A former ecologist, who is now the Bishop of Norwich, in England, is passionate about caring for creation. The Rt Revd Graham Usher, who also leads the Church of England’s environmental programme, has a special interest in forestry and has written a book about the spirituality of landscapes.
He explained why he believes caring for God’s creation is a fundamental part of Christian discipleship.
“I believe that creation care is an integral part of being a Christian, because we are called by God to tread gently on this earth to steward and care for creation,” Bishop Graham said. “In our Christian lives, we need to mirror something of that, taking time to pause, to have Sabbath rest, to see all around us these amazing resources, to care for them, to attend to them, to protect them; not just for ourselves, not just for future generations, but for the integrity of the whole of God’s creation.”
What impact are environmental changes having on churches and communities around the world?
“I’m hugely privileged to be part of the Anglican Communion’s environmental network, which has involved travelling to different parts of the Communion.
“I have kept meeting bishops, clergy and lay people talking to me about the impact of climate change. So, whether that has been in the Amazon, where I was fortunate to canoe along part of the river Amazon, with the Bishop of the Amazon, at that time, seeing the effects of climate change on indigenous communities, or in Tanzania, in the Diocese of Morogoro, seeing the failure of a crop harvest and the impact on people’s lives, on the prices in the markets.”
Bishop Graham said the people of the planet who are in the most economically precarious situations due to climate change, have not caused the problem. “It’s caused by the wealthy, more oil consuming parts of the world. So, climate change, and our response to it as Christians is a key part of our sense of justice. We’re called by God, to live lives that speak into places of injustice, places of economic poverty, places where people are being affected.”
“When you look at some of the major conflicts around the world, the environmental factors are somewhere in the roots of most of them. When you look at migration around the world, and refugees, environmental factors are often at the heart of them.”
He said bishops around the Anglican Communion needed to come together to support and pray for each other. “We need to find ways in which we can respond in really positive ways to halt this climate emergency, the huge devastation of biodiversity that we’re seeing around us. In my own life, in just 50 years, in the United Kingdom, half of the biomass of our biodiversity has been lost. That’s got to stop. And we’ve got to find ways in which natural capital can enhance all our lives again.”
Why are indigenous people and young people impacted by climate change in such a negative way?
“I was very fortunate to join in a Zoom call with young people from across the African continent recently and I was able to listen to their stories, the impact of environmental factors on their lives, not least the impact on their mental health that so many carry with them each and every day.”
He said indigenous communities are hugely affected by extraction industries such as logging in their ancestral homelands which are being exploited.
“We need to be listening to indigenous communities and hearing from their deep wells of wisdom, whilst also doing all we can, by taking action, voicing our concerns to governments and to industry about the livelihoods of people who are so connected in with their landscape and the biodiversity around them.”
How can the Anglican Communion respond to climate change?
Bishop Graham said 2021 is year with huge opportunities for change and although the G7 summit in Cornwall had not delivered on the promises many had hoped for, the next opportunity will be COP 26 in Glasgow. The bishop believes faith communities have
an incredible opportunity to speak into the whole agenda, drawing on their extensive tradition and experience to influence their communities and the governments of their nations.
“One of the most powerful things that I’ve found has been to tell stories about how climate change is already impacting on people’s lives across the Anglican Communion. It’s often in the telling of those stories that our policymakers and politicians are really attuned to what is being said.”
“I would encourage church communities to be praying, first of all, for a very positive result at COP 26. But above all, please pray for the urgent changes that we need to see to protect habitats, to protect the world, as we move forward to keep the temperature of the globe below the 1.5 degree sea level.”
What can bishops be doing to act on what is discussed at COP 26 and to have a lasting impact on climate change?
Bishop Graham said it is important for bishops to ask themselves how they can bring healing into these different situations. He explained, “First of all we need to tend creation, wherever you are, whether that’s a window box, or a plant, or a garden, or an area around the church. How can your little acre, your little bit of creation truly flourish for an abundance of flora and fauna?”
Along with praying for change, he said inspiring people through teaching about engaging with God’s creation is also vital.
“It’s casting a vision of something glorious, so that people then change how they’re living and the amount of carbon footprint that we’re leaving behind, because we want to tend this glorious creation that we share… that’s been entrusted to us by God.”
Bishop Graham encouraged his fellow bishops to take action as part of their participation in the Lambeth Conference and find practical ways to take a lead on climate action.
With a message for his fellow bishops, he said, “I’d encourage you to look at the environment network website of the Anglican Communion, Green Anglicans, that has so much information to learn from and to share. Whatever you do, please find ways to tread more gently on this single Island planet home of ours and be inspired by the joy of creation. Discover that childlike wonder again of holding something in the palm of your hand and seeing the wonder of God in it all.”
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The environment will be the focus of the Bishops’ Conversations in November 2021. Read other articles and watch our environment film here.