Church leadership’s role for promoting public engagement with climate change

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Our meeting at lunchtime on 18th November 2019 attracted 18 people who completely filled the Jerusalem Room at No4 College Green. Mark Bick, a Licensed Pioneer Minister based in the Royal Forest of Dean, described how leadership from the local church can help promote public engagement with the issues of climate change; including brokering new partnerships.  

How it got stated

The Coleford Climate Emergency Drop In was initiated by being able to use an empty shop in the town centre.  Mark made contact with local parents; one of whom had been to an Extinction Rebellion (XR) meeting.  He also happened to know a counsellor on the local District Council Climate Emergency (“Rainbow” Cabinet). 

What we did

  • Kept ambition simple - we had in mind a one month long pilot for a minimum of two hours a day although in reality this lasted up to six hours a day!

  • Two different local artists did outside signs and a window display

  • Mark removed the shop counter inside

  • Others started on displays and setting up a computer that someone had donated.  

  • Someone else set up Facebook page. 

  • Discovered needed proactive outside engagement - sunshade and small table. Discovered gap in available materials - either very simple pictures and slogans or in depth reports, not much available in printable form in between so started working on our own: Act Now!  Food, Waste and There is no Planet B

  • Events – with local counsellors firstly Chris McFarland and then Di Martin.  The second event was “very down to Earth” but engaged, simple things like how one parish went pesticide free, a town is reducing plastics another parish is working to create a shared use commuter pathway. 

  • Mark used info-graphics from CCC - there was a bit gentle resistance from some to using such mainstream sources, but to my mind the major gap between Government action and these fairly modest proposals needs pointing out.  He also used quotes from Lord Deben, which surprised some XR people seeing vocal support from a Tory!  (see attached speech by Lord Deben in the House of Lords debate on Reducing Greenhouse Emissions - 2nd May 2019 12.12pm)

What we learned

  • A lot of people are concerned, are trying to do their bit and want to know more. 
  • Many members of the public think it is all about recycling they don’t seem to get the “reduce and reuse” bit! The Gloucester CC site has both but tends to start with recycling. 
  • There is significant sense of guilt / defensiveness eg. “I am doing my bit.” 
  • The handouts were really valued and have a life of their own!
  • There are significant numbers of people wanting face to face contact - meetings, one to one etc. 

Reflections

1) Working with “people of goodwill”.  Mark experienced of grace from XR volunteers.  The power of building relationships and trust. 

2) The parallel experiences of both the church and XR of people being put off by the “label”. Possible reasons: 

  • people feeling judged by both organisations (for different reasons),
  • the impact on relationships with outsiders of being confident that “you know the Truth”,
  • reputational difficulties for both organisations due to the actions of some members.
  • what we can learn from this in our mission as a parish church. 

3) We need more information sheets:

  • Jargon buster/glossary
  • What we need governments to do
  • Transport
  • Home insulation and heating. 
  • Clothing and Fashion. 

4) There is a very deep link between Christian teaching on the place of money and possessions and on idolatry and the change that is needed to the culture of consumption.  Mark feels that individuals and churches need to go a lot further with this.   

Mark briefly describe some of his experiences in the Forest of Dean which gave rise to some personal reflection as well as generating a lively discussion.  He ended by appealing for help with further information sheets:

  • A Climate emergency jargon buster,  
  • Something on the different UK zero emission target dates, 
  • Why Government action is needed. 
  • Housing and energy
  • Transport. 

Any offers of help would be much appreciated! 

mark@markbick.co.uk