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Confirmation of a conversion

by
08 July 2022

Steven Croft explains a liturgical innovation

Alamy

Tapestry of Creation with Christ Pantocrator at the centre (11th century), Girona Cathedral

Tapestry of Creation with Christ Pantocrator at the centre (11th century), Girona Cathedral

I HAVE had a growing sense for several years that something is missing from the service of baptism and confirmation. I love the words of the Commission: the additional promises, which come after the solemn vows are taken (or renewed), and after the baptism and confirmation. The words are drawn from scripture and the tradition. They refer to four of the five marks of mission of the Anglican Communion. But there is no mention of our responsibility to care for the earth.

The Common Worship baptism service was drawn together in the 1990s. The world was less aware then of the growing threat of climate change and the environmental crisis. My sense of something missing deepened during my first visit to South Africa. Global warming is more pronounced, the further you are from the Equator. For sisters and brothers in our link diocese of Kimberley & Kuruman, climate change is a present reality, experienced in drought, water rationing, extreme weather events, and diminishing harvests.

The sense of something missing sharpened as I pondered the call of Pope Francis in his great encyclical Laudato Si’: “The ecological crisis is also a summons to a profound ecological conversion. . . a healthy relationship with creation is one dimension of overall personal conversion” (217, 218). Surely that should affect our liturgy?

And the sense of something missing has grown, of course, as the crisis grows: as oceans rise; as the earth heats; as the poorest suffer; as rivers choke; as species after species becomes extinct; as the forests are cleared; as fires and storms rage; as diseases leap from animals to humankind.

 

A YEAR ago, I was appointed to the new House of Lords Select Committee on the Environment and Climate Change. Our task is to hold the Government to account across every department in this key area. Every week, in committee, I hear evidence on climate change. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that responding well is the greatest global challenge of our age. What part does the Church need to play?

The committee is about to publish its first significant report on behaviour change. According to the Government’s own figures, about 60 per cent of the action needed for the UK to reach net zero by 2050 involves some form of personal behaviour change, mainly in the areas of diet, transport, and domestic heating.

The world can still limit global warming to around 1.5° above pre-industrial levels. Even this will have devastating consequences for many. But we need radical action and better leadership now, to avert the unimaginable chaos that would follow a temperature rise beyond this threshold.

The response needs to be global and local. In the UK, there is a part for national and local government to play. But we need a response from every business, every charity, every faith community, every family — and we need it now. The lead to net zero will come only from the Western democracies, which are themselves significant emitters of greenhouse gases.

 

THE Church should be leading, not following, on climate action in every place. Christians believe that this is God’s world. We have a responsibility to care for the earth, for our neighbours, and for future generations. Care for creation needs to be written deeply into our liturgy and in our actions.

So, as one small step, I have authorised an additional question for the Commission, for use in the diocese of Oxford, drawn directly from the fifth mark of mission: Will you strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth? I used the question for the first time in the University Church in Oxford on 29 May. The new question is supported by our three Area Bishops. It also has the support of the Chair of the Liturgical Commission, and the Lead Bishop on the Environment, who has commended it for use across the Church of England. I hope that other dioceses will take it up.

 

THE new question has provoked some discussion and dissent. That’s fine. All debate on these issues is welcome. In time, the Church might come up with even better wording, and an authorised text.

It’s not enough, of course: not nearly enough. We need much more engagement with eco-church, with environmental action groups, with the political process, and with behaviour change. Our diocesan synod voted recently to invest £10 million in insulating our vicarages, as our next step to net zero. The General Synod will debate the issue further this weekend. The movement to arrest global warming will have many small steps, as well as some large ones. All Christians, everywhere, are called to an ecological conversion. But I hope and pray that this modest change will challenge and deepen the normal Church of England understanding of what it means to be a Christian and a disciple.
 

Dr Steven Croft is the Bishop of Oxford.

 

Those who are baptised are called to worship and serve God. Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?

With the help of God, I will.

Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?

With the help of God, I will.

Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ?

With the help of God, I will.

Will you seek and serve Christ in all people, loving your neighbour as yourself?

With the help of God, I will.

Will you acknowledge Christ’s authority over human society, by prayer for the world and its leaders, by defending the weak, and by seeking peace and justice?

With the help of God, I will.

Will you strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth?

With the help of God I will

May Christ dwell in your heart(s) through faith, that you may be rooted and grounded in love and bring forth the fruit of the Spirit.

Amen.

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