On April 15, Christians from across Eastern Canada gathered at the Green Churches Conference/Colloque Églises Vertes in Quebec City to learn about how churches can practise better environmental stewardship and to sign an ecumenical declaration committing their churches to creating a “climate of hope” in the face of an “ecological crisis.”
Rooting itself in ancient biblical teachings and modern climate science, the declaration committed churches to enact “an ecological shift” by “bringing improvements to our places of worship.” It also pledged churches to “act as good citizens in order to build a society which is greener and more concerned about the future of the next generations.”
The principal signatories of the declaration were Cardinal Gérald Lacroix, primate of the Roman Catholic Church in Canada; Archpriest P. Nectaire Féménias of the Orthodox Church of America; Rev. David Fines, former president of the Montreal/Ottawa conference of the United Church of Canada; Bishop Dennis Drainville of the Anglican diocese of Quebec; Diane Andicha Picard, Guardian of the Sacred Drum Head for Andicah n’de Wendat; Rev. Katherine Burgess, incumbent at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Quebec City; and Norman Lévesque, director of the Green Church Program.
However, to emphasize the collective responsibility of churches in fighting climate change, the declaration was read by all present, and everyone was given the opportunity to sign it.
The reading of the declaration followed a presentation by Dr. Alan K. Betts, an atmospheric scientist based in Vermont who has been studying the effects of climate change for more than 35 years. Betts explained how the unusual weather patterns of last winter-in which parts of western North America experienced record highs while Easterners experienced an especially cold winter-were in keeping with larger changes to weather patterns consistent with the rise of C02 in the earth’s atmosphere.
But Betts also spoke about questions that touched much more closely on faith, arguing that denial of climate change was a “spiritual denial” of the facts. “Climate deniers do not want to see truth,” he said. “We are in a society where the rich are very dependent on propaganda to defend fossil fuel exploitation.”
While Betts was very clear about the enormity of the threat that climate change poses, he did not suggest that there was no hope, but argued that people “united with the spirit and the science” can cause change, “because when we stand for truth, creation responds.”
The conference was organized by Green Churches, an ecumenical network that began in 2006 as a project of Saint Columba House, a United Church mission in Montreal. In the nine years since it began, the network has grown to include 50 churches across Canada from Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican, United, Presbyterian, Mennonite, Evangelical and Quaker traditions.
Following Betts’s presentation and the reading of the declaration, participants spent the late morning and afternoon of the one-day conference in a series of workshops, held in both English and French, focusing on practical ways in which churches could reduce their carbon footprint and energy use. One workshop, led by the Rev. Cynthia Patterson and Sarah Blair of the diocese of Quebec, looked at the work that the Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Trinity is doing to return its grounds to their original function as gardens.
Lévesque, director of the Green Church Program, said that while there were slightly fewer people in attendance than he had expected, he was impressed with the number of prominent church leaders in attendance, such as Cardinal Lacroix and Bishop Drainville.
He was also struck by the participants’ passion. “The people here, the interest-it was more than interest-it was conviction,” he said, adding that it was important that participants included people with the power to change church structure.
Elana Wright, who works for the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace and led a workshop on the relationship between food justice and climate justice, was likewise impressed with the level of participation.
“It showed that there is a critical mass of people that want to take action and do something,” she said, “and they are following the Christian principles of respect for creation and really putting it into action and bringing it to their church leaders.”
Drainville also viewed the conference as being highly important-so much so, in fact, that he delayed his flight to the House of Bishops meeting by a day in order to participate.
“It is always a great opportunity to spend time with people who see the same kind of priorities,” he said, “and obviously as an Anglican, believing strongly in the Marks of Mission and particularly the fifth mark of mission [To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth], coming here and showing our solidarity as we respond to the needs of creation is very important.”
The next Green Churches Conference is scheduled to take place in Ottawa in autumn 2016.