The Green Anglican Movement: Not Just a Church with a Recycling Bin

Written by The Rev. Dr. Rachel Mash
March 17, 2021

Green Anglicans is the Care for Creation movement of the Anglican Church. Starting in Southern Africa in 2004, it has now spread to Central and East Africa. The movement is part of the Anglican Communion Environmental Network, and we are accredited to attend UNEA and other UN conferences through the Anglican Consultative council (ACC).

The movement is based on three key steps: spirituality, then local action, then advocacy. Faith communities often start their environmental work with local action or advocacy, but don’t help people to make the link between these actions and their faith. So we end up with a few activists or a “green team,” but the DNA of the churches has not changed.

Spirituality

The starting point for our work is in spirituality based on Care for Creation. We run eco-theology workshops and eco-retreats with clergy, and have developed an online course on Eco-theology. Former president Nelson Mandela said, “if you speak to a person in a language he understands you speak to his head, if you speak in his mother tongue you speak to his heart.” If we want to root our environmental actions in spirituality, we need to use terms that resonate with our faith language.

So we don’t speak about environmental work, we speak of caring for creation; instead of “ecosystem restoration,” we speak of renewing the web of life.

One of the most important things for us has been the adoption of the month of September as the Season of Creation, a growing ecumenical celebration ( www.seasonofcreation.org ), which means that for five weeks of the year the church can focus on the scriptures that deal with land, water, biodiversity, etc. For example, there are 722 verses in the Bible that talk about water, but to hear a sermon about water is rare!

We provide resources including prayer and sermon notes for World Environment Day and World Water Day, and partner with others to provide weekly sermon notes on the website www.sustainable-preaching.org.

There are seasons of the year that are very helpful to begin encouraging lifestyle changes. Lent, in particular, is a traditional period when people abstain from certain foods or drink. We have adopted a Lenten fast for the planet each year, and encourage 40 daily actions committing to a reduction in use of plastic, water, meat, electricity, etc.

The leadership of young people is very important in our movement — this is their world and their future, and the strategies for change need to come from them. For children and the young, we have a course called Ryan the Rhino Sunday School (http://www.greenanglicans.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/CARING-FOR-CREATION-RYAN-THE-RHINO.pdf)  and a Care for Creation manual (http://www.greenanglicans.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/care-for-creation-youth-manual-1.pdf).

Local Actions

The basis of the Green Anglican movement is spirituality and moving from there to local actions. As the saying goes, “act local, think global.” We need to start within our own context — family, home, local church, local community.

The movement spans both mega-cities such as Johannesburg and remote rural areas, so actions will differ depending on the area. Cities tend to focus on mitigation; rural areas on adaptation.

For example, city parishes will fundraise for a water harvesting tank, replace the priest’s water heater with a solar geyser, change all light bulbs to energy-saving ones, set up a recycling scheme. Whereas a rural parish might plant trees, dig a water-saving dam, teach home gardening techniques to the Mothers Union.

Some especially creative ideas have included:

  • A church in Mozambique having a beach volleyball tournament and charging an entrance fee of a bag of plastic rubbish.
  • A church in South Africa planting memorial trees in memory of church members who died of COVID-19.
  • A school stationary drive where kids were given pencils and erasers in exchange for plastic bottles.
  • A ”Green Sunday” where each family brings a low-energy light bulb to church.
  • Green Anglicans Malawi have a “One Matrimony, One Tree” campaign as part of wedding ceremonies.

Transformational change doesn’t take place when individuals change, but when networked individuals change. Because of this, social media has been very important for us; we now have over 50,000 on our Facebook page. We can share stories, encourage others, and help people to feel that their actions are significant because, when joined together with all the other actions, those drops make an ocean!

Advocacy

With spiritual roots and local actions, the church can take on issues of advocacy at local, regional, and international levels.

Single-use plastic is a huge problem everywhere across Africa. The Mothers Union passed a resolution not to use styrofoam at its events. Some dioceses have passed a ban on use of plastic water bottles at church event. But alone, this is not enough. We have to get involved in bans on single-use plastic. First, Green Anglican Malawi was part of a campaign to get single-use plastic banned. But when the implementation was poor, they also had to campaign again to have the ban implemented.

Individuals reducing their use of electricity and petrol is not enough; we need advocacy to speed up the transition to renewables. Divestment from fossil fuels has been an important part of our strategy. Although the Church’s investment funds are not large, this sends a strong message that we can no longer make a profit from fossil fuels.  We also advocate for halting new fossil fuel projects, campaigning to stop the South African banks who were funding a new oil pipeline in East Africa, for example. Currently, we are standing in solidarity with the people of Northern Namibia who are threatened with oil drilling by Canadian Company ReconAfrica.  We have mobilized faith leaders across Southern Africa and Canada in a campaign to get the drilling halted.

— The Rev. Dr. Rachel Mash

Environmental Coordinator of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa

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