A new Vision for Sacred Life and Living Earth

 

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A new Vision for Sacred Life and Living Earth

Bishop Ellinah Wamukoya gave a speech at the Policy Conference of SAFCEI (Southern African Faith Community Environmental Institute

 “Unless our work is grounded in our places of worship, we could be just any NGO” – many NGOS work on all these issues . How can  Safcei  be different to other NGOS?

Nelson Mandela said this “If you speak to a person in a language they understand, you speak to their head. If you speak to them in their own language, you speak to their heart”

We need to learn to translate these issues into our own language, our faith language.

Let me make a few examples.

Water Justice

When talking about water justice, our starting point is the sacredness of water. There are 722 verses in the Bible that speak of water. The Bible starts with the picture of the Spirit of God hovering over the waters – and in the last book – Revelation – we read that the water of life flows from the throne of God.

As Christians, we become members of the family of God through the sacred waters of baptism.

So our work for climate justice must be rooted in the sacredness of water.

In most African countries fetching water remain the duty of girls and women. Personally, growing up I have experienced the need to wake up as early as 3am to fetch water from as far away as up to 3km one way and being exposed to all sorts risk. Climate change will increase the incidence of sexual harassment and rape among young women as they have to walk further and get up in the dark to fetch water.

The Kingdom of Eswatini in efforts to meet SDG #6 it is working on rural water supply in some communities where the objective is that each family can have clean water access within 200m and meeting minimum of 30L per person per day.

The Diocese of Swaziland has embarked rainwater harvesting in Parishes and schools in efforts to ensure water is available to most . The time of drought the schools were threatened with closure because the children could not use the toilets. We have currently distributed 5,000 lts  water tanks to most of the Anglican schools.

We all know which river Jesus was baptised in ? Yes the Jordan river. But most of us do not know where the water comes from that we were baptised with – we think “it comes out of a tap”. But water comes from God, it comes from rain and into the rivers. And our rivers are polluted.

As a Church, we have over the years embarked on river clean up campaigns and we have proposed that churches should adopt a certain river to clean up any pollutants and remove water thirsty plant species from the river banks within a specified distance.

During the Season of Creation we hold outdoor services – for example by the river, followed by a river clean up. We are also duty bound as faith communities to preach about the sacredness of water and also teach water saving techniques to our people.   The Anglican Church is concerned about water justice such that it had conferences on water justice in 2018 in the US and Cape Town.

Land justice

“I brought you into a fertile land to eat its rich fruit and produce but you came and defiled my land and made my inheritance detestable. Jer 2:7

Land degradation from bad agricultural practices, pollution, bad road constructions, forest fires, deforestation, overgrazing and poorly planned land use practices and settlements among others are also on the rise in most African countries and my Kingdom (Eswatini) is not spared. In Eswatini, the Sugar industry is the major monoculture that uses a lot of chemicals and synthetic fertilizers all which pollute the land and water and also kills useful insects such as bees. Most investments are diverted to big scale agricultural project other than the small scale farmers that feeds the nation. This provide a difficult choice in light of the economic down turn of our societies.

We are called to renew the face of the earth, this means healing the soil – and so we teach climate smart agriculture – low tillage, making our own compost, not using artificial fertilizers, lots of mulching. These techniques are called “God’s way of farming” – learning from nature.

Energy and Climate

As it has been discussed in this conference energy sector is blamed for contributing to environmental challenges such as through emission of carbon dioxide from burning of fossil fuels. In Eswatini we depend on electricity generated in South Africa using coal, South African electricity is the dirtiest in the world.  Eswatini is very much looking forward to mining her large reserves of coal. Coal mining on its own has contributed to a number of challenges in the mining areas such as Mpumalanga in South Africa.

As Green Anglicans we promote the use of renewable energy sources such as use of solar geezers, solar lighting, energy saving bulbs etc. Our Mother’s Union make the “wonder bag” which you can cook with using very little fuel, and we also promote rocket stoves.

We partnered with the Interfaith Centre for Sustainable Development and were trying to get  a small scale industrial solar farm built. But bureaucracy defeated us. However the Diocese of Niassa in Northern Mozambique recently signed off on a 50 Megawatt  solar field and the Anglican Diocese of Lake Malawi is close behind

Biodiversity   

The web of life is unravelling.  The theme for this year’s Season of Creation was biodiversity.

In 2019 in the month of July, Eswatini experience the worst wild fires ever that blazed through natural and manmade biodiversity. The fire damages accounted a loss of over E/R74million which resulted in the loss of wild animals in Mlilwane Game park, commercial forest, grazing land and cropland and individual properties. Fires have a direct impact on biodiversity. The Diocese of Swaziland has passed a resolution to promote prevention of forest fires and putting pressure on government to put in place proper policies on the subject.

