Living out our love of God and neighbour

This article first appeared in the Oxford Mail

Maranda St John Nicolle shares some thoughts and reflections on responding to impacts of climate change:

As I write, we’re in the midst of some glorious summer days. Rooftops are crisp against blue sky; evenings are bathed in a golden glow; and plants seem to grow as you look at them.

About this time last year, I was experiencing quite different weather. I was in South Africa, looking at the work that congregations around our link diocese are doing with people in need. It was their wintertime and freezing, but the visit was awe-inspiring. I met women who pooled local donations and the contents of their kitchen cabinets to make meals for vulnerable children; care-workers whose passion for fighting poverty moved them and me to tears; and young people who were working with local leaders to tackle issues of crime and substance abuse.

A teacher in a small town was especially inspiring. Horrified that children with learning disabilities were considered unteachable and kept out of school, she’d trained as a special needs teacher in her “spare” time and gone door to door, seeking out excluded children. She then went to the provincial government and said: Here are the students; I can teach them; will you build a special needs school? The province did, and now dozens of pupils were coming from miles around to be taught skills that would enable them to live with dignity and, in at least some cases, independence.

But I don’t just remember that teacher; I also remember her husband. He was a quiet, undemonstrative farmer and churchwarden. At the time, he was dealing with a multi-year drought. For small farmers, it had been disastrous: their parched land was overgrazed to the point of being barren, and their cattle were skin and bones. The market for all farmers was plummeting. The parish priest said that when the churchwarden came back from a cattle sale, he was crying.
Our link partnership aims to help people in both dioceses grow as disciples of Christ. I came back inspired by Christians who were both living out their love of God and neighbour and moving others, including the government, to action.

But I was also challenged. How can I join in with what the church is doing here to address need? And I just can’t get that drought – the hard earth, the bony cattle – out of my head.

As a Christian I believe that the earth – in all its glorious variety – is the Lord’s, a gift we’re asked to steward in ways that safeguard it for us, neighbours near and far, our children and our grandchildren.

Scientists are clear: if we keep emitting carbon as we do now, extreme rains are likely to increase. Paradoxically, droughts are also likely to become longer and more intense in many areas. And we know the poorest will be hit hardest.

And so I find myself wondering: what can I do to help? I’m resolving to pray, to take personal action (Walk more? Avoid unnecessary flights? Divest from fossil fuels? Turn down the heat? Eat less meat?) and to ask politicians to take policy actions that enable large-scale change.

It’s only a start, and I’m struggling in some areas. I’d like to cut out all flying, but don’t see how I can do that with work and family commitments. But it is a start – and we’ve all got to start somewhere.

And if the next steps are harder? Well, there is still hope. Because God doesn’t just command us to love; God is love. And when God asks us to care for this earth, with all its summer beauty and its challenges, God also offers to love and help us along the way. Thanks be to God.

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