By Mark A. Michael
LUSAKA, Zambia — Solar energy, green manure, tree planting, and forcing extension agents to get out from behind their desks to serve the people will all be in the future of “Green Anglicanism.”
That’s the word of young Anglicans from across Central and Southern Africa at a conference held in conjunction with this week’s opening of the Anglican Consultative Council.
“Young Green Anglicans: Intentional Discipleship and Climate Change” drew 75 youth from South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho, Angola, Mozambique, Botswana, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe for a three-day conference at Lusaka’s Marian Shrine Retreat Center.
The Rev. Robert Sihubwa, the Diocese of Lusaka’s youth minister and organizer of the conference, noted that youth account for more than 60 percent of Anglicans in his country. He said church leaders must listen to their voices and equip them to use their gifts. The conference included times of praise and common worship, as well as advocacy training and Bible study about Christian responses to climate change.
Participants were also divided into seven cross-national working groups, each focusing on a climate-change topic affecting Africa, including renewable energy, mining, deforestation, land erosion, farming, waste, clean water, and air pollution.
The Anglican Church of Southern Africa’s Environmental Action Network (Green Anglicans), which co-sponsored the conference, said participants were chosen by their dioceses “as movers and shakers on climate change.” Their confidence and conviction were clear as they presented plans for action at a session attended by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Punctuated with dance, drama, and song, their presentations highlighted contemporary African challenges like prolonged drought, forest destruction for making charcoal, wildfires from burning sugar cane, and poisoning from fish caught in abandoned mine pits. The plans of “Young Green Anglicans” included social media campaigns, public awareness programs in partnership with local chiefs and government ministers, and new incentives to use more sustainable forms of agriculture and energy production.
Several delegates also noted the success of parish projects like planting trees to celebrate baptisms and confirmations (“100 trees for your 50 confirmands”) and digging borehole wells to supply clean water. Working to end Africa’s endemic social corruption was a recurring theme. “As the church we need to speak up,” said Bino, a delegate from South Africa. “We need to be the voice of the community [and] take care of the earth God has given us.”
“Corruption must fail,” he said, to spontaneous applause and cheers.
In an extended response, Archbishop Justin Welby praised the youth for their enthusiasm and wisdom, describing them as prophets speaking to a world that has been too slow to recognize the danger of climate change. Like the Laodecians of Revelation 3, he noted, “we are rolling around in the gutter with no long-term future unless we change.”
Welby said the church’s witness remains compromised by division and conflict. “[The church] is a body with terrible wounds right across it. And at the moment in the Anglican church over issues like human sexuality and other issues, we are taking a knife and saying, ‘I’ll put another wound there.’”
The archbishop cited the powerful experience of the Anglican primates closing their recent meeting by washing one another’s feet as a resolution. “We unite as God’s people by serving one another. If your message is going to be effective, they will hear it when we serve rather than we lecture. The strange thing about Christianity is that we prophesy better kneeling at someone’s feet than standing in a pulpit.”
He urged youth to participate in their church and society and to be persistent in making their appeal for action on climate change, which he described as one of the two great generational struggles of our times (religiously motivated violence is the other). The problem of climate change remains hidden in part, Welby added, because the first people who suffer are the poor.
Africans who have suffered more directly have much to teach the rest of the world. History shows that particular generations, like the social reformers of the mid-19th century, can profoundly affect their societies, becoming “a generation set high in our estimation,” he said. “May you by God’s grace be that generation in Southern Africa.”
In an open time of questions that followed, Welby addressed Anglicanism’s efforts to make amends for its complicity in the evils of colonialism. “It has been one of my priorities,” he said, to be sure we have “an Anglican Communion that listens deeply to everyone from wherever they are.”
He noted the important symbolism of Africans serving as the Communion’s secretary general and as secretary for Anglican Communion Affairs. “A major concern is that the Anglican Communion models the kingdom of God and not the power of ex-colonial countries.”
Yvonne, a delegate from Zimbabwe, suggested to the archbishop that local work against climate change might be challenged by Anglicanism’s disunity on homosexuality. “These things are considered taboo,” she said. “If we are there advocating for going green, and we have traditional leaders standing up and saying, What do you think about homosexuality?, what do we say about that? What should we do to find church unity?
“It’s so difficult because in Africa I know very well what people think, but you go to England, and the biggest cause of teenage suicide is from bullying because of people’s homosexuality,” Welby said. “It is a cause of huge struggle and misery. … Historically [the church has] said not just Your actions are wrong but You are a deeply horrible person.
“In England, in North America, your generation say, What’s the fuss about, if two people love each other? It’s different there. … This is the area of the church’s ministry where I have the most concern and deepest grief. Part of that is that I don’t see an easy way forward … It would so benighted to say to Africa, We have decided and you have to do it. That’s wrong. But we have to listen to the people in our own countries as well. We learn somehow that this is an issue on which we disagree extremely profoundly and yet do not hate each other. And I don’t think we’ve done that well.”
Welby also spoke to the need for renewed evangelism as the church faces the challenges of secularization and competition from other religious groups, especially Islam and Pentecostalism in Africa.
“We need a Christian strategy for taking over Africa,” he said, “loving people, being confident in proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. The answer is drawing closer to Jesus Christ. The more our hearts are on fire, the more people will see who he really is.
“If our services are boring, you will lose the youth. If your people feel there is a world-transforming cause, they will get behind it. “When people meet Jesus Christ, everything changes and then they start changing the world.”
Conference delegates described the archbishop’s words as compelling, and they were excited to take action back home to address climate change. Patrick Chikoti from Northern Malawi said that new diseases and prolonged drought are deeply affecting his society. “This conference has equipped me with knowledge to disseminate to my fellow youth to be a change agent,” he said. “We are 60 percent of the Anglicans. If we take an active role, we will change things.”
Sibonginkosi Dlamini and Nozipho Hlophe, members of the same parish in Swaziland, noted that they have already been involved in the Green Anglican movement back home, where their youth group planted trees to celebrate a priest’s birthday.
Drought has been severe in their country, and water is rationed in the capital city. The conference “has widened my way of thinking,” Hlophe said. “Before this, I had not been mindful about what God says about the environment. I have been spiritually widened. It’s like a triangle: me, God, and the environment.”