It will be necessary to celebrate the Season of Creation this year through the lens of catastrophe. Of course many in poorer areas of the world have done this for decades. Some of us permitted the privilege of travel have observed what is really happening globally. We have heard the pleas and frustrations of our colleagues as we have witnessed the dangers experienced in the global south and elsewhere. That said, despite overwhelming evidence, some still deny that the atmosphere and physical environment is changing so rapidly due to human action, that is until now. For us in North America, the circle is now complete; bad stewardship of Creation produces bad environmental results, especially for the poor and for women, right here and right now.
It is now the turn of North American and Western European people of faith including Christians, especially Anglicans throughout Canada, to celebrate the gift of the earth given to us while acknowledging that the earth is complaining, loudly and bitterly through amongst other means extreme weather events occurring not just locally, but globally.
Take a moment and create your own list, of media headlines, of conversations with friends and strangers, relatives and co-workers. Put the same research energy into environmental change, into what is increasingly called the “climate emergency” that you put into COVID-19 analysis. Here are some things I have recently noticed:
Firestorms of unbelievable strength, size and tenacity engulf most of the western states and provinces of the continent. Here in the BC Interior, following days of historic national high temperatures, the village of Lytton was levelled to the ground in a twenty-two minute apocalypse. Residents of the US Pacific Northwest now acknowledge that technology and a luscious rainforest environment will no longer protect them from the ravages of fire, smoke and social disruption.
In Ontario’s Tornado Alley the devastation wrought on the town of Barrie was just one of five to hit Southern Ontario as an EF-2 tornado classification. On the breadbasket Canadian Prairie this year, Manitoba farmers cope as best they can with severe drought conditions, where one farmer waters his cattle using makeshift troughs made out of old tractor tires.
In Western Europe beginning in early July intense storms dropped as much as fifteen centimetres of rain in 24 hours, swelling streams that then washed away houses and cars and triggered massive landslides. In Central China terrified subway passengers were left clinging to ceiling handles inside flooded cars, trapped up to their necks in rising water, as record-breaking rains devastated parts of Henan province.
You will have your own incidents to add to a growing list of disastrous events. We have been warned of such possibilities, now realities for decades. It seems however that warning has not led to substantial change in behaviour, social, personal, industrial, political behaviour to allow the planet, a living organism, Gaia, to recover, and to use the digital term, to reboot.
In the scriptural dialogue between Dives and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) a rich man dies and finds himself in Hades. From there he views Lazarus with Abraham. He seeks relief, which cannot occur. Realizing his predicament he asks that Lazarus be sent to his family to warn them to mend their ways and act justly. “If someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ (Abraham) said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
It’s a great question. Who will listen, and act in these tempestuous times? As I have engaged with environmental matters since a seminal General Synod in Kitchener in 2001, I have asked myself who will go and tell people what is really going on and what must change in our stewardship of Creation. I must say that over many years I have sent requests for conversations or support for creation-based initiatives to Church officials at many levels which have fallen on disinterested ears. There were always “more important matters” to attend to. While I fully support areas of ministry concerning the dignity of every human being, how many times have I seen environmental ministry initiatives and support fall to the bottom of priority lists. As Coventry Cathedral’s Dean John Whitcomb once said to me “you just have to keep pushing and pushing to keep environment and creation on the table.”
Yet here we are, with no place to run. A colleague recently left BC by car for a trip to Ontario. Apart from some areas of Southern Saskatchewan and Southwestern Manitoba, they will be breathing smoke every inch of the way. There is no hiding now. The climate emergency (don’t use that word I hear – it upsets people and damages the hearts and spirits of children) is all around us. So bring on the Season of Creation. But this year, how? Here are some ideas to get you started.
- Make sure that this year you do something! Start preparing now – it takes time and innovative energy. The cathedral parish from which I recently retired had no tradition of the SOC when I first arrived. Over a period of five years we built up a fine annual programme, starting with a single Sunday observance but ending up with numerous Sunday liturgies, weekly programmes, field trips, guest speakers and presentations, fibre art creations, a special “Francis Award” now in its third year. Start small as as you are able, and grow over time.
- Pay attention to forthcoming Food and Justice-based liturgy and other programmatic ideas from the PWRDF which I have helped to create. Goto https://pwrdf.org/ and watch this space for details. Instead of simply publishing a liturgy, we have assembled multiple resources which we will roll out through a webinar in early September. Our intention is to help worship planners use the materials to best advantage in their contexts, whether through in-person or virtual worship, in larger or smaller congregations, in those places with many resources and those with fewer.
- Ask your friends, parishioners and colleagues about the “Climate Emergency.” There are certainly many reactions to the term: some motivating, some fearful. A youth motion from the 2019 General Synod named it as a priority and accepted it as a given. Younger voices see great value in the church declaring a climate emergency. It is one way that Christian faith calls us into action. If we have learned one thing through the discovery of burial sites at former Residential Schools, it is that truth telling is essential for reconciliation. In a different way, truth telling about the way we steward creation, the way we work and play on planet earth is important, necessary, and timely.
- There are specific challenges around environmental liturgy creation for sure. In order for such rites to be relevant and effective they must to a greater or lesser degree connect with local flora, fauna and other local issues. Concerning templates and resources some good places to start include:
- The Church in Southern Africa which has produced no less than five collections of resources. These require some adaptation to North American Contexts. I have used this material liberally over the years. They were the first to provide ecological rites. https://anglicanchurchsa.org/?s=season+of+creation
- Ecumenical rites including Anglican/Episcopal resources can be downloaded from https://seasonofcreation.org/ Again, adaptation is required though permissible.
- Closer to home visit the Season of Creation page for the Anglican Church of Canada https://www.anglican.ca/publicwitness/season-of-creation/ for resources including an exhaustive list of music selections.
- The Anglican Diocese of Toronto is posting prayers and rites at https://www.toronto.anglican.ca/diocesan-life/social-justice-advocacy/creation-care/?lang=en
- Beyond worship don’t forget the amazing set of Faithful Climate Conversations found at For the Love of Creation.org https://fortheloveofcreation.ca/engagement/ To express interest or comment please send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org
In sum, this will certainly be a Season of Creation like no other. In this time of crisis we can embrace both catastrophe and special opportunity. As my spouse Kathie just advised as she left the house this morning, it is once again raining ash outside. Clearly lament and hope join hands well and truly today in Kamloops in the BC interior.
Those of us on the Social and Environmental Justice Working Group of the Ecclesiastical Province of British Columbia (SEJWG) are doing what we can to encourage thoughtful and relevant reflection on the beauty and gift of Creation, on our abuse of what we have been given, on the affects of our action on all creatures in all environments. For two years now we have encouraged bishops, diocesan representatives, parish clergy and lay leaders, friends, colleagues and each other to speak up and cry out, with people and prophets everywhere. Our Chair, the Rev. Alecia Greenfield loves to say, “I believe we have the resilience to name an emergency because we know how to hope in the face of human sin.” I give the last work to the amazing Bishop Steven Charleston:”
I am praying for a great renewal, a cosmic shift of the human heart, a revolution of concern for this planet. I am praying that the day of our awakening to Mother Earth will not only happen, but that it will happen now, all across the globe. I know our environmental crisis is a complex issue with a million moving parts, so to make any real impact would require a massive shift in priorities across many fronts. I know you are already doing every practical thing you can to do your part, but now is also time for the impractical. Prayer is hope against all the odds. I would be honored if you joined me in my prayer.”