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Chief Officer and campaigner highlight care for creation

Bee–hives and keep–cups at Church of Ireland House, Dublin. Trees and meadow at St Columba’s Church, Drumcliffe, Co. Sligo.
Bee–hives and keep–cups at Church of Ireland House, Dublin. Trees and meadow at St Columba’s Church, Drumcliffe, Co. Sligo.

The Chief Officer and Secretary General of the Representative Church Body, David Ritchie, and General Synod member Stephen Trew, spoke on care for God’s creation at the New Wine Ireland conference in Sligo on Monday, 9 July.

Mr Trew explained that God affirms His creation as good seven times in Genesis 1 before assigning man a role in working in and taking care of creation. Revelation 21 echoes Genesis by describing “a new heaven and a new earth” before leading into “a beautiful picture just like a restored Garden of Eden” in the following chapter. He welcomed an environmental awakening within the global Church over the last 10 years and encouraged Churches to recognise the impact of climate change on people’s lives, divest from fossil fuels, encourage a switch to renewable energy, and support campaigns by development agencies such as Christian Aid, Tearfund and Trocaire.

Personal actions can include encouraging a political representative to act on climate change and poverty, reducing food waste, and reading good quality books, newspapers and websites on how to solve the crisis. “Divestment sends a signal to other investors that fossil fuels are too high a risk because of climate change and that investing in them is immoral because of the harm they do to people,” he commented. The Church of Ireland has divested from coal and tar sands, and this year’s General Synod approved a motion to divest from all fossil fuels by 2022.

Mr Ritchie affirmed lifestyle choices such as commuting by bike, on foot or with public transport, buying local produce, and offering lifts to church to reduce the use of fuel and the cost of travelling. He highlighted the RCB’s investment in the Irish Energy Efficiency Fund, which recently announced plans to help save energy at the Mater Hospital, in Dublin. The RCB’s current environmental work also includes:

• a tree–planting strategy which requires parishes to plant two trees for every one cut down;
• helping parishes to reduce their carbon footprint through better energy efficiency;
• bee–hives at Church of Ireland House, Dublin, and the Theological Institute;
• members of staff using keep–cups as an alternative to disposable coffee cups; and
• more use of video–conferencing to reduce travel for committee members.

On the theology of the environment, Mr Ritchie added that we are “co–creators, partners with a creator God to whom he has entrusted this responsibility” but “we take God’s creation and we make it a possession to be owned.” The prophet Isaiah warned against hedonism and consumerism (Isaiah 4.8–12) but as he reflected on a fallen society, the Lord “pulled him out of despair and gave him a song of encouragement, and a commission” with a vision of God and His glory, which fills the heavens and the earth (Isaiah 6). By enjoying the work of God’s hand and adopting counter–cultural values, parishes and parishioners can make a difference in the environment.

On the previous day, the Church of England’s General Synod voted to divest from companies which are not on track to meet the aims of the Paris Agreement on climate change, and to continue to work with companies and assess their progress on tackling the problem by 2023. This is part of Climate Action 100+ campaign, also involving the RCB, to improve how investments impact on the environment over the next five years.