New England bishops call church to action in environmental crisis

February 26, 2003

Eleven Episcopal bishops, representing six New England states, have issued a Pastoral Letter on the Environment, 'To Serve Christ in All Creation,' calling on more than 250,000 Episcopalians to protect, restore and repair creation.

The letter is being mailed to all Episcopalians in Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. Accompanied by a list of resources, suggested practical actions, and a proposed curriculum for churches to use in raising congregational awareness of environmental issues, the letter is designed to educate Episcopalians to be proactive stewards of creation.

The letter coincides with an announcement by the attorneys general of the New England states that they intend to sue Christie Whitman, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, for its failure to regulate power plant emissions of carbon dioxide, as required by the Clean Air Act.

Pressure to meet commitments

'Our national leadership, as we write in this letter, is 'failing to acknowledge the urgency of the planetary crisis in which we now find ourselves,'' said Bishop Suffragan Bud Cederholm of Massachusetts. 'Our letter calls for us to repent of our greed and waste and commit ourselves to energy conservation and the use of clean, renewable sources of energy. All around the country we are seeing religious leaders beginning to talk about our environment and one of the results is that we are putting more pressure on our governmental leaders to meet their commitments to us and to the future.'

The pastoral confessed 'our past complacency, ignorance and neglect' of environmental issues and expresses regret at 'Christian teachings that claim or imply that human beings have divine sanction to destroy God's creation.'

'New Englanders are acutely aware of the environmental challenges we face in our own small corner of the world, from the collapse of fisheries to the loss of farmlands and wetlands, from smog to acid rain,' the pastoral stated. 'Airborne mercury poisoning, suburban sprawl, the loss of wilderness, overuse of pesticides and other toxins, extinction of species--these are just a few of the environmental hazards with which we must contend.'

The threat of global climate change to the region is a particular concern of the pastoral. 'In New England, climate change may cause flooding in coastal areas, reduce the quality of our region's fresh water, imperil agriculture, and increase the outbreaks of infectious disease,' it said. 'Within this century, New England may lose its maple, birch, and beech trees. We face the loss of our spectacular fall colors and the end of fall-foliage tourism, as well as the destruction of our region's maple sugar industry.'

Not just political issues

'Environmental issues are not just scientific, political, or economic issues, but ones that are profoundly moral and spiritual as well,' the pastoral declared. 'As Christians we cannot remain silent....Is it not possible to recognize all creation as our 'neighbor'?'

The pastoral urged Episcopalians to prayer, repentance and action and 'to realize that, through participation in community, public policy, and business decision-making, we have corporate as well as individual opportunities to practice environmental stewardship and justice.' It ended by calling for a 'Provincial Convocation on the Environment' in 2003.

In Washington, the Episcopal Church's Office of Government Relations asked Episcopalians to contact members of Congress to support legislation to protect permanently the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, land sacred to the indigenous Gwich'in nation of Alaska, most of whom are Episcopalians. Acting on resolutions passed by the General Convention, the office also supports legislation to increase fuel efficiency standards substantially, and opposes the inclusion of Arctic leasing revenues in any budget reconciliation bill.

'Episcopalians recognize that the assault on the environment--from legislation to regulations both state and federal--is so great that, as a church, we must declare a crisis and focus on systemic change at every level, personal, congregational and national,' said John Johnson of the Episcopal Church's Office of Government Relations in Washington, DC. 'Through the motivation of faith and the example of our bishops, Episcopalians everywhere are actively working in support of sensible and just environmental policies.'

The Pastoral and other materials are available at the websites for the Diocese of Massachusetts (www.diomass.org) and the Diocese of Maine (www.diomaine.org/province1.htm.)

For an examination of the effects of global warming in New England, see New England Regional Assessment Group, 2001: Preparing for Climate Change: The Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change. New England Regional Overview, U.S. Global Change Research Program, 96 pp., University of New Hampshire