action is being framed as a moral imperative,” says Beatrice Ekwa Ekoko, who animates the Hamilton, Ont. chapter of Greening Sacred Spaces. As a program of Faith and the Common Good (FCG), it helps churches with the practical and spiritual dimensions of making their community operations more eco-friendly.

Churches can be centres for climate action. But where to start?

First, check your current impact. Ekoko notes that action “can be as simple as looking at your own consumption.” Where does your food come from? How do you get to worship? Make it a fun competition between members or churches to reduce energy consumption.

Next, build partnerships. Ekoko says that often only one or two members of a congregation will take on ecological justice work. It’s important to work together to build momentum, capacity, and excitement for change.

Finally, view your church infrastructure and community as an asset. FCG’s Mission per Square Foot program helps faith groups rejuvenate church buildings to meet community needs in a sustainable manner.

For a congregation that is just beginning to look at church greening, Ekoko recommends starting small and simple, based on the interests and excitement of those involved.

Advocate: Call for Policy Change

As seekers of justice, churches have the opportunity and responsibility to hear and amplify the call for action coming from those most affected by climate change. Church greening is an important part of national action on climate change, but to see climate justice realized, we need far-reaching systemic changes.

This means international coordination, as well as policy change and action across levels of government—including an ambitious federal greenhouse gas emissions reduction target and a concrete climate action plan.

Christians can and should reach out to those who can influence policy decisions. Charles Hodgson, a volunteer with Ecology Ottawa, suggests that “of the many things a person might do, the most effective and actually the easiest is to tell their politicians they support action on climate change.” Churches can, for example, arrange a meeting with their MP, have congregants write an email to their political leaders, or collect signatures on a petition.

Joe Gunn, CPJ’s executive director, highlights that “by mobilizing to pray, act, and advocate for climate justice, faith communities are revealing how crucial and relevant their witness is as humanity faces such a major global challenge.”

Together, churches can work towards the reconciliation of all creation in the face of climate change.

A similar version of this article was published by ChristianWeek.

  • Miriam Mahaffy

    Miriam meandered over to Ottawa from Edmonton, Alberta, where she recently completed her B.Sc. in Environmental Studies at the King’s University with a concentration in biology and a passion for public justice. As an academic urbanite reflecting on society’s place in creation (and vice versa), Miriam’s research has ranged to include statistical analyses on the survivorship of endangered seedlings, the construction of interactive applets to communicate grade five level chemistry, an exploration of Sabbath as the solution to the ecological crisis, an evaluation of the externalities of gasoline consumption in Canada, an evaluation of youth policy and programming in Alberta, and participation in the founding of an intentional Christian community on Alberta Avenue in Edmonton. Miriam continues to find herself overwhelmed by the mysterious threads of grace that knit all existence together in shared meaning. Motivated by the conviction that human creatures should be more faithful citizens of ecological communities, she wants to see a union of environmental and social justice woven into the fabric of responsible public policy in Canada.

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