An April Guardian article claims that ‘Climate anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are on the rise. Therapists don’t know how to cope.’ The rise in different forms of ‘eco anxiety’ should not come as a surprise. It couldn’t be clearer that we are facing an unprecedented ecological crisis. The Living Planet Report (2018) highlighted that we’ve lost 60% of species of birds, fish and mammals since 1970. Soon after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that humanity had little over a decade to cut carbon emissions deeply enough to have a fighting chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change. Concern in the face of this threat to one’s future is totally understandable, but when it becomes anxiety it can be deeply debilitating.
Has the Church any role to play in this situation? It has, and it must, in our view. The Church has much experience of living with suffering, providing compassion and resources for people to face mortality – as well as to persevere in seeking a more just future. So, just as local churches have responded with pastoral care and support for those affected by the covid crisis, so they will increasingly need to respond with pastoral care to those suffering from the environmental crisis.
God has given the churches rich resources to draw from. First, nature – God’s creation – itself offers solutions. Millions of us turned to nature to help cope with the stress of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Mental Health Foundation’s recent Awareness Week (10-16 May), had Nature as it’s theme. So, churches, often with quiet churchyards, can look for ways to make this better for nature and for people to meet nature there.
Secondly, our churches can make space for lament – the collective acknowledgement of grief. Facing and sharing our true feelings about something tough, including how sad we are about humanity’s destruction of nature, opens the door to addressing the issue in our hearts and minds. It’s such a Biblical concept that a whole book of the Bible is called Lamentations!
Lament, lastly, will often lead to much more effective action too. At a recent A Rocha UK seminar, theologian Hannah Malcolm observed that if lament becomes a discipline of prayer woven into the life of a community, it can produce ‘works of healing and works of life in the face of death’. These include Christians and Churches engaging in local wildlife and allotment projects, prayer and counselling services, providing a safe space for the community to discuss the future it wants, as well as demanding accountability from our institutions and governments on its response to the environmental crisis.
The Mental Health Foundation’s recent report Mental Health & Nature found that in a time of devastating environmental threats, developing a stronger mutually supportive relationship between people and the environment will be critical. The Church is uniquely placed to help bring that about as part of its mission to worship our Creator God, and care for his Creation – nature and people.
Written by Helen Stephens, Church Relations Manager for our May 2021 eNews.
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