By Rev. Heather J. Blais, Rector
Today is our final Sunday in the Season of Creation. This season is relatively new, originating in 2017. Yet the seeds for it were planted in 1989, when the head of the Orthodox Church proclaimed September 1 as a day of prayer for creation.* The World Council of Churches was instrumental in helping this day of prayer shift into an entire season, which now runs from September 1 to October 4.*
The Season of Creation was embraced by Pope Francis and other church leaders, and is now celebrated across the many branches of the Jesus Movement.*
Throughout this season, we renew our relationship with our Creator, and recommit to prayer and action, as we care for, “this fragile earth, our island home.” **
It is incredibly comforting and empowering to know that we are not doing this work in isolation. Far from it. We are laboring alongside 2.2 billion Christians and even more of our Interfaith siblings; and we will bear far more fruit working together.* Which is a way of saying, change is possible. Addressing the climate emergency is something that we can actually do, together.
During my sabbatical, you gave me the gift of time to pray, go on retreat, walk, read, listen, tend to my relationships with my loved ones, to be quiet with our Creator God and simply listen. What I gathered in the quiet, and in the witnessing of the world around me, was that the climate crisis is the moral issue of our time. Our Creator is yearning for us to see and understand that climate justice is social justice, as climate change perpetuates and magnifies structural inequalities and injustices. The climate crisis exacerbates and intensifies every issue we pray and care about, every concern which our outreach ministries seek to address. Climate chaos and climate denial are significantly impeding our work as the Church to bring about God’s dream for this world. As the Church labors for God’s dream, we find roadblock after roadblock, due to flooded out roads, with no place to redirect the floodwaters.
This summer I joined Julie Carew and two of our parish youth, Hendrick Carew and Logan Blais, at the Episcopal Church’s It's All About Love Festival in Baltimore. We gathered for daily worship, featuring incredible speakers that addressed the festival themes of evangelism, racial reconciliation, and creation care. Each day we choose from dozens of workshops geared around these themes. At some point, I hope Julie, Hendrick, and Logan will share their experiences. For now, I want to share two things I learned about the climate crisis from our time in Baltimore.
First, I gained a new appreciation and perspective on what the climate crisis actually looks like on the ground in other parts of our world. I joined our parish youth at an Episcopal Public Policy Network workshop. We were asked to share our name, where we were from, and an issue our community was facing as a result of climate change. Logan, Hendrick, and I reflected on the ways the climate crisis is harming our local farms and disrupting the local food economy; the consequences of this summer's intense flooding; and the challenges of caring for the Connecticut River watershed.
We heard from Episcopalians living in Honolulu, who were still dealing with the aftermath of an event in May 2021, when the Navy spilt 19,000 gallons of jet fuel into Pearl Harbor. The fuel was not cleaned up properly, which resulted in contaminated water ending up in the naval base’s drinking water, impacting 93,000 military families and civilians. This was on top of a simmering frustration that the state of Hawaii gave up recycling in 2019, due to a changing global market around recycling and waste output. The most eye opening reflection came from an El Salvadorian elder out of the Diocese of Central America. She said,
“I hate to say this, but the biggest climate crisis we are facing [in El
Salvador] is the people of the North. I’m sorry to say it, but they say
advocating for environmental change is urgent, but they are not acting
like it is urgent.”
The room fell quiet for a moment, as we let this uncomfortable truth sink in. It was a humbling reminder that however challenged we may feel by the climate crisis here in the Global North, we reside in the part of the world where the vast majority of the world’s wealth is found.*** Even when things are bad, we have access to more resources. Whereas, the largest populations of the world’s poor reside in the Global South.*** As difficult as it may be for us to accept, the reality is, the world’s poor did not cause climate change, but they face its worst consequences and have the least to say about it, making it more challenging to escape poverty and increasing the scarcity of resources.****
At another workshop, the Bishop of Central America spoke with great joy about the wonderful work happening in the Anglican Communion Environmental Network. He playfully acknowledged that the Anglican Communion has spent the better part of the last few decades disagreeing about human sexuality; and that of late, leaders are realizing we are far more effective when we remember all we have in common. Every Anglican and Episocopalian shares in God’s call to care for creation. If you are interested in gaining a different perspective on the climate crisis, I would encourage you to follow the Anglican Communion Environmental Network on social media or subscribe to their newsletter.
I also left Baltimore with a new appreciation for the incredible toll the climate crisis is taking on our young people, as well as, the incredible wisdom they have to offer us. At one workshop on creation care liturgy, teenagers from Episcopal dioceses in Latin America and the Caribbean, spoke of the climate related worries that plague them. In other workshops, young adults routinely acknowledged the ecological anxiety, grief, and despair that at times overwhelms them. It quickly became clear that young people across the globe are facing the stress and burden of the climate crisis like no other generation before them. There are times when this stress can be compounded by well intentioned adults, who often, without meaning to, place unfair pressure on young people to resolve the climate emergency, as previous generations were unable or unwilling to.
While there are many ways we can respond productively, there are two particular ways that I would like for us to consider.
First, let’s do what our Creator God has equipped us to do best: pray. Pray as individuals and as a community. Let us pray for every form of life within God’s beloved creation. Let us pray for the wellbeing of our young people. Let us pray for the wellbeing of the world’s poor as they face the worst consequences of the climate crisis. Let us pray that those in a position to act and advocate will do so.
The second thing we can do is listen to the wisdom of our young people. In one workshop, a young adult encouraged creation care advocates to lean on spiritual practices that help us connect with nature, recognizing that we cannot afford to get burned out. God’s creation needs us. So we need to take care of ourselves, because this is a long haul endeavor.
At a panel workshop on Renewable Energy, Hendrick and Logan went primed with questions about our church’s campus, including how might we shift away from natural gas and our eight boilers? And, how might we go about putting solar panels on our slate or metal roofs? The panelists, based in California, were unsure how to advise them, as they were less familiar with the challenges of old New England churches which spend a good portion of the year in cold temperatures. However, if the adults on that panel listened to them, just maybe, their questions will inspire the renewable energy panelists to do some more learning and digging about how other corners of the Episcopal Church might approach renewable energy.
Lastly, one young adult shared an incredible tool for discerning what we can each specifically do to help with climate solutions. She introduced Climate Action Venn Diagrams, created by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson. Each of the three circles invites you to reflect.
First, what are you good at? What skills, resources, and networks do you have to share? Who and what do you have access to? What can you bring to the table?
Second, what is the work that needs doing? Are there particular climate and justice solutions that interest you?
Third, what brings you joy and satisfaction? What gets you out of bed in the morning? What enlivens and energizes you?
Then in the center, where the three circles overlap, is a climate action that you may be particularly prepared to take on. While this tool is geared at individuals, I imagine it could be used by families, ministry teams, or even an entire faith community.
While the Season of Creation may conclude today, our work for another year has just begun. This is why today’s liturgy ends with a special dismissal, where we are all invited to dedicate ourselves to care for the Earth as we head back out into the world. In this coming year, I hope you will join me in…
…observing how the climate crisis is unfolding in other corners of creation far beyond us.
…praying for God’s creation every day, and all those impacted by the climate crisis, particularly our young people and the world’s poor.
…listen to the wisdom of our young people, and join them in taking action.
** Book of Common Prayer, Eucharistic Prayer D
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