At a day-long “creation care fair” held March 25 at St. Cuthbert’s Anglican Church in Toronto’s Leaside neighbourhood, Anglicans and community members had a chance to ask church and secular leaders about how they were responding to the challenge of climate change.
Front and centre were questions about whether or not the Anglican Church of Canada will divest from fossil fuel companies.
Ryan Weston, lead animator of public witness for social and ecological justice for the national church, said General Synod would be making a decision about this issue at its 2019 meeting. He noted that a responsible investment working group had been established to weigh the question and provide different options.
“Because we are a national church, there is a pastoral issue around people whose livelihoods and whose community’s livelihoods depend on those resources,” he said.
“Trying to balance some of those concerns with the very legitimate concerns about the environment…has been challenging.”
Weston’s comments came during a panel discussion with Arthur Potts, MPP for Beaches-East York and parliamentary assistant to the minister of the environment and climate change, and Toronto District School Board trustee Gerri Gershon.
Weston was at the event representing Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, who was unable to attend because he was at the funeral for Archbishop Terence Finlay, former bishop of the diocese of Toronto and metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province of Ontario.
The panel, moderated by fair organizer and St. Cuthbert’s parishioner Lorna Krawchuk, followed a day that had already provided opportunities for audience members to learn about how their church and government are addressing environmental challenges.
The fair began with a morning worship service, at which Weston spoke about the Anglican Church of Canada’s response to environmental issues, from its involvement in green church initiatives, to its support for climate refugees.
Later in the morning, Josh Matlow, Toronto councillor for Ward 22, St. Paul’s, talked about the city’s responsibility to provide more practical public transportation options in the borough of Scarborough and update storm drain infrastructure in preparation for a less predictable climate.
In an early afternoon session, Potts outlined why he believes Ontario’s controversial cap and trade policy, which charges heavy carbon emitters, will incentivize more environmentally sustainable business practices.
Gershon used her time to talk about the EcoSchools program, which encourages students to take an active role in making their schools reduce their energy consumption and food waste.
The event also included a fair in the parish hall, with exhibitors representing faith-based environmental groups, solar panel installation companies, ecological funeral providers and electric cars.
According to Krawchuk and St. Cuthbert’s rector, the Rev. Ian LaFleur, the idea for the fair began with a vestry motion proposed by the diocese of Toronto’s social justice and advocacy committee in 2015.
The motion, which St. Cuthbert’s passed at its own vestry meeting, encouraged churches to create environmental study groups to explore ways of reducing their environmental impact and advocating for more environmentally sustainable practices in their communities.
“The idea was really quite simple: how do we, in response to our commitment to care for and renew creation as part of our baptismal covenant, how do we do something about [the environmental crisis]?” said LaFleur.
The first action the church took was organizing an environmental film series, which, LaFleur said, inspired the creation care committee to move beyond awareness-raising to concrete action.
LaFleur said he hopes the fair will give people practical ways to embrace a more environmentally-friendly lifestyle as individuals and as a community.
“I am hoping that we are doing a bit of seed-sowing…that people would make decisions to do what they can in personal lives, but then increasingly, as community,” he said.
The event ended with a ceremony designating the prominent white oak overlooking the walkway to the entrance of the church as a “heritage tree.”
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne presented Weston and St. Cuthbert’s with a plaque to commemorate the tree-which is between 150-200 years old-on behalf of Forests Ontario.
The heritage trees initiative is one of the ways Ontario is marking the 150th anniversary of Confederation.