General Convention asked to strengthen further its commitment to creation care

June 28, 2018

[Episcopal News Service] Supporting local food growers, carbon taxes and offsets, opposition to environmental racism and Episcopalians’ continued participation in the Paris Climate Agreement are some of the stewardship of creation and creation care resolutions set for discussion at the 79th General Convention.

“There will be a bumper crop of environment-related resolutions coming before the General Convention in Austin in July. Such abundance reflects the coming together at the level of the whole church of the work of many individuals and organizations who have been faithfully working away, in many cases for decades,” said California Bishop Marc Andrus, co-chair of the Advisory Council on the Stewardship of Creation, in an email to Episcopal News Service. “Now these environmental efforts by Episcopalians are connecting up and gaining currency as a focus area in the Jesus Movement, along with racial reconciliation and evangelism. It is a signal moment for ministry in the Episcopal Church, and this is certainly true with respect to environmental activism.”

Most of the environmental stewardship and care of creation resolutions are listed here. In September 2016, Presiding Bishop Michael Bruce Curry identified care for creation as one of the three pillars, along with reconciliation and evangelism, of the Episcopal branch of The Jesus Movement.

The 79th General Convention officially gets underway July 5 at the Austin Convention Center and runs through July 13. The 78th General Convention created the Advisory Council on the Stewardship of Creation during its meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 2015.

That year the Science, Technology and Faith Committee put forth a resolution to consider the impact of climate change and practical ways for parishes to mitigate and respond to environmental issues, out of that resolution, it created the advisory council, said the Rev. Stephanie Johnson, co-chair of the advisory council and rector of St. Paul’s in Riverside, Connecticut, in a telephone interview with ENS.

The advisory council is composed of one person from each province, organized regionally as “consultative groups,” tasked with implementing a program to develop parish and diocesan resources for teaching the theology of stewardship of creation and for supporting practical applications of local ecologically responsible stewardship of church-related properties and buildings.

The council also oversees a small grants program to support innovative environmental projects and oversees three environmental justice sites in Alaska, Los Angeles, California and the Dominican Republic.

In 18 months, the advisory council received 100 grant applications and funded 40 projects. “It shows a real hunger to engage,” said Johnson.

The advisory council prioritizes innovative projects that can serve as a model and be replicated elsewhere. For example, it awarded a grant to the organizers of last year’s 40-day River of Live Pilgrimage, an intentional community near Charlottesville, Virginia, that’s experimenting with permaculture and Honoré Farm and Mill, which bakes communion bread from ancient strains of wheat. Honoré will provide the communion bread for the General Convention Eucharists.

Resolution A008 calls for the continuation of the advisory council, but reconsiders the consultative groups. It may make sense, said Johnson, that people organize by watershed or area of interest rather than provinces.

Over the years, General Convention has passed more than 50 resolutions addressing environmental stewardship and creation care. This years, the Advisory Council on the Stewardship of Creation submitted 14 resolutions (read its Blue Book report here), many strengthening previous resolutions, some addressing more contemporary concerns.

Resolution A011 opposes environmental racism, or the environmental injustices low-income and marginalized communities face, including greater risks from the effects of climate change and health risks associated with proximity to extractive, manufacturing and waste disposal sites.

Resolution A014, recognizing the amount of travel done on behalf of the Jesus Movement, asks General Convention to direct the presiding bishop’s office to draft a policy requiring the use of carbon offsets by the Episcopal Church Center and that such a program be tested and piloted during the triennium for the work of the Episcopal Church, including the travel of its staff, standing commissions and interim bodies. Resolution C020, calls on the church to support a national tax on carbon-based fossil fuels.

“Carbon offsets for travel is part of the realization that we have to pay the cost of what we do, the travel that we do,” said Johnson, adding the church needs an analysis of the real cost of meetings and needs to pay for it.

Resolution C049 encourages churches to serve and promote locally grown food.

Resolution A018 calls for a further advancement of the House of Bishop’s 2011 Pastoral Teaching on the Environment commitment to “advocate for a fair, ambitious, and binding climate treaty,” make every effort to fully and completely participate in future meetings of the United Nations Conference of Parties on Climate Change as an active, faithful and engaged voice for all of God’s good Earth. It also calls on dioceses, parishes and individuals to commit to the Paris agreement.

An Episcopal delegation led Andrus has represented the presiding bishop at the annual United Nations climate talks since 2015, when nations, including the United States, negotiated and reached the Paris agreement.

“I and the other Episcopalians who were in Paris heard first-person witness to the seriousness of climate change for everyday people’s lives from Anglicans living in Pacific Island nations. Already, in 2015, these Anglicans were experiencing the destruction of villages where they and their ancestors have lived for millennia,” said Andrus. “And again, when the House of Bishops met in Alaska in September of 2017, we heard Episcopalians who rely for their lives on the salmon runs tell what wildlife biologist affirm – the salmon runs have decreased by more than fifty-percent in a generation. While this decrease is due to a complex of factors, climate change and warming oceans is a major reason for the decline.”

The Paris agreement calls on the countries of the world to limit carbon emissions voluntarily, which will require a decrease in dependence on fossil fuels in favor of renewable energy sources; and for developed countries, those responsible for the majority of emissions both historically and at present, to commit to $100 billion in development aid annually by 2020 to developing countries.

In June 2017, as part of his “American First” strategy, President Donald J. Trump announced the United States’ withdrawal from the international agreement saying it undermines the economy and places the United States at a disadvantage.

“President Trump made a campaign promise to take the United States out of the Paris Agreement. For me, though there is added difficulty and no smooth path ahead, I can see that the president’s actions have energized United States citizens to act. As perhaps the major grassroots movement to keep the U.S. commitment to Paris even without federal participation puts it, ‘We Are Still In,’” said Andrus.

“We will stay in the Paris agreement by a robust coalition of businesses, cities, states, regions, faith bodies and tribes working together. As environmental ethicist Larry Rasmussen said recently, ‘There is no greater transformation ever undertaken in history than that of the move from an industrial, extractive-industry-based life to a sustainable life.’ The role of faith bodies in this is crucial and indispensable.”

-Lynette Wilson is a reporter and managing editor for Episcopal News Service. She can be reached at [email protected].

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