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The church as emergency-responders

Dr Ruth Valerio, Global Advocacy and Influencing Director, Tearfund

A recent interview I did on Radio 4, looking at the role of the church in tackling the climate emergency, provoked a tweet that said: ‘Religious communities make up 80 per cent of world population and have been largely responsible for climate change. Why is it not obvious that the solution is to follow the secular lead, abandon religious fantasy, and do something useful (like most first world secular countries)?’

I politely reminded the person tweeting that it is first world countries who have caused the problem in the first place and obstinately refused to take serious action for decades, despite knowing full well what scientists were warning us – that we were heading for a crisis; for people, and for the wider natural world.

At Tearfund, we hear, every day, how the climate crisis is devastating the lives of people living in poverty. More frequent droughts and floods mean crops ruined, people going hungry, the loss of homes and jobs, and children missing out on education. Millions of people are being forcibly displaced by weather-related hazards, and in 2016 we saw world hunger increase for the first time in a decade, with climate change being one of the key reasons for that alongside conflict (which is itself, of course, often climate-driven).

And, the wider environment is facing a crisis, too. Our human activities are fundamentally altering the whole creation: a major intergovernmental report found that 66 per cent of marine environments and 75 per cent of land environments have been changed because of us, with terrible consequences as ecosystems are collapsing and species going extinct at a terrifying rate. Climate change is one of the key drivers behind this.

So, there is little doubt that we are now facing a climate emergency, and yes the church, in the global north along with the rest of society there has been responsible for this. But, this is not the end of the story; the church is uniquely placed to be an emergency responder.

We worship a creating, sustaining and redeeming God who calls us not to stand by helplessly but to act. Climate Sunday is an initiative of many Christian churches across Britain and Ireland to do just that. As well as encouraging you to hold a Climate Sunday worship service, it will take you on a path to action, from starting the conversation in your church, to taking action on your own church’s impact on the climate and environment, to connecting with others and using your voice and influence to bring about change. Climate Sunday’s Christian partners have put together a great selection of resources to help you at each stage – such as the Climate Emergency Toolkit.

Former Archbishop of Polynesia, Winston Halapua, tells of how when something of importance in the Pacific Islands needs to be signalled, a conch horn is blown. He says:

‘We need to blow a conch to alert the world of danger, not only to ourselves but to the whole planet earth. We need to call for a working together to care for our common home. We need to raise prophetic voices today. We face great crises and need to face them together.’[1]

The conch horn has been blown – let’s take notice and act.

[1] R. Valerio, Saying Yes to Life (SPCK: 2019), 129.


This month, we’re focusing on how churches can engage with the climate emergency. See our latest resource here to explore the climate emergency in worship, commitment to action and calling for change, and hear the stories of Gateway Church in Leeds, and Laura in Taunton.


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