The Climate Emergency Toolkit that is changing people’s lives
Tearfund has long campaigned on the issue of climate change. Earlier this year, it launched a toolkit to spell out to churches three simple steps that they can take to help tackle the climate emergency. Jack Wakefield explains how the toolkit came about.
In 2019 two church-goers in Leeds, Mark and Howard, met for a coffee at a Christian event and discussed how little mention there was of the climate emergency. ‘There is such a deafening silence on climate change’ remarked Howard, ‘you would think there was no emergency at all’.
That initial reflection sparked a conversation that eventually formed into a proposal: a toolkit to help churches and Christian organisations respond to the climate crisis like the emergency it is. We’ve now seen churches declaring a climate emergency, making plans to divest or take other actions, and supporting their congregations to respond – including many who haven’t engaged with the topic before.
When they make their declarations, we’re encouraging churches to create a public moment so that they can successfully engage local media. Our hope is that if hundreds of churches declare a climate emergency in the run up to COP, this will become a story in itself.
One pastor told us he hadn’t ever preached about climate change before 2020. But after a few sermons and making their official ‘recognition’, they ended up with a team of 23 people volunteering to help coordinate the response and run initiatives in the wider community.
Let’s think of churches as communities of people with real influence
Six months after that first conversation between Mark and Howard, they presented the idea to my team at the Tearfund offices, as well as people from several other organisations, in the hope that we’d support the project. As they pitched to us, one brilliant idea stood out: what if we stopped thinking about the church only as a building to be improved, but also as a community of people from all walks of life, attending schools, workplaces, community groups and with huge potential to influence those spaces.
Responding to the climate emergency should be central to our Christian faith
So often in the church, climate change can be a specialist interest for a select few who faithfully chip away at change, getting burned out and feeling that no one else cares. Yet responding to the climate emergency should be central to the Christian faith: it is about loving our global neighbours who are threatened by droughts and storms, as well as an opportunity to reach out and serve our local communities.
The question their presentation posed to us was this: what if we could move climate change to a front-and-centre issue that concerned every single member of the congregation? In the coming months, a small team of us from Tearfund and the Church of England, accompanied by Mark and Howard, got to work.
With so many brilliant Christian organisations already working in this space, we were conscious of not reinventing the wheel. Through consultation with more than ten other organisations we eventually formed a Toolkit: a hub full of resources and tools, many of which already existed, re-organised around three simple steps that would provide a clear and simple journey for a church or Christian organisation (or perhaps any community organisation) to respond with both the scale and urgency required.
Three simple steps that every church can take
First, ‘Prepare’: begin the conversation with the whole congregation. Preach about climate change, host listening circles for those with climate anxiety, run workshops about sustainable living and help everyone see this is an important part of being a Christian today.
Next, ‘Declare’: make an official and public statement that says you recognise the scale of the crisis and commit to making a plan for the church’s emissions in a certain timeframe. Decisions in churches can take many years, but making the declaration gives a deadline, while also providing a reason for churches to contact their local council, MP, as well as other churches to inform them that they have declared an emergency and to push for change politically too.
The third and final step is ‘Impact’: support everyone in the congregation to reflect on where they already have influence – their workplaces, community groups, families, schools and more – and take action. Whether it’s asking their employer where their pensions are invested or asking their school to switch to renewable energy.
The toolkit is changing people’s lives
I recently met with someone whose church has been looking at the Climate Emergency Toolkit and teaching about climate change on Sundays. She’s a vet and has begun plans to open her own – sustainable – practice, finding ways to source sterile medical equipment without single-use plastic, using renewable energy and so on. She was excited as she shared because this wasn’t about using the correct compostable cups at church, it was about her passion as a vet.
The Impact step also encourages churches to connect with their local climate groups, whether it’s a conservation society, Transition Towns or XR group. These can be passionate and informed people keen to make change, but without huge numbers locally. We wanted to encourage churches to stand alongside them for some of their campaigns and amplify their voices by speaking together as, perhaps unlikely, coalitions. If we’re going to see change at the speed we need, we’ll need to come together.
In the first few months since launching, more than two thousand people have downloaded the Climate Emergency Toolkit. At a ‘national training webinar’ we hosted a few weeks ago, more than 400 people attended, keen to learn how to apply it to their own context. We’ve seen twenty declarations made, and we’re hopeful that there are many more to come – but more importantly, we’re hopeful that churches in the UK will be communities full of people excited to love their global neighbours by influencing their politicians, workplaces and communities to respond to the climate crisis like the emergency it really is.
- The Climate Emergency Toolkit has been produced by a broad coalition of organisations and in collaboration with activists and church leaders. It has been endorsed by a number of Christian climate scientists. The Toolkit can be found at: climateemergencytoolkit.com
Jack Wakefield is a campaigner at Tearfund.