Another problem of biodiversity loss is the issue of alien invasive plant species that are taking over in most parts of Southern Africa and replacing natural forest and/or biodiversity. In this year’s season of creation where biodiversity was the theme the Diocese of Swaziland embarked on invasive plant uprooting in one of its parishes. Invasive are taking over grazing land and livestock is said to be the Bank of eMaswati and contributes to livelihood. 

Firewood use has contributed to deforestation and biodiversity loss as in most cases the natural trees are cut for fuel and at times for commercial purposes.  As the Diocese we have established a 26ha woodlot of non-indigenous trees (wattle) to reduce the pressure on natural trees that takes long to grow into a strong wood.  This avoids people cutting down indigenous trees.

The Anglican Church of Southern Africa is committed to working towards paperless meetings and we had our first paperless Provincial Synod.

Throughout the Anglican Church we are promoting the use of tree planting for spiritual moments. As bishops we encourage the young people to bring a tree seedling for blessing for confirmation as a symbol of their spiritual growth. People plant trees to celebrate events – for instance the young people in Maxixe in Mozambique planted 55 trees throughout the streets of the town to celebrate 55 years of the youth guild. People plant for  weddings, for birthdays.    The Lambeth Conference next year in London plans to plant 1 million trees. We must grow trees, not plant them!

We are finding that memorial trees are very important, people need a place where they can mourn a loved one. With our migrant life-style , often loved ones are buried very far away.

Rev 22 v 2 tells us that the “leaves of the trees are for the healing of the nations”

waste

Waste management is a major issue in the Kingdom of Eswatini. A survey conducted by the Swaziland Environment Authority revealed big retail shops are responsible for distribution of an estimate of 4million plastics shopping bags per month.  Eswatini has banned plastic bags in Eswatini and use of plastic bags will now come at a cost and only government authorized individuals will be allowed to manufacture or import plastics in the country. The role of the church, civil society and individuals in clean-up campaigns and putting pressure on Government to pass the ban of single use plastic bag has been significant. Faith communities can play a major role in waste management especially dissemination of waste management practices. Our wish is to see the government ban use of single use completely.

When I do my grocery shopping, the women at the till know not to offer me a plastic bag!

HOW CAN THE CHURCH RESPOND TO CLIMATE CHANGE?

It is essential that theology offers a framework to help us recognise the link between human induced global warming and poverty to be able to address climate change. It is noteworthy to recognise that climate change is a  human rights  issue rather than a purely environmental one.  It is time therefore that a theological approach to climate change must be rooted in the wider theology and ethics of development, rather than treated as an extension of Christian environmentalism

We need to start with spirituality, then move to local action, then move to advocacy and activism. Our activism must come from a love of the Creator God.

To tackle climate change, which has the potential to affect every area of our lives, theology needs to explore the interconnectedness between God and humans, God and nature and human beings and nature (Clifford, 2009: 9).

In my own studies at Pretoria University I have explored the Eucharist  and the Environment. For Anglicans and other denominations, the Eucharist is the  time when we gather as a community and share the bread and wine and this celebration  is  at the heart of our worship.

Let me share with you one prayer

  • Yours, Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the splendour, and the majesty; for everything in heaven and on earth is yours. All things come from you, and of your own do we give you (APB, 1989: 16).
  • This prayer shows us that although  God has given his people this fruitful land to live in and enjoy, it still belongs to him (Leviticus 25:23).

How can we give back to God a broken world when he gave us a perfect world?

We also pray the prayer of penitence

Almighty God, our heavenly Father in penitence we confess that we have sinned against you through our own fault in thought,… (APB 1989: 106).

We need to recognize that those sins include the sin of damaging the earth. The recently concluded Catholic Synod of the Amazon called for us to recognize ecological sins.

When we come to offer the bread and wine we says these words

“Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation. Through your goodness we have this bread to offer, which earth has given ……. And this wine to offer fruit of the vine…. (APB, 1989: 116)”.

The offertory prayers thank God for what he has provided for the use of humanity,  recognizes the fact that humanity and nature are interdependent;

During the Season of Creation we have a special prayer that we say

God of power and might, you spoke the Word and all that is in heaven and on the earth, all things, came to be. Your Spirit hovered over the primal elements, and you brought forth life in forms innumerable, including this fragile earth, and us amongst its inhabitants (Season of Creation, 2008: 6).”

This is a wonderful recognition of the biodiversity of this fragile planet.

  • The Eucharist instills a culture that treats with respect and rejects the belittlement of material things
  • The bread and wine used in the  Eucharist are to be consumed and they are measured in such a way to avoid wastage, and whatever remains has to be reverently kept for later or consumed.
  • When we receive the bread and wine, each person only receives one wafer, whether poor or rich, for in God we are all equal. 



Gus Speth who was the environmental advisor to Bill Clinton  said this:

I used to think that top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that thirty years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that.”

Brothers and Sisters, God is calling us, speaking  in the language of our faith communities, to preach, prophecy and inspire, and raise up a mighty  army from the faith communities and together we believe the Earth will be renewed..

 

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