In East Asia and the Pacific, Anglicans commit to action on climate change
With a pledge to work together in addressing pressing environmental concerns in East Asia and the Pacific, representatives from several Anglican provinces and mission agencies met March 23-26 in Hong Kong for a consultation on climate change, co-sponsored by Episcopal Relief and Development, the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Province of Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui.
The consultation was inspired by several conversations in 2008 with Episcopal Church partners and church leaders primarily from East Asia and the Pacific Rim, said Kirsten Muth, ERD’s senior director of Asia, Pacific and New Initiatives, who noted that the purpose of the gathering was to focus on “climate change as it relates to poverty, and identifying how we can work together more effectively in areas of sustainable development.”
Around 30 participants attended the gathering from Australia, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Philippines, Polynesia, Solomon Islands, the U.K., the U.S. and Vanuatu.
For the Rev. Keith Joseph of the Anglican Church of Melanesia, the issues addressed at the gathering could not have been closer to home, where climate change in the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu has resulted in some islands with large Anglican communities having been submerged by sea.
“Flooding and severe weather impact us significantly,” he told ENS in an interview. “We cannot deal with these problems on our own, so it was very good to attend this gathering and tell our story.”
Rachel Parry, East Asia and Oceania regional desk officer for the U.K.-based mission agency USPG, said it was “really powerful to hear voices from Pacific islanders sharing their vivid stories of the climate change realities with which their communities are living, helping us all grow in our understanding of the urgency of the issue.”
“Despite their carbon output being less than 0.5% of the global total, some of the most drastic effects of climate change are seen among Pacific island communities that live so close to the rising sea level,” Parry told ENS, adding that in more than 10 years working with churches in the Asia-Pacific region this was the first time she had attended a cross-regional Anglican gathering on such a critical theme.
The consultation included worship, addresses and panel discussions, as well as action planning on policy/advocacy leadership, congregation and community engagement, climate justice, adaptation and sustainability. Participants also attended a dinner hosted by Archbishop Paul Kwong of the Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui.
Sessions included a keynote address on “Church and Government Environmental Policy,” by Dr. Sarah Liao, former secretary for environment, transport and works of Hong Kong SAR government; and discussions led by Fe’iloakitau Kaho Tevi, general secretary of the Pacific Conference of Churches; Michael Schut, the Episcopal Church’s officer for economic and environmental affairs; and the Rev. Amos Kisuk Kim of Sungkonghoe University in Seoul, Korea.
Consultation participants, Parry said, heard about storm surges on islands in the South Pacific that have forced whole communities to be evacuated and the destruction of coconut plantations as a result of flooding. “We heard about churches in the Pacific being part of the process of preparing people to leave islands where their communities have lived for thousands of years, because in 10, 20, 30 years, these islands will no longer exist,” she said. “These are realities that most of us in the developed world cannot begin to imagine.”
Joseph, a professor at Bishop Patteson Theological College in the Solomon Islands, said it was important also to hear stories from others attending the gathering, and to learn about environmental issues elsewhere. “The earth is God’s creation and a blessing to us -- and to our children and children’s children,” he said. "Creation is not just there to be exploited, but to be cared for, and the church needs to be united in telling this message.
“However, as individual churches we cannot do it -- we do not have the resources or global reach to do so. Working together we can fight the evil of environmental destruction, and preserve and develop God’s blessing to us and our children of his creation.”
The Rev. Patteson Worek, provincial secretary of the Church of Melanesia, told ENS that the gathering “reflected a united church effort of those who attended on the stewardship of the earth and a concern for those who are suffering from the effects so far.”
Participants agreed that educating younger generations about the negative impacts of climate change on the global environment is one of the most effective ways to bring about solutions, according to Peter Ng, the Episcopal Church’s Program Officer for Asia and the Pacific. “As collaborative partners on this vital concern, all are committed to continue to bring up this important issue to the churches in this area,” he said. “Our hope is that, with continuous dialogue on this matter, solutions will develop and implementation of practices to protect the environment will reach across the globe.”
The consultation also encouraged the sharing of educational resources on environmental issues. Floyd Lawlet of the Episcopal Church of the Philippines said that sharing such resources “should go to the level of practical activities and projects that churches or communities in the Asia-Pacific can do to strengthen each other in the task of mitigation and adaptation.”
But he also warned that educational campaigns on climate change in Filipino congregations “have always been met with the understandable cynicism of our people who felt that it is pointless to do anything on our end when the problem is brought about largely by acts of other people outside of our shores.”
As national development officer of the Community Based Development Program in the Philippines, Lawlet said that “the only way our people can be motivated to do action is for them to be assured that those who are causing the problem [or at least some of them] are likewise concerned and are actually doing something about it.”
In a report to the prime bishop of the Episcopal Church of the Philippines, Lawlet said it was encouraging to learn of the various efforts taking place in Episcopal Church dioceses and parishes on environmental stewardship. He noted in particular efforts to urge the Episcopal Church to become a signatory to the Genesis Covenant, which was developed by the Diocese of Olympia and the Episcopal Divinity School. Signatories agree to reduce by 50% the greenhouse gases produced by all of their facilities (such as local houses of worship, schools, offices, seminaries and hospitals within 10 years of when the covenant is signed.)
“This is indeed a laudable effort and we suggest that we complement such diocesan programs by making one of our dioceses also commit to do a parallel environmental program, such as planting trees for every dollar value of the reduction,” said Lawlet.
Participants also agreed to explore building companion diocese relationships around the issue of climate change. Lawlet said in his report that he hoped such a relationship might be explored between the Diocese of Olympia and the Diocese of Southern Philippines. “Similar initiatives with other dioceses and parishes, not only in the Episcopal Church, but also in Australia, U.K., Hong Kong and Japan may also be explored,” he said.
In other action, participants agreed to send a letter to all the bishops within the region to work on establishing an “Earth Sunday.”
Describing the consultation as “a success,” Peter Koon, provincial secretary of the Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui, said it is unfortunate that the Anglican Communion has been divided by human sexuality issues in recent years. “We must focus on common issues [such as] environmental concerns. No one on this planet would be against protecting their home. Now it is time for us to act together and protect our home planet.”
Lawlet agreed. “The environmental issues that some communities are facing, which threaten their existence, should deeply concern us as churches, far more than many of the intellectual and academic theological debates of the moment,” he said.
Parry said that churches need to address the issue of climate change together “due to the intrinsic interconnectedness of all things in this planet. The fact cannot be denied that those who have done and who are doing the most damage to the environment see the least impact in their daily lives. This means it is too easy for us to feel distanced from the problem. It is therefore imperative that we listen to each other as members of the body of Christ in this increasingly interdependent world. When one part hurts, we all hurt. When people lose their homeland through rising sea levels, we all should feel the aching loss of home.”
Muth said she is excited to see emerge from the gathering “the regional commitment to collaboration in addressing not only the causes but also the actual impact as it is already affecting the Pacific Island States. I think it is safe to say that all bodies represented have made a commitment to action in terms of education, leadership development, and resource sharing within East Asia and the Pacific.”
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