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Ministering in the Anthropocene: anchors for pastoral practice

Paul Bodenham is a trustee of Green Christian, and co-ordinator of its Borrowed Time programme for pastoral care in the climate emergency.

We don’t know how climate change will play out. One thing is for sure: the future will not be like the past. Knowing that exposes us to some difficult emotions – grief, anxiety, guilt, shame, anger, even despair.

The Climate Change Committee has said the UK is ‘woefully unprepared’ to adapt practically to the future climate. The pastoral task is equally overdue. Let’s use Climate Sunday as a stimulus to develop our response.

Far from disabling us, these climate emotions are our greatest gifts right now. They are gateways to the capacities we need for the race to zero carbon: honesty, creativity, resilience, courage to win the future, and equanimity whatever the outcome.

I’d like to suggest six sources in our faith that can serve to anchor us, so that we hold our nerve amid the destabilisation that is coming.

  • Rediscovering baptism: Christians are ‘the baptised’, participants in the paschal journey of incarnation, death and resurrection. In baptism, the overwhelming is redeemed. Christ asks us to enter the deep waters of the future with him, and there to accompany others.

  • Collective bereavement care: Baptism equips us to confront the prospect of death – whether of ourselves, ecosystems, cherished species or spaces. It qualifies us to accompany others. It’s why our churches are experienced in bereavement care, and those skills are now needed at the collective level.

  • Safe confessional space: Our churches can offer safe space to say what cannot otherwise be said. The mere invitation assures people that they are not alone in their climate feelings. In enabling people to make themselves vulnerable, we need to be ready to equip them to navigate the journey that follows.

  • A practice of lament: Lament is such a journey. It enables the broken heart to find repair and reconciliation. With prophets and psalmists we can name what is happening. We can find language for the unspeakable, for ourselves and for each other, the Earth and God.

  • Reconciliation and justice: Lament brings us to know our true stature in the climate crisis: we are not saviours but wounded healers. Given our complete complicity, we need healing for our moral injury. It is our penitence, the lived practice of our lament, that qualifies us to stand for justice.

  • Beyond hope and despair: Finally, not a recommendation but an abiding question which I think we must be content not to answer: what do we mean by hope? Do we use hope to pretend we are invulnerable, to disavow the ruins of modernity piling up around us? Do we invoke hope to close down conversations we are afraid to have? Let’s not anathematise those who say they despair: their ‘despair’ could be a more courageous hope than ours.

So as we head into the Anthropocene, let’s not be tempted to leap the chasm of uncertainty that is opening up before us. There is no ‘other side’ where climate change is ‘fixed’. Let’s enter it, in solidarity with all that lives, clothed in the power of the Cross, and in faith and hope and love.


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