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The Five Marks of Mission: Five – to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth

Posted on: March 5, 2020 12:07 PM
Green Anglicans from Southern and Central Africa

In the sixth, and final, article in our series of features looking at the Anglican Communion’s Five Marks of Mission, The Revd Canon Dr Rachel Mash, Environmental Coordinator for Green Anglicans, from the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, unpacks the fifth Mark of Mission: To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

“Elderly men lost the will to survive when they were forced to slaughter their cattle”.

In northern Namibia, many people don’t have bank accounts. Their treasured cattle are their savings for their old age.

“Please give us small tents so that we can live as families, not the huge refugee tents.”

Beira, in Mozambique, was completely devastated by climate change. Super-charged by warming oceans, Hurricane Idai dumped a year’s worth of rain in just days, forming an inland sea. Floods rushed across a land denuded by decades of deforestation.

“Climate change is loading the dice by intensifying storms and making rain patterns less predictable. Climate change is the human thumb on the scale, pushing us toward disaster. It is not a distant danger – it is already with us. As we continue to burn fossil fuels, its effects will only grow”, Archbishop Justin Welby said.

The Anglican Communion’s fifth Mark of Mission calls us to “Strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the Earth“

“Strive to safeguard the integrity of creation”

We have failed. In Genesis 2:15, God gave the care of this beautiful garden planet into our hands saying: “work the earth and look after it”.

We failed God’s call to be guardians of the Earth.

The bonds that hold nature together are unravelling due to overfishing, pollution, climate change and deforestation. In my generation, we have pushed one million species to the brink of extinction. Environmental degradation and climate change are striking hardest against the poor and vulnerable.

“Sustain and renew the life of Earth”

Having failed as guardians of Creation, we are being called now to renew the life of the Earth. How can we do so?

Firstly, this mission must impact our theology and worship: God’s love extends to all of God’s creatures, not just humans. Salvation is for the whole Earth. Jesus died on the cross for the whole of creation “in order to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:20).

Around the Communion, churches and dioceses are embracing worship, which includes our care for creation.

Churches are using Lent as a time to abstain from the damage we are doing to God’s earth. The Church of England has Green Lent, dedicating this year’s season to caring for creation. The Anglican Communion Environmental Network is encouraging people to #Fast4Earth. In other provinces, they are having a “Plastic-Free Lent”.

The Season of Creation has been embraced widely as an ecumenical movement globally, as well as by the Anglican Consultative Council as a time dedicated to learning about God the Creator, from 1 September to 4 October.

World Water Week, Earth Day and harvest festivals among others give us many opportunities to focus on God the Creator, and what the Bible teaches about our mission to renew the earth.

This mission calls us to action. It is inspiring to see how across the Communion churches are responding in challenging and prophetic ways:

  • The Church of England passed a motion to go to net carbon zero by 2030. Transport and heating of buildings must be drastically reduced to meet this prophetic target
  • The Church of South India has been nominated for a UNESCO prize for their inspiring Green Schools programme
  • The Anglican Province of Burundi set itself the target of planting 10 million trees in five years

Installing small scale solar farms in Mozambique, water harvesting in India, organic farming in Zimbabwe, in these and countless ways churches are responding to the call to heal this planet.

We must be led now by the voices of those who have lost the most – young people. As the older generation we have failed to be guardians of the Earth, and now the young people are rising to protect their home – half of the world’s population is young. One hundred per cent of the world’s future is young.

Young Anglicans are rising up. The movement of Green Anglicans which started in Southern Africa has spread to central, east Africa and even to Portugal and Brazil.

Follow Leah Namugerwa our own 16-year-old “Greta” from Uganda on social media.  Across the globe, young people are rising in Fridays for Future and other campaigns, let us support them.

We are asking for the voices of young people to be heard at the Lambeth Conference, and are encouraging them to challenge the bishops by writing “Letters for Creation”.

We must learn to be led by the voices of indigenous communities, for their relationship with creation remains integral to their spirituality. They are guardians of some of the most vulnerable lands which are now most under threat from the extractive industries.

In the words of the Archbishop of Canterbury: “the climate emergency is the greatest challenge that we and future generations face. . . It is absolutely clear that following Jesus must include standing alongside those that are on the frontline of this unfolding catastrophe.”

Our mission is clear: “Go now and preach the good news to  the whole of creation” (Mark 16:15).

Read the rest of our series on the Five Marks of Mission