These are the words of young Anglicans from this diocese and province when asked “what can the church can do to help you connect with the environment, in the way that you want to?”
Adults often say or assume that “the environment is an important issue for young people” but we don’t always ask young people, or let them speak for themselves.
In January and February, approximately 60 people, aged 12-26, participated in a project on youth engagement with the Fifth Mark of Mission “to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.”
The project was part of a national church program focused on living out the Marks of Mission, five kinds of loving action that guide the ministry of Anglicans around the world. Other dioceses produced an Oji Cree Prayer Book, built a Christmas parade float as a tool for evangelism, opened a rural recycling centre, and started a conference for women from Ottawa and Jerusalem.
Participants in the Dioceses of New Westminster’s project took an online quiz, filled out a questionnaire, participated in a workshop, made art, prayed, and produced a video all focused on their relationships to the Fraser River/Salish Sea watershed, Coast Salish Territories. Some did all of these things and some only one.
What we learned is that our diocese faces both Good News and challenges if we want to support young people in the ministry of creation care.
The good news is that God is at work in the lives of young people. A very high proportion, experience a sense of spiritual connection in creation or wilderness and they want to engage in wilderness experiences with their faith communities. Many young people are deeply concerned about environmental issues, almost all can identify personal actions that they take to care for creation and many expressed the desire to do more and be more effective.
Most young people believe that the church has something relevant to say about environmental issues and those with the greatest concern are the most sure that the church matters; they want the church to be a partner in their ministry for ecological justice.
Undertaking this project is good news in itself: it has: raised the profile of environmental justice in the diocese, encouraged youth and young adults with environmental concerns and produced the video report, a creative tool that can be used for future engagement. Available below. The project identified a small group of young people with the passion and engagement to become leaders and organizers. Some of these have already been referred to an environmental leadership program through Fossil Free Faith.
The first major challenge we identified is the church’s credibility with young people. The church does not have a strong presence in creation, wilderness or outdoors; the place where many youth feel most strongly spiritually connected. Further, most young people feel that the church is slow to take leadership and action on the issues like, climate change, species extinction, water pollution, that concern them.
The second challenge is how to make effective change. Participants emphasized action over talk and expressed a strong desire to make a difference but they thought and operated almost exclusively at the level of personal responsibility—like recycling or taking transit. They lacked knowledge and experience of effective “structural” change work.
Based on this project, recommendations are making their way to youth leaders and decision makers in the diocese and being shared on the national church website. According to youth and young adults in our diocese, we can better live out the Fifth Mark of Mission by contextualizing our worship to this bioregion, bringing the symbols and species of this place into our liturgy and praying out of doors. Programming for youth should include wilderness experiences like hiking, kayaking, and camping, gardening with experienced gardeners, environmental impact projects like shoreline clean-up or invasive species removal and older teens and young adults especially want to learn about First Nations’ worldviews on land and creation. With training and mentorship small but significant number of youth are ready to become leaders for environmental justice in the church and beyond.
1. Barn Owl. Photo Myriam Dykstra
2. Harriet Dykstra and Anakin the Harris Hawk at the Raptor Centre. Photo Myriam Dykstra
3. Myriam and Harriet Dykstra. Photo Laurel Dykstra
4. Pacific Tree Frog. Photo Myriam Dykstra