“Follow your heartbreak in the climate crisis: that is where you are being anointed, that is where the Holy Spirit is touching you.” So advised the Rev. Canon Rachel Mash of Green Anglicans, the Creation Care initiative in the Anglican Church of Southern Africa. She was speaking at the 2021 Global Mission Conference held online April 22-24 on the theme, “Earthkeeping: Creation Care in Global Mission.”
After detailing destructive effects of the planetary crisis of climate change, Mash declared that an authentic theology of mission insists that God seeks to restore and heal creation. She pointed out that in the Greek of the New Testament “the world” that John 3:16 says God loved is the “cosmos,” which means the entire created order. Genesis depicts a breakdown between humanity and God, between humans, and between humans and the land, but “Jesus restores all three relationships,” she said.
The annual conference sponsored by the Global Episcopal Mission Network (GEMN) drew over 150 registrants from the United States, Brazil, Britain, Dominican Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Kenya, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa and Tanzania. Held on Zoom, the conference was free, with donations encouraged, and English-Spanish translation was provided.
Mash showed a placard carried by a young person at a climate change protest: “You’ll die of old age. Your children will die of climate change.”
Mash suggested three types of response to the climate crisis: Mitigation works locally to reduce, for instance, meat consumption, plastics and use of fossil fuels. Adaptation encourages practices such as tree planting, organic farming and use of such devices as “rocket stoves” that use little wood. Advocacy speaks up for those who have no voice, lobbies for fossil fuel divestment and supports politicians who support creation care.
“Vive tu fe naturalmente” – Live your faith naturally – was the creation care motto shared by Bishop Orlando Gomez of the Diocese of Costa Rica, meaning to live in harmony with creation. When celebrating its 150th anniversary, the diocese, which is a member of Iglesia Anglicana de la Región Central de América, sought to discern its role as a small church in the Central American country. It resonated with the fifth of the Anglican Five Marks of Mission: “To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.” In addition to promoting Costa Rica’s eco-diversity, the diocese welcomes mission teams from Episcopal dioceses, promotes solar panels and supports sustainable agriculture on diocesan land.
“What will help us move beyond panic and despair and help us throw ourselves into the struggle for climate justice?” asked plenary speaker the Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, creation care missioner for the dioceses of Massachusetts and Western Massachusetts. She identified three stages of heart transformation in a creation care spirituality. With awakened hearts we learn to see ourselves, one another and all creation with the eyes of God’s love. With broken hearts we go to the cross of Jesus, where we allow ourselves to feel grief and anger for all we have lost, and where we meet the infinite love of God in Christ. With radiant hearts we then share in God’s mission of reconciliation and commit ourselves to care for Earth.
Conferees experienced the broken heart as the Rev. Leon Sampson of the Diocese of Navajoland described the environmental dispossession and alienation wrought among First Nations by systematic land theft, forced relocations and physical and cultural genocide imposed by White settlers and government policies in the United States. Churches colluded with governmental colonialism through the boarding schools that abused Native American children and banned indigenous languages and cultural practices. Sampson highlighted ways in which the Navajos are implementing the Anglican Communion’s Five Marks of Mission, including creation care. “We are the only denomination that has repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery,” he said as he commended that action of the 2009 General Convention.
An exultant and encouraging final plenary was offered by the Rev. Melanie Mullen, director of reconciliation, justice and creation care for the Episcopal Church, who highlighted the intersectionality of creation care with justice in relation to poverty, race and Black Lives Matter. “People are not suffering in silos but in all these various ways,” she said. “These are the core tasks of all mission: Tell God’s truth, do justice, do the work of healing.”
Mullen cited the biblical story of the prophet Elisha using salt from people’s homes to make “bad” water wholesome (2 Kings 2:19-22) to illustrate Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD), a mission approach that insists that cherishing people’s indigenous resources is crucial to fruitful mission. “You in global mission are asking us to rethink what it means to be partners together,” she said as she emphasized that friendship is central.
Noting that 93 percent of Episcopalians say their commitment to climate justice arises out of their faith, Mullen said, “We’re passionate about doing God’s will. We’re doing it because of Jesus! So this walk makes such good sense to us. We get it! This is our time, our moment!”
Workshop topics at the conference included the tree-planting and carbon-offset partnership between the Diocese of Olympia and the Diocese of Southern Philippines, led by the Rev. Jeff Gill and Dr. David Hansen; creation care in Haiti, led by DFMS missionaries Dr. Janet and the Rev. Donnell O’Flynn; mission vocation discernment, led by Mission Personnel Officer Elizabeth Boe; and best practices for mission teams, led by Bill Kunkle from experience in the Dominican Republic.
Five-minute “Mission Spotlights” during the conference highlighted the work of Stand With Iraqi Christians, Five Talents, Episcopal Relief and Development, Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Cuba, GEMN’s Mission Formation Program, the Compass Rose Society, and the Global Mission Digital Toolkit collaboration between GEMN, the Office of Global Partnerships and the Standing Commission on World Mission. The Diocese of Iowa offered a moving tribute to the late Ellinah Wamukoya, the “Green Bishop” of Swaziland and the first woman to be ordained an Anglican bishop in Africa.
Pre-recorded worship was offered by the Diocese of the Dominican Republic; St. Nicholas Seminary in Cape Coast, Ghana, with Bishop Victor Atta-Baffoe; and St. Thomas Theological College in Karachi, Pakistan, with Bishop Mano Rumalshah.
In addition to hearing reports on GEMN’s work, the network’s annual meeting congratulated the Rev. Holly Hartman of the Diocese of Massachusetts as she concluded her service on the Board of Directors; commended retired executive director Karen Hotte for seven years of outstanding service; and welcomed Molly O’Brien as interim coordinator. The meeting re-elected the Rev. Jean Beniste of the Diocese of Chicago, the Rev. Jaime Briceño of Bexley Seabury Seminary, and the Rev. Dr. Grace Burton-Edwards of the Diocese of Atlanta to the Board, and elected the Rev. Meredith Crigler of the Diocese of Texas to a first three-year term.
Conference greetings were offered by GEMN President the Rev. Dr. Titus Presler of the Diocese of Vermont and Bridges to Pakistan, Vice President the Rev. Dr. Grace Burton-Edwards, and Board member the Rev. Maurice Dyer of the Diocese of Pennsylvania, who emceed the conference.