My Ecological Conversion

Guest Column by the Rev. Dr. Rachel Mash

My ‘KAIROS’ moment came when I was working as the HIV coordinator for the Diocese of Cape Town, South Africa. We were in the midst of a pandemic, battling stigma, an AIDS denialist government, running support groups for positive people, caring for children orphaned by AIDS. Our lives were consumed with the HIV/AIDS challenge.

My husband, a doctor was attending the World AIDS conference in Toronto and while there had watched Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth.” He said, “there is something worse than HIV coming down the line for Africa.” I didn’t believe him but agreed to watch the movie. I remember feeling so dazed at the end of the movie; I had vaguely heard of Climate Change but only as a peripheral issue. Now I knew. I could never look my kids and grandkids in the eye and say, “I knew about Climate Change but I did nothing.” My life had changed.

I went to my bishop and asked if we could take the movie around parishes and have discussion afterwards; this was the beginning of the formation of the Diocesan Environmental Task Team–trying to make people know there is a disaster on the way. Those seeds fell on fertile soil as we had the strong presence of our Green Bishop Geoff Davies in South Africa, who was running an interfaith environmental programme (SAFCEI).

The Green Bishop – – Bishop Ellinah – – Fr. Sam

began to feel that God was calling me to move on from HIV work (with ARVS now freely available the scenario was much more stable). So I went to the archbishop and said God was calling me into this ministry, he said he would appoint me but there was no funding. I believe that resources follow vision, so now was the moment to take the plunge! God gave me the picture of the people of Israel wanting to cross the flooded Jordan river – it was only when the priests stepped out into the water that the water began to recede.

And so it was, for the last ten years (and there have been a few scary moments when we wondered where money for salaries would come from) God has been faithful in providing the needed funds for the programme.

When the Archbishop, appointed me as Provincial Environmental Coordinator, I knew that this ministry had to have a strong presence of young people, and so the first person that I employed was Ncumisa Magadla.

We were a team with a call on our lives, no funding from the Church and no environmental training! But we had vision and in Ncumi we had an expert on communicating with young people. At that stage we were called the Anglican Church of Southern African Environmental Network and she came up with the term “Green Anglicans” – and we got our social media campaigns going (@greenanglicans on Twitter) – which has been incredibly helpful in sharing messages and growing the movement.

One of the first actions we took was to help organize the first EcoBishops conference with the Anglican Communion Environmental Network (ACEN) which significantly took place on South African soil, with Archbishop Thabo Makgoba as chair.

South Africa is unique in that we are both extremely vulnerable to climate change (Cape Town was almost the first major city in the world to have all the taps turned off during drought ) , as well as having a very high carbon footprint – we are very coal dependent with some of the dirtiest electricity in the world. The Church is blessed with the legacy of Archbishop Tutu, activism is in our blood, so it has been very rare to find active opposition to the work. The challenge is more in terms of how far down the list of priorities climate change lies on the Diocesan agenda.

Another key moment was when the Anglican Consultative Council was to be held in Lusaka and we decided to organize a youth conference for our two provinces (Central Africa and ACSA). Young people travelled up to 35 hours by bus to attend and a strong, bonded movement of young Green Anglicans was formed.

We have become part of an amazing, wonderful community along the way, and also suffered great losses, Bishop Ellinah of Swaziland (Eswatini) was my mentor, spiritual guide and friend, who we lost to COVID. Fr Sam Sifelani, Environmental Coordinator for Central Africa was our (very tall!) companion, friend and we partnered with him from the very beginning. We lost him to a car accident. Two great trees that have fallen.

They say that if you do anything for 10,000 hours you become an expert! Ten years into the ministry I find myself with a combination of acquired theology of Creation Care and experience that has enabled me to share with other provinces and other Denominations. I am constantly learning more!!

My parish is in Crossroads a very poor township , which is littered with plastic waste, poor municipal services, rivers polluted by sewage, very poor soil for growing anything – which helps keep me grounded in the reality of what is realistic!.

Green Anglicans has spread to 14 countries across Africa, and last week I attended the United Nations Environmental Assembly and was invited to give a talk on behalf of the Faith Communities.

So if you feel like God is calling you to take action on Care for Creation, then here are a few messages for you:

  • Yes, God is calling you
  • Learn from young people
  • Resources follow vision
  • Individual actions don’t lead to transformation change, but networked actions do!

Finally, in the words of Archbishop Tutu – do your little bit of good where you are, its those little bits of good put together that overcome the world

Canon Rachel Mash
Environmental Coordinator, Anglican Church of Southern Africa
Secretary, ACEN

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