From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Episcopalians: New England bishops call church to action in environmental crisis

Date Thu, 27 Feb 2003 16:10:57 -0500

February 27, 2003


Episcopalians: New England bishops call church to action in 
environmental crisis

by Jan Nunley

(ENS) 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 

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 

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."


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 (

--The Rev. Jan Nunley is deputy director of Episcopal News 

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