Climate Change and the Mission of the Church Today

Hope for the Future Campaign Coordinator, Jo Musker-Sherwood, gave a sermon at the annual memorial service for the Revd. Dr Thomas Bray, founder of Christian Missionary societies SPCK and USPG. Read below for a shortened reflection on the role of partnership in mission today, particularly in the context of climate campaign work. 

Climate change turns on its head archaic notions of who it is that is called to turn away from one way of life to another. Climate change challenges us in the Minority World to ask what lies beneath a lifestyle of over-consumption which means that the carbon footprint of the average person in the UK is well over 10 times greater than someone in the Philippines, Pakistan or Kenya. It is also the Two-Thirds world who are experiencing the greatest devastating effects of climate change whilst we here in the UK are only just beginning to feel the serious impacts. These countries have a message for us, they are the prophets of today because it is their experiences that carry a message for us to turn to a different way of living whilst we still have time.

Relationships are powerful because we need each others’ different experiences and perspectives in order to make sense of our own direction. The flood account is a story about the power of relationship. The partnership between God and Noah enabled extraordinary hope in an otherwise desolate landscape. This relationship and those between Noah, his family and the animals that accompanied them on the ark, ultimately enabled the continuation of God’s work in humanity and all of creation. It allowed for second chances, and many other chances beyond that. It is extraordinary how God chooses to work in partnership with us, and it is surely a model for us in missionary work.

Climate change is a collective problem that requires a collective response. The original Greek meaning of the word ‘politics’ is, as a rough translation, ‘the affairs of the community’. Whilst many may feel a hopelessness looking at the current political climate, securing policies that promote sustainable development are an essential part of tackling global climate change. The mission of Hope for the Future is to restore hope to a movement that is struggling to maintain faith in politicians to deliver the policies needed to secure a safe future for generations to come.

And how on earth do we do this? Well, we firmly believe in the power of the partnership between constituents and their MPs. It is the bedrock of our democracy. We have witnessed first-hand the transformation of MPs that previously had no interest in climate change whatsoever go on to launch local campaigns, raise issues in Parliament or raise awareness in their constituencies. These are only small steps, but nonetheless significant. Constituents have a powerful role in educating, informing and even transforming the work of MPs.

To the best of our knowledge, Hope for the Future is currently the only UK organisation in any field, not just climate change, that researches and trains constituents in the art of building a constructive partnership with their local MP. Practically this means training people in conversation techniques such as effectively interrupting an MP who has taken over a conversation. It means teaching people how to narrate climate change in language that appeals across the political spectrum, and in what realistically an MP is able to do in tackling such a huge issue.

But deeper than that, we awaken in campaigners a genuine openness to other perspectives, to learning from even the most difficult of MPs, to respecting differences in opinion and searching for ways to work together regardless. We train people to search for why an MP went into politics in the first place and to show that MP how action on climate change works towards the world they would like to see. Our campaign is one that draws people away from a get in, get your campaign ‘ask’ and get back out again mentality, to a working partnership that spans political boundaries.

Remarkably, it is an approach that is incredibly effective and with a proven track record for constructive MP engagement, in the space of three short years we have grown from a cluster of Yorkshire based churches to an established national organisation advising major NGOs and policy makers. It has been an extraordinary journey, and thankfully USPG saw the potential in us right at the beginning.

Climate change is, if nothing else, an invitation to work in partnership. It shows us the deadly results of being unable to find ways of working together. The promise that God will never again flood the world, signified by the rainbow is a promise that I hold onto. What it does not promise, however, is that human beings will never again flood the world. It is our relationship with ourselves, with God and with each other that will determine how this flood story unfolds.

You can email Jo for a full version of the sermon at jo.hopeftf@gmail.com.