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The church’s role in climate action

The church has an important role in calling for climate justice – including theology, discipleship and practical action.

Written by Hannah Bowring | 06 Oct 2021

Ruth Valerio speaking to a church congregation about caring for creation (St Paul's Institute/ St Paul's Cathedral)

To tackle poverty, we need to tackle the climate crisis. But what is the church’s role in this? And why should churches get involved now?

A changing backdrop

When I first joined Tearfund in 2015, stories of hope flowed in abundance. The global poverty statistics were all going in the right direction and the end of extreme poverty was within sight, within our lifetimes. But then, slowly but surely, a different story emerged.

In 2016, world hunger started increasing again after years of decreasing – and it has risen every year since, with climate change and conflict being significant drivers. The United Nations has said that ‘climate change threatens to undo the last 50 years of progress in development, global health and poverty reduction’.

That’s when my journey into climate action started. I had been aware of fairtrade issues and the impact of unfair wages on those at the other end of our production lines. But it became increasingly apparent that this was just the tip of the iceberg. Our way of life has become unsustainable. The way our society uses the earth’s resources, the way things are made, the way we heat our homes, travel around, even what we eat have all been chipping away at this glorious planet our Creator has made. This is fuelling the climate crisis, with huge consequences for those living in the poorest countries.

The role of the church

As someone passionate about the impact of the local church, my next question was simple: What does it mean to be followers of Jesus in this context? What does it mean to love our neighbours – our global neighbours – right now? How can we be hope-bringers in the face of a climate crisis?

Romans 12 tells us that we should not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds. We can start by being honest about the areas where we have conformed, adopting patterns of over-consumption and damage to creation. How might God want to transform us?

The church’s role in climate action is multifaceted: it includes theology, discipleship and action. We need to give space to look at what the Bible says and to wrestle with what this means for our churches. It will take discipleship to move that into practical action in our communities and into advocacy with people in power.

Stories of change

In my role at Tearfund, I have the privilege of engaging with and supporting churches across the UK who are choosing to step further into climate action. Aneal Appadoo, Associate Minister of Christ Church Surbiton Hill, recently shared his experience:

‘As I listened to the stories, I realised that I have very rarely considered climate change, creation care and my response as a Christian. I recently read an excellent book by the late, great John Stott entitled The Radical Disciple. The chapter I struggled to engage with most was the one on creation care. Over the following months I felt God stirring this up within me, forcing me to engage with my presuppositions, biases and personal tendencies. I felt that lockdown, uncertainty and the upcoming UN climate talks (COP26) was providing an opportunity for our church to reflect and teach in a way that, by God’s grace, may have a significant impact in creating momentum amongst God’s people.’

Over the last few months, Christ Church Surbiton Hill have formed a Creation Care Team, run a sermon series on creation care, built a resource hub on their website and engaged in a community garden project. They have engaged the youngest to the oldest members of their church family.

This is just one example of a church choosing to play its part by taking the next step. Many others too are taking action on climate – from declaring a climate emergency with the Climate Emergency Toolkit to hosting the Youth Christian Climate Network on their relay to COP26. It is another area of church life, like so many areas of our discipleship, where God isn’t asking for perfection, but just for us to be open to his leading.

Perhaps you could take some time today and ask God what the next part of your church’s journey into climate action might look like?

A moment like no other

We have a unique opportunity now as the UK prepares to host the UN climate talks, COP26, in Glasgow. Governments of practically every country will come together to make plans for tackling the climate crisis – and decisions made there will affect us all, for generations to come. It’s a crucial time to speak up.

One easy way your church can get involved is by joining with churches throughout the UK in our COP26 Church Service on Sunday 7 November. Pete Greig, Carol Ng’ang’a and Celtic Worship will lead us in a powerful, climate-focused service during the middle weekend of COP26. The video content will be available in different segments, so your church can choose how to integrate it into your service. Find out more and register your interest here.

Written by

Written by  Hannah Bowring

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