Faith groups join the 100% Possible March for Climate Solutions and Justice in Ottawa on November 29, 2015. Photo Credit: Jim McIntyre, Citizens for Public Justice.

Faithful action on climate change

3 next steps for the Canadian Church

2015 saw climate change become a mainstream issue as international leaders gathered to negotiate the Paris Agreement. With the Pope’s encyclical, Laudito Si’ -- On Care for Our Common Home and the Canadian Council of Churches’ statement On Promoting Climate Justice and Ending Poverty in Canada, faith leaders have clearly declared that climate change is a moral issue requiring concrete action by individuals, communities, and nations.

However, climate justice won’t be achieved by brave words in a legal document or religious declarations. It requires countries, communities, and individuals to courageously embody, expand, and act on these intentions.

As our world continues to heat up, what are the best ways for Canadian Christians to turn bold words into meaningful action on climate change?

Incorporate climate justice themes into worship and prayer

Climate themes can be incorporated into worship in many different ways—big and small. In the lead up to the Paris climate negotiations, for example, Crossroads United Church in Carman, MB hosted a “Day of Prayers for COP21 in Paris,” where community members skated, walked a snow labyrinth, spent time in silent reflection, and offered prayers for creation together.

St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Toronto, ON included prayers for the Paris negotiations in their weekly prayers of the people. And an interfaith group in Nelson, B.C. held a rolling vigil, sharing their places of worship as well as common expressions of hope and concern, throughout the climate negotiations.

Through sermons and small group study, Christians can learn about the causes and consequences of climate change. 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.

Encourage church and congregational “greening”

“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.” Beatrice Ekwa Ekoko animates the Hamilton, ON, chapter of Greening Sacred Spaces, a program of Faith and the Common Good (FCG) that helps churches with the practical and spiritual dimensions of making their community operations more eco-friendly.

Churches can be local centres for climate action.

But where to start?

First, evaluate your current impact. Beatrice 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! Beatrice highlights that often only one or two members of a congregation will take on ecological justice work, so 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, Beatrice recommends starting small and simple, based on the interests and excitement of those involved.

Engage in advocacy

As seekers of justice, churches have the opportunity and responsibility to hear and amplify the call for action coming from those most impacted 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, Executive Director of Citizens for Public Justice, 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.

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About the author

Miriam Mahaffy is the climate policy intern at Citizens for Public Justice , a faith-based, member-driven public policy organization in Ottawa, ON.