Anglicans commit to supporting climate justice at UsPG international consultation in Fiji (12.7.16)
As members of the Anglican family, historically connected with USPG, we gathered for our periodic international consultation in Fiji last week, writes USPG Global Relations Director Rachel Parry.
We all experienced the tremendous generosity and depth of hospitality and spirituality of our host diocese – in the Province of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia – in ways that will remain with us all for a long time. We are deeply grateful for and moved by sharing in the worship, culture and context of Polynesia.
While affirming the current direction and areas of mission with which USPG is engaging around the world, this consultation allowed us to focus more deeply on mission priorities in the different contexts from which delegates came, and highlighted some particular areas on which we will endeavour to focus in the coming three years.
The next few months will see these priorities sharpened and begin to be shaped into practical responses and shared areas of collaboration.
Focus on climate change
At the consultation, Anglicans from around the world understood more about the need to redouble their efforts to engage with climate justice.
A total of 19 Anglican provinces were represented, which gathered in Fiji at the special invitation of the Most Revd Dr Winston Halapua, who is Bishop of Polynesia and Primate and Archbishop of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand & Polynesia.
The choice of location was deliberate given the consequences of global warming in Fiji, where 676 villages are at risk of flooding due to rising sea levels.
We all learned a great deal about the far-reaching and wide-ranging impacts of climate change. The church is ideally placed to help raise awareness because it is involved in education and community at all levels.
The consultation emphasised sharing from different contexts, so during the week we heard about the huge challenges facing Christians in many regions. This developed our mutual understanding about a number of issues, which is vital if we are to work together more effectively as a global church in jointly tackling related issues of justice.
Among those delegates who saw the pressing issue of climate justice in a new light was the Rt Revd Christopher Lowson, Bishop of Lincoln.
He said of the consultation: ‘It’s taught me the connection between man, God and the environment. These are things that I knew with my head, but now I understand them more with my heart because of being in this context and meeting people from this part of the world. [I’m] understanding for the first time the real implications of climate change upon real people’s lives.
‘I’m clear that it’s something we have to address creatively and imaginatively. We’ve got to bend our backs to do something to meet our challenges. And I hope that people across the world within the Anglican Communion and in the Diocese of Lincoln can work hard to plan and work to try to play our part in reducing global warming.’
We also heard from Prof Elisabeth Holland, who is the Director of the Pacific Centre for Environment and Sustainable Development and a co-recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for her research into climate change.
She told us that unless action is taken ‘it is increasingly possible that in the next 150 years we will have three metres of sea-level rise’.
Delegates agreed there was a particular need to encourage children to acquire an affinity with the environment, as well as an opportunity for the church to help communities learn about land management to mitigate against the destructive impact of climate change.
One delegate noted: ‘During our time we shared frank and respectful exchange on the major theme of the consultation, climate change, which was deepened by being in the context where this so obviously matters.
‘It was a rich encounter between all four corners of the globe on the priorities of all parts of the Anglican Communion. The consultation’s theme of “Encountering God in the Storm” came alive for all of us here in Fiji.’
Giving a voice to the marginalised
The focus was not only on climate change. Other mission priorities were shared and discussed by delegates, with a growing focus on the need for churches and communities in diverse contexts to stand firm with the vulnerable and marginalised.
Delegates heard and were inspired by a presentation given by the Diocese of Polynesia, which has adopted a zero-tolerance policy towards violence in homes, schools, communities and the church.
In response, delegates reaffirmed their belief that the church is called to live alongside those at the margins, who are without a voice and who are discriminated against.
When the media can all too often focus on disunity in the church, during our time together in Fiji we experienced a close engagement, demonstrated unity and a shared will to fulfil God’s mission.
One delegate commented: ‘We extend our sincere appreciation to all staff of USPG and the Diocese of Polynesia for ably conducting this consultation in bringing the Anglican Communion together. We affirm that the spirit of collaboration and partnership has been extended in this consultation and we look forward to working with USPG in achieving these priorities.’
Other comments by delegates:
• The Revd Dr Val Ogden, Director of the Pacific Theological College Education by Extension Programme, said: ‘It is not enough to hold the partner’s hand; we have to hear the heartbeat.’
• The Most Revd and the Hon Dr John Holder, Bishop of Barbados and Archbishop of the Province of the West Indies, said: ‘We realise that we are all connected in this world. We all face the same problems in terms of climate [and] in terms of human abuse. And I think what we’ve done in this gathering is to commit ourselves to make USPG stronger and to make our world and our church far better.’
• The Most Revd Dr Winston Halapua, Bishop of Polynesia and Primate and Archbishop of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand & Polynesia, said: ‘It’s historic. In the last few days, issues were brought forward from all the different contexts, we shared them, and in the midst of them we tried to find God’s will; where is Jesus in our whole engagement in God’s mission? It’s so wonderful as we are here as members of the Anglican Communion… We are no longer the same people as when we started. When we gather together in Christ, we move together. When leave this place, we are renewed people for the mission of God.’
• Rachel Parry, USPG Global Relations Director, said: ‘Delegates were able to share about the different “storms” faced in their diverse contexts. We prayed daily with the sound of the ocean in our ears and the waves in our view, keeping us constantly mindful of the rising sea levels in this part of the world, a result of global warming. I think I can say that the experience has renewed us in our efforts to collaborate on advocacy about climate change and in our commitment to climate justice. We learned more deeply how climate change impacts food security, livelihoods, education as well as environmental damage to forests, rivers, agriculture, ocean and air.’