The Archbishop of Armagh challenges the Church of Ireland on climate change


In his presidential address at the Church of Ireland General Synod yesterday the Archbishop of Armagh, The Most Reverand John McDowell, challenged the Church of Ireland to respond with a greater purpose to the climate crisis.

He announced that the Representative Church Body had completed divestment from all fossil fuels. This is a tremendous achievement and sets an example to churches in Ireland and around the world to stop funding an industry that is destroying nature and harming human health. As the Archbishop said, "we should be proud of it".

He went on to challenge the church saying that if we are to have any credibility as the People of God, "we will need to bake environmental sensitivity and action into our everyday life as a Church". Action is needed at the parish and personal level, he said, so that a carbon footprint assessment, "is as natural to us as an Easter Vestry return and that we act on its results." 

Throughout his comments he stressed that the Church of Ireland must take this seriously, indeed in his opening remarks on climate change he said that we are in, "grave and imminent danger of having only trouble to hand on to our own grandchildren."

We need to be "much more radical", he said, if we are to have any credibility with the younger generation. And that we need to change our lifestyles, live with less, and set targets to make our parishes have net-zero carbon emissions.  

Taking radical action will be a real challenge, it will take leadership from every bishop in the Church of Ireland, and it will take committed action from every vestry and every person.

One of the most striking things about the Archbishop's presidential address was his acknowledgment that he "had given little thought to" the task of reconciling our relationship with the created order. Indeed, he said that churches may have "focussed so exclusively on Jesus Christ’s work of redemption that we have almost completely forgotten God’s work in creation and the gift it is to us." 

This echoes one of my favourite quotes from John Stott, 

"Salvation is far more than merely the forgiveness of sins. It includes the whole sweep of God’s purpose to redeem and restore humankind, and indeed all creation. What we claim for the Bible is that it unfolds God’s total plan." 

Sometimes we are blinkered by our cultural context, we can easily drive from our comfortable homes to buy the food we need or simply turn on the tap for clean water. This makes us easily forget about those in poverty and hunger and God's total plan to restore humankind and indeed all creation.

To give credit to the Archbishop he has realised that it is no longer "jumping on a bandwagon" to respond to the climate and the nature emergency. It is part of our mission and we have a responsibility to respond to the urgent task as a church.

The challenge has been given. The question to every diocese, every select vestry, and every one of us is, what action will we take?

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