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Ministry Matters Earth Day 2020 

The Rev. Marian Lucas-Jefferies, Coordinator, Diocese Environment Network

5th Mark of Mission: “To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth”

Life changes day by the day in the midst of a pandemic. Just over a month ago we were still gathering in church buildings for worship. Just over a month ago, we would apologize with a simple Canadian “sorry” as we bumped into each other in a store or on the street. Today, it seems like a distant memory.

It seems like a lifetime ago, but it was only a year ago, when I spoke to a group of people in a church in River John, NS about caring for God’s creation. That evening, I explained that as I have aged, it is not unusual for me to wake up in the middle of the night, or early in the morning, long before I really want to get out of bed and it isn’t unusual for me to have difficulty getting back to sleep when that happens. (Some of my best sermons have been written between 2 and 4 am.) However, I discovered that when I am awake in the middle of the night and my mind refuses to slow down, reaching for my earbuds and listening to podcasts often helps get me back to sleep.

One of my favourite podcasts is the Sunday Edition. However, listening to the podcast of the Sunday Edition in the wee hours one night did nothing to lull me to sleep. As a matter of fact, it had me wide awake as I listened with growing anxiety about the effect of air pollution on our breathing. Apparently more than 8 million people die prematurely each year from air pollution. That same night, the last thing I heard on my way to bed was a segment from a special series on climate change on The National. Not easy to sleep when your night is sandwiched between two rather frightening programs about the future of the planet.

A long time ago, (a month or so ago) before all the news we receive revolved around the pandemic, updates on threats to health and wellbeing of the earth and our future were reported daily.    

A year ago, as “Friday for the Future Strikes” took place, yes, there was climate despair but we also felt hope as people around the world hit the streets demanding government action.  

A year ago this month, the Anglican Consultative Council, representing millions of Anglicans worldwide, passed a motion acknowledging the ecological crisis and made a commitment on our behalf to take action. Churches reduced their carbon footprint, went back to using “real dishes” and installed recycling bins. Church buildings are now closed, further reducing their impact on the environment.  

Today, in the midst of the pandemic we can’t gather in church buildings or on the street. The voices crying for environmental regulations have been dampened by overriding news reports about the virus. Social isolation has become the new norm. And we have moved back a giant step to disposables in efforts to prevent spread of the virus.  

But hope persists.  

Less traffic means a reduction in carbon emissions. Trips to the mall and shopping, as Stompin’ Tom sang, to “Save a lot of money spending money we don't got”, are no longer recreational activities. We have determined which material goods are essential and reduced unnecessary purchases.  

Today, as much as we would never minimize the tragedy to those who became a victim to Covid-19 and their families, we hear stories of cleaner water, cleaner air, growing our own food in backyard gardens and balconies. We have figured out that we cannot be deterred when it comes to relationship, kindness and caring for others. And that is what is important.  

We are now living in an “on line” world, gathering by Zoom, huddled like the disciples, in this case, separated by the fear of contributing to the spread of the virus. But “creation activists” have been meeting perhaps more than ever, united in their commitment to caring for the planet. 

As Anglicans we are committed to care for God’s creation through the 5th Mark of Mission, our Baptismal vows and now globally through the Anglican Consultative Council. As Christians, might we take time to consider the experience of the disciples as they meet the resurrected Christ, who more than once commanded us to “Love one another. You must love one another, just as I have loved you. If you love one another, everyone will know you are my disciples.” (John 13: 34-35) As nasty and difficult as this virus is, do we really want to life to return to the old normal? Life as the disciples knew it changed dramatically so long ago. As they established the church, they embraced a new normal. Loving each other, within their community and outside their community. That was the priority.  

The Pope recently asked us to consider the possibility that the coronavirus pandemic was an opportunity for an ecological conversion and a reassessment of priorities and lifestyles. In the midst of fear and sadness and isolation, this could be a second chance. Perhaps “normal”, once this is over, should not be the same “normal”.  As Tommy Douglas once said, “It is not too late to build a better world.” We don’t have to necessarily return to the same world and life as we knew it. Maybe, once this virus is over and we are no longer huddled inside and hidden away, like so many of the disciples were after the crucifixion, maybe we can ensure that the world will be a healthier, kinder, place and we will tread lighter on God’s creation.   

Yes, these are unusual times. The virus has put the earth on pause. Humans are on a time out. The planet has time to take a breath, to heal from the damage we have inflicted on it. A resurrection so to speak. These are not normal times. Strange was the word my Archbishop used. But right now, in spite of our separation, the pandemic seems to draw us farther from the material and closer to each other and all of creation. So as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, might we live out the love that Jesus commanded by doing all we can to ensure that we have a healthy planet that can support life, human and non-human, by ensuring that the air and water that is now getting cleaner by the day remains clean after this is all over. In a recent World Council of Churches newsletter, Archbishop Anastasios of Albania was quoted as saying: “Let us transmit from heart to heart the light of hope”  

From the Green Anglicans Earth Sunday opening hymn, let us pray: Creator God, May we be good stewards of all that you give. Protecting creation where ever we live. May we be a church that renews and restores. And lovingly cares for this earth that is yours. Amen  

And blessed Earth Day!