Twelve Steps Towards Freedom: Towards Glasgow 2021

Revd Dr Dave Gregory

The climate is changing.

Not the political climate. Nor the economic one.

Nor the cultural or social climate of our nation.

Well, truth be told, these are always on the move.

But no. I mean the Earth’s climate is changing.

Unless you have failed to watch the news, you can hardly not notice. Stories of heat waves across the world, forest fires across North America, the Mediterranean and Russia. Intense rainstorms and floods in Turkey and Japan. And these are just some of the headline events from the BBC News App.

Scattered stories that are brought together in the latest, robust science report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published in mid-August. Commentators describe its message as urgent. Scientists say the warming of the Earth due to human activity is unequivocal. This is the sixth report released by the IPCC, the first being in the 1990s. Having read these reports over the past 30 years, starting when I was working on developing Climate Models in the Hadley Centre, a sense of frustration arises within me. As one speaker at the press conference to mark the report’s release said “You scientists have been speaking for 30 years, but we have not been listening. Now climate change is with us”. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Feel affirmed, be in despair or scream!

Of course, some have been listening. Campaigning groups, development, and mission agencies of which BMS World Mission is one, have been speaking for many years. There have been marches and action on the streets of cities across the world. The growth of the Baptist Union Environment Network (BUEN) across most of our the Baptist Together regions shows a rising engagement with environmental issues among us, a move from the margins towards the core of our missional discipleship. Many churches are holding a Climate Sunday, not only engaging with the issue in worship, but committing to longer term action through schemes such as A Rocha’s Eco-church. Speaking out too, calling for action by signing up to The Climate Coalition’s The Time is Now declaration.

Aerial view of Glasgow science centre, SECC and Hydro Area

The fact that the UK is hosting the next UN Climate Conference – the 26th one, hence COP26 – in Glasgow in the first two weeks of November is galvanising action. A previous meeting, COP21 in Paris in 2015, led to The Paris Agreement, where 196 countries across the world agreed to take action to limit global warming by the end of the 21st century to 2 degrees Centigrade, and if possible 1.5 degrees centigrade. Yet turning words into action, as you may know from personal experience, is hard and progress has been slow as nations argue who is most responsible for the crisis, who should pay most and who should take the first step.

Thankfully there has been movement, with large emitters of warming greenhouse gases making cuts and promising to cut further. This is important if we are to reach net-zero carbon by 2050, where human activities release no more greenhouse gases that nature can absorb. But these cuts so far mean the world will warm by 2.5 to 3 degrees by the end of the century. Bigger cuts are needed through this coming decade if we are to keep alive the hope of 1.5 degrees of warming that will avert catastrophic climate and weather change. If not, then future generations will have to live with the consequences, as will wider creation. That is why it is vital – I say again vital – that at COP26 the nations make commitments to deeper cuts in green gas emissions than they have done so far.

Baptist Christians and churches are activists by nature. A friend from another stream of the church once told me “I could never be a Baptist – it’s just too exhausting!” And all the calls to action, to engage with the climate crisis that flow into our TV, phones, and computers daily can feel exhausting. As can the huge nature of it all. And after the past 18 month living with Covid, many people feel exhausted already. Exhausted and anxious. As things began to open in the early summer, I visited a secondary school to speak about climate change to a group of year 10 students, part of the Gen Z generation. I asked them if they were anxious about their future because of climate change. Responses varied from group to group. Many stood; others did not. I asked why they had responded as they did, and the voice of one sticks in my mind; “I’ve got so many things to be anxious about, I can’t cope with anything else.”

Jesus knew about immobilising effects of exhaustion and anxiety. After the twelve disciples had an intense time of “campaigning” for the Kingdom of God, he invited them to “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” (Mark 6v31). So as we move towards Glasgow 2021 and the COP26 climate jamboree, take some time to get some rest.

That may seem counterintuitive especially if this is such a vital moment for the future generations and life on the planet. Surely, resting can wait until this campaigning season is over! If we are going to tackle climate change, we are going to change some other climates too – political, economic, cultural, social – and action and campaigning plays a part in that. But we need to change the spiritual climate as well. As Jesus said later in Mark’s gospel, “from within, out of people’s hearts. Come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.” (Mark 7v22) Many of these inner attitudes has given rise to actions and structures in our world that are tied to the causes of climate change. Actions, structures, behaviour in which we are all deeply embedded. And if they are to change deeply, they need a change within.

So, in the weeks ahead, take some time to listen to your own heart’s response to the issue of climate change. Take some time to walk around in nature or spend time in the garden. Take sabbath moments, an act of resistance to those things of our lives that drive exhaustion and anxiety, which contribute to the causes of climate change. Listen to what God is saying through creation. I had experience of this over the summer when I was staying as the foot of Ben Nevis near Fort William. As I looked through the window of the cottage kitchen, across a dry-stone wall into a small planation of trees, a deer with her fawn appeared. So well camouflaged, almost invisible. An invitation from our creator to encounter God afresh in creation for our God “is like a gazelle or a young stag. Look! There he stands behind our wall, gazing through the windows … (saying) … ‘arise … come with me’”. (Song of Solomon 2v9) Drawing me towards a deeper appreciation of nature, which God values, and greater a desire to seek its fulness.

And as we take time seeking God for ourselves, as our heart changes, let that flow into prayer, for prayer changes climates too. Campaigning voices are rising as we get closer and closer to COP26. We too should be a part of that. But we as people of faith and followers of Jesus have another voice to raise, the voice of prayer. Paul encouraged Timothy as he led the church in Ephesus “that requests, prayers, intercessions and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2v1-4).

So, as we take time out with God, let’s pray for change:

A changed political climate – that world leaders will recognise the need for and have the courage together to commit to cuts in greenhouse gas emissions over the coming decade so we might have the hope of curtailing dangerous climate change;

A changed economic climate – less about a few consuming more and more at the expense of others who seem to have less and less, but seeks to give life to all and make amends to those who have contributed least to the issue of climate change but feel its impacts most dramatically;

A changed cultural climate – less about instant gratification, being driven and throwing away, and more about valuing experiences, people and things we need for the long term;

A changed social climate – building harmonious relationships between peoples near and far, across generations and with creation, appreciating how our actions today shape others lives now and into the future.

As well as a changed spiritual climate. Yes, let’s hold our Climate Sundays to bring this issue from the margins towards the centre of our understanding of mission in this day. Let’s raise our voices along with our prayers for ourselves and others. Let’s begin to be the answer to our prayers, beginning the journey to walk more softly upon the earth as churches and individuals. And let’s ask God too to turn around our hearts, attitudes and actions, hearing his call through creation to “Arise, come, my darling, my beautiful one, come with me.” (Song of Songs 2v13).

Come and join with God’s mission within all creation.

Rev Dr Dave Gregory is Ministry Team Leader at Croxley Green Church, a former President of the Baptist Union, and co-ordinator of Messy Church Does Science. He is The Chair of JRI. This article was first published on Seventy-Two and it is reprinted with their permission. This blog is part of a series. To see previous blogs in the series, please click here.

Shutterstock Royalty-free stock photo ID: 1487509433. Glasgow, Scotland UK – August 24th 2019: Aerial view of Glasgow science centre, SECC and Hydro Area on the river Clyde waterfront at sunrise by richardjohnson