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United by Climate Change

By Gary G. Yerkey

The Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Church of Sweden have agreed to broaden their longstanding historical ties, pledging at a conference May 1-2 to cooperate more closely in seeking to limit climate change.

A joint statement issued at the conclusion of the conference, held at St. John’s Church, Lafayette Square, said the three churches would work together to “build the moral and political will that prompts action from our elected leaders.”

“As international churches with congregations in many nations, we can and will use our global networks to promote a political framework to limit climate change, while in a unified voice we speak to the world about the urgency of committed climate work,” said the statement, signed by Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson, and Archbishop Anders Wejryd of the Church of Sweden.

During a break in the conference the church leaders spent several hours lobbying members of Congress on Capitol Hill on the challenges of climate change.

Jefferts Schori said in her remarks at the opening of conference May 1, which brought together scientists, environmentalists, academicians and church leaders, that the scientific evidence of climate change resulting from human behavior “is quite literally undeniable.”

People of faith “know another response than futility, particularly in the face of Easter resurrection,” which means rejecting “the ancient demons of individualism, materialism, and selfishness — what today we often call consumerism,” she added.

“There is still enough health in us to remember that we are claimed by one who reminds us that we do not live by bread alone,” Jefferts Schori said. “We are made whole in loving God and neighbor and not ourselves alone. … There is indeed abundant hope that the body of God’s creation might also rise — renewed, redeemed, and made whole. May we be made Christ’s passion, God’s hands, and Spirit’s breath to make it so.”

Archbishop Wejryd said during a break in the conference that the historically close ties between the Episcopal Church and the Church of Sweden, which have existed since America’s colonial period, are today based on a set of shared values that include an openness to all people.

The Old Swedes Church in Wilmington, Delaware, which was dedicated after Sweden had abandoned its colony there in the mid-1600s, has housed an Episcopal parish since 1791. Today, as Trinity Parish, it is part of the Diocese of Delaware.

Jefferts Schori has taken a particular interest in strengthening relations between the Episcopal Church and the Church of Sweden — still the largest Lutheran church in the world, with 6.4 million members, or about 67.5 percent of the population of the country — since her investiture as presiding bishop in 2006. She said in a recent appearance at the Washington National Cathedral that the two churches have effectively been in full communion for some 200 years, although the relationship has not been made formal.

In September 2008 — a year before the General Convention of the Episcopal Church voted to seek closer fellowship with the Church of Sweden — Jefferts Schori visited Sweden to participate in ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of the Church of Sweden’s decision to ordain women to the priesthood.

“I join you in giving thanks for your intrepid example of welcoming women into pastoral leadership in this church,” she said at Uppsala Cathedral. “Fifty years of women’s example, witness, and ministry have brought abundant, productive, and transformative change in this place, all of which define the church’s ministry of leadership.”

Jefferts Schori, whose great-grandparents emigrated from Sweden to the United States in the late 19th century, visited Sweden in 2011 to meet with Archbishop Wejryd and other church officials.

The Church of Sweden, which was the state church until 2000, is a member of the Porvoo Communion, which unites British, Scottish, and Irish Anglican churches with Lutheran churches of Nordic and Baltic countries.

Since 1994, the Church of Sweden has not allowed men to be ordained if they will not work with women priests.

Church of Sweden leaders voted in 2009 in favor of performing wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples, following national legislation that granted same-sex couples the same legal status as heterosexual couples.

Image: Bishops Mark S. Hanson, Anders Wejryd, and Katharine Jefferts Schori with their joint statement, “Sustaining hope in the face of climate change.” Gary G. Yerkey photo


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