We know that Climate Change is a major threat to our planet and is having a devastating effect on our world. Christians have an obligation to care for and protect our common home and to show solidarity with those affected most. In response, churches and denominations have set targets to improve their corporate carbon footprint and have encouraged individuals to change. We cannot do this in isolation.
In the North East we are responding together and have formed an Ecumenical Environment Group. We share information and good practice and identify ways of working better together and with other agencies. The group has developed slowly, arranging meetings across a large region was difficult but a change to virtual meetings during lockdown enabled us to meet more frequently (and of course was better for carbon footprint!). Now we have representatives from all the major regional church bodies. We are also working closely with the North East of England Climate Coalition (NEECCo). We can do more together than we can do apart.
NEECCo is a coalition of business, education, local government, voluntary and faith groups who are coming together to make this area the greenest region. North East Churches Acting Together (NECAT) and the Northern Church Leaders group were both keen to sign up and have been followed by regional denominations and local churches. We have begun some very constructive conversations about how we, as churches together, may work better with businesses and statutory agencies to make a difference in our practice.
Aware of the carbon footprint of travel, we held a regional online conference in September. Over 100 people with a range of church connections, and none, joined to ask how the churches of the North East might be able to work better together. We worshipped together and were inspired by our main speakers including Sir Paul Ennals from NEECCo, Rachie Ross from Operation Noah, Ben Niblett from Tearfund and Pam Martin from A Rocha who stimulated our thinking and gave us practical steps to do at home and at church. There was also a series of three-minute presentations of local initiatives, stories that challenged us to do something and to embed care for the environment in our life and worship.
Two Ecumenical pilgrimages have headed through the region to COP26. Our Ecumenical Environment Group linked with them to identify volunteers, stopping places and accommodation from across the local churches. The Youth Pilgrimage (Relay Home | YCCN) also held a residency in Newcastle and the European Pilgrimage arrived in North Shields and walked up through Northumberland stopping at the beautiful island of Lindisfarne.
In a response to COP26, one of our Churches Together groups staged a funeral for the earth and held prayers in church. Other groups held climate protests and Eco Fairs and prayer vigils. And individual Christians from a variety of traditions signed up for an online bible study led by Rev Ruth Newton from Anglican Ripon Diocese.
There has been a wonderful, ecumenical response that we hope we can continue to build on.