Christians send message of 'urgency and hope' to Copenhagen summit

More than 20 senior church leaders gathered for a church service, with 3,200 Christians from their congregations, to support the London Wave, urging an ambitious, fair and effective deal at the Copenhagen Summit on climate change.

“This weekend’s events should send a clear message of urgency and hope to the Copenhagen Summit,” said Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury at the service on  Saturday morning at Westminster Central Hall. He said: “We are to be bearers of good news for the world that God has made. Not for any one little bit of it, not any one community at the expense of others, not even for humanity at the expense of everything else in the universe. Good news for all of creation. The health of the world around us and our own long-term health are not two things but one. Let us not lose sight of that.”
Archbishop Vincent Nichols, Head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales reflected that, “this morning is a marvellous expression of solidarity and compassion and they are robust Christian virtues”. He added that “today we are concerned for all those whose lives are directly affected by climate change, the world's poorest and the most disadvantaged”. He felt that Christians are called upon the live more simply, and felt that “unless it is clear that we are prepared to change, political leaders will not be able to reach the agreements which are now needed”.

Around 2,200 people were in the main hall and a further 1000 in overflow rooms two floors below watching on giants screens. Hundreds were left outside when the huge numbers forced closure of the main doors, and most moved to join the start of the main march or view the exhibition on climate change at St. Martin in the Fields Church, Trafalgar Square.

One of the Christians attending the service was Nicki Smith from Huddersfield who has spent the past month walking to the Wave, a journey of 250 miles. She wanted to draw attention to the climate change issue, and the report ‘Hope for God's Future’ produced by her Methodist Church.

“I have visited an interesting A Rocha wildlife project, spoke to several youth clubs, and just raised awareness with ordinary people I met along the way” she said. Nicki arrived at the service with her hair dyed blue, the colour of the Wave day of action.

Tearfund worker Richard Avery cycled from his Greasby home, a journey of 200 miles. “I visited Bangladesh with Tearfund five years ago and I was struck by how the changing climate is already impacting people there” he said. “I met people living right on the water’s edge who are so vulnerable to the extreme weather and sea level rises”. 

Bishop Lee Rayfield, the Anglican Bishop of Swindon also arrived on a bike, having cycled from Newbury to raise awareness of the need to reduce carbon emissions. “Our Government needs to appreciate how concerned ordinary people are about the impact of climate change on our planet” he said. “They need to hear our voice urging them to take the tough decisions in Copenhagen and I hope and pray that this cycle ride will amplify that voice”.

During the service, Christine Elliot, Secretary for External Relationships of the Methodist Church, interviewed partners of the Christian development agencies from the global south. Umme Kulsum from CAFOD partner Prodipan in Bangladesh spoke movingly about the impact of climate change on her country. “People are raising their houses, strengthening roofs, but sometimes they think that their effort in adapting is like using a single straw to stop the tide. The problem is big. They are trying to increase their resilience, but they also call for reducing or stopping use of greenhouse gasses, to hold the pace of climate change.” 

Listening at the front of the congregation was Mary Colwell, a former producer with the BBC National History Unit who is now a consultant to both the Alliance on Religions and Conservation and to the the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales on environmental issues. She felt “it is vital people of faith show they care about something as huge and potentially disastrous as climate change”. 

Messages of support to the Wave were received from church leaders internationally. Ecumenical Patriarch Batholomew I of Constantinople, spiritual leader of the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians, said: “We fervently pray for the best possible international agreement during the UN Conference on Climate Change, so that all industrialised countries may undertake a generous commitment to reduce polluting greenhouse gas emissions by 40% (of 1990) by 2020 and provide crucial financial support to developing nations”.

Bishop Barry Wood OMI, Auxiliary Bishop of Durban and Chairman of the Justice and Peace Department of the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference (RC) said: "I welcome the huge efforts that all Christians and people of goodwill present in the Wave are making to encourage the world's heads of state to take bold action to stem the calamitous path of climate change. We are already experiencing its disastrous effects throughout Africa, which are obstructing work for development at many levels. We therefore join you in calling for a reduction of CO2 emissions to a target of 350ppm, ensuring that emissions will have peaked by 2015 in all countries, to then decline to at least 80% below 1990 levels by 2050."

After the service many of the church leaders went on the join the UK’s biggest ever march in support of action on climate change, standing with a banner reading, ‘Churches say ‘ACT NOW ON CLIMATE CHANGE’. Among them were Bishop John Rawsthorne, the Chair of CAFOD, and Bishop Patrick Lynch of Southwark who is the episcopal liaison on Migrant issues.

The church leaders stood alongside children with faces and hands painted blue and an array of banners from parishes, dioceses and justice and peace groups, which contributed towards the encircling of the Houses of Parliament during the afternoon. CAFOD’s giant ‘blue hand’ banners featured prominently in later TV reports.

Afterwards, Church agencies joined other members of the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition meeting with Ed Miliband, the government’s climate change secretary, to stress again the need for urgent action in Copenhagen next week. He had walked with the marchers, at one point with a scientist with the Antarctic Survey, and said both were bemused by reports this past week by global warming sceptics which received “undue” media attention. “We think of 2009 as the year of economic turmoil, but it should be remembered as the year when we tried to save the world” he said. Whilst pushing the European Union to accept 30% cuts in carbon emissions by 2020, he agreed with many of these present who were calling for 40% by 2020. He congratulated participants in the Wave, adding that “popular pressure is making a difference – there must be other waves -  and will certainly do my best to get the best possible agreement at Copenhagen”.

The Wave ecumenical service was organised by A Rocha, CAFOD, Christian Aid, Christian Concern for One World, Christian Ecology Link, Columban JPIC, MRDF, Operation Noah, Progressio, SPEAK and Tearfund. It was part of The Wave events on 5 December organised by the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition, and part of an international day of action on climate change.

To hear and read Dr Rowan Williams'  and Archbishop Vincent Nichols at the service see :

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