Climate Crisis and Chartists Reworked

IMG_7256If you spotted our social media feeds this week, you may have seen a video from me on how to make an origami boat. If you did, I wonder how you got on and did anyone bring their boat with them this morning? Here’s mine – one I made earlier in true Blue Peter fashion. I made this because it stands for two themes that have been with us this week.

On Thursday and Friday, we hosted various events for the Young Christian Climate Network relay. This is a walk from the G7 conference in Cornwall, held last month, to the COP26 summit of world leaders in Glasgow in November. That is an incredible 1,000 mile walk. There is a Welsh leg of this, so that all three nations are able to take part. The Welsh branch set off in Swansea last weekend and arrived here on Thursday. The aim is to highlight the urgency of tackling the climate crisis and ecological emergency that the world faces. If you wonder why a boat is a good symbol for this, if you look at the climate change maps for 2050, if nothing is done, if we don’t change our ways, then a lot of the low lying coastal areas in Great Britain are under water, including the lower lying levels of our city.  So this boat becomes an Ark. Tackling climate change with the ensuing rising sea levels is urgent and for our younger members of this congregation and our community it is clearly their generation that will be hit hardest.

So they are raising their voices to tell the current world leaders to get this sorted now before it is too late. You may have heard our choristers singing the Gee Seven song on our YouTube channel. They sang this on Thursday to the walkers as part of Thursday’s events. If you didn’t, then there will be a chance to hear it shortly because they re going to sing it at the end of this sermon.

The boat is a dramatic and stark reminder that our stewardship of the earth, our care of the earth and all God’s creatures, which is the fifth mark of mission in the Anglican Communion, is our Christian duty. God made the world and we depend on it for our very life. Poorer areas of the world are already suffering as a result of climate change, so this is not some future scenario, but a present reality.

As part of the events we invited our members of  the Westminster Parliament and the Senedd to meet with the walkers which included students from St Teilo’s School. On Friday the walkers were sent off with a special service led by children from Malpas Primary School. Both were full of youthful spark and imagination. The  song which the choristers’ sang has a sharp message to the world leaders: don’t let us down or we’ll run you out of town. It’s a radical song of prophetic protest because this counts. And, of course, standing here radical songs of prophetic protest have form with the Chartists and their demands for political equality and justice.

If we were to take the Chartists’ demands and give them a reworking for tackling climate change, they might look something like this:

  • Vote for all, becomes global politics working in the interests of all people around the world, not just the richest.
  • Free ballots, becomes no industry’s interests stopping or impeding the imperative to reduce carbon emissions.
  • No property qualification to vote, becomes  living more simply, reducing the excessive  demands that feeds unsustainable consuming.
  • Paying members of parliament so they don’t need a private income, becomes developing new technologies and renewable energy generation so we are not dependent on plastics and fossil fuels.
  • Making constituencies fairer, becomes recognising that we stand or fall together on this, either all flourish or we all sink
  • Annual Parliaments, becomes having a vision for the future where there is hope for all.

It might need some more work, but it’s a start:  global politics working for all, no industry blocking the change, living simply and reducing excesses,  new technologies and renewable energy to reduce fossil fuel use, recognising we are all in this together as a world, and there is hope. Perhaps you can have a go at writing your own.

Today is also Sea Sunday, so the boat works for this too. This is a day when we are asked to think about those who sail the seas, bringing goods to our ports and export products made here around the world. It is dangerous work and can be isolating and can leave crew members stranded. They risk pirates, the reality of which is far from romantic and fun. We have a mission to seafarers chaplaincy in the port in this city. It doesn’t take much imagination to realise that climate change and rising sea levels is not good news for those who sail. It will make their task more hazardous.

How does all of this fit with our readings this morning, which as I have noted on the notice sheet, do not look like they fit the seaside much – with John the Baptist being murdered on a whim and a rash promise (Mark 6:14-29), Amos saying he’s not a prophet but a dresser of sycamore trees (Amos 7:7-15) and Paul referring to adoption as a child of God (Ephesians 1:3-14).

John the Baptist brings the whims and actions of those who wield power under the spotlight. The G7 conference has been criticised by climate campaigners and those working in international aid as failing to make any real meaningful commitments. Headline grabbing promises of a few million doses of vaccine around the world won’t stretch far. There needs to be a commitment to sustained and determined policies to make the changes needed. There are major investors who realise that business needs to champion ecological concerns otherwise the companies will be shortlived. This is where John the Baptist’s murder fits in. He was executed for short-term political face saving. He was thrown under the bus because of a rash promise made in a drunken moment of lechery. The gospel reading is an unsavoury one from every angle.  

Those who lead, those who have political power have a primary duty to ensure justice and peace, and the greatest threat we face – in terms of the very land we occupy, social unrest and the mass  disruption of peoples comes from climate triggered events. Tackling this is actually enlightened self-interest.

Amos took us from the macro level to the individual and personal. He may describe himself as being a gardener, tending sycamore trees, but everyone can make a difference. We can change our ways, change our energy use, reduce, reuse, repair and recycle. We can raise our voice, like our choristers and the students from the schools did this week. The challenges are enormous, but each small step taken is a step closer.

Paul reminds us that God does not abandon us and regards us not as disposable but beloved children of grace. Human beings have so much potential and goodness built into them, because they are brought, we are brought into being through love and grace. The call is to live this blessing and love. As children of God, to live the household rules and not trash the pad we have been given.

Paul ends us on a note of hope, as I tried with my climate charter with a vision of hope for all. All are beloved children of God and we trust that there is a future worth championing. With hope we can make the changes on which all our futures depend.

I will give the last word to our choristers, who are going to sing Gee Seven, written for Truro Cathedral for use around the G7 conference and a song of prophetic protest and challenge from a younger generation to us all.

Sermon for Trinity 6 – Climate Change – Newport Cathedral, Sunday 11th July 2021

About Ian Black

Ian is an Anglican priest and Dean of Newport Cathedral in the Church in Wales. He was previously Vicar of Peterborough and Canon Residentiary of Peterborough Cathedral in the Church of England Diocese of Peterborough. He served as Rural Dean of Peterborough for 5 years. Prior to moving to Peterborough, Ian was in Leeds for 10 years, as Vicar of Whitkirk and as a member of the Chapter of Ripon Cathedral. He has also worked in Kent in Maidstone and as priest-in-charge of a group of parishes in Faversham. He was a Minor Canon of Canterbury Cathedral, a prison chaplain and Assistant Director of Post-Ordination Training for the Diocese of Canterbury in partnership with the Diocese of Rochester. Prior to ordination Ian had a career in tax, both with the Inland Revenue as a PAYE Auditor and a firm of Chartered Accountants as a Tax Accountant. Ian was born and grew up in Stratford-upon-Avon and is a former head chorister at Shakespeare’s Church – Holy Trinity. He studied in Canterbury, Lincoln Theological College and has a Master of Divinity degree from Nottingham University. He is married with two sons. Publications include three books of prayers: Prayers for all occasions (SPCK 2011), Intercessions for Years A, B & C (SPCK 2009) and Intercessions for the Calendar of Saints and Holy Days (SPCK 2005). His most recent book, Follow me: living the sayings of Jesus, was published by Sacristy Press on 1st July 2017. There is also a hymn based on this – Christ the Saviour. Other online writings can be found under the Books & Publications tab above. He has been writing online since the mid 1990s and was a contributing blogger to the ReJesus website. Ian is a keen photographer and these frequently appear in his Facebook and Twitter posts.
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