Judith Macleod on COP26 and the challenge of climate change

by | Oct 27, 2021 | News and reports

John chats to Judith Macleod (a Candidate for Ministry currently on placement at Hilton Church)  and Adrian Shaw of Eco-Congregation Scotland

Climate change is probably the most serious crisis the human race has ever faced. We need as individuals and nations to think through the issues, personally commit to lifestyle changes, and support one another as we look ahead to an uncertain future.  The global temperature continues to rise, and we are seeing the consequences in an increase in catastrophic weather events  affecting millions of people.

Christian churches have a role to play in this crisis as beacons of hope in the community, modelling alternative ways of living, and encouraging discussion about the issues surrounding climate change.  We are called as Christians to make a realistic assessment of the dangers we are in, and to find in God a rock on which to stand in these very challenging times. To actively seek the salvation of a damaged earth is not just in harmony with the gospel message of Jesus, it’s part of our ministry as we partner in God’s work of healing and making all things whole.

The COP26 United Nations Climate Change Conference takes place on our doorstep in Glasgow, beginning on 31st. Interrnational delegations report on action towards carbon reduction targets set in the Paris Agreement of 2015.

Judith Macleod is a Candidate for Ministry with the Church of Scotland and a student at Highland Theological College.  For six months, she’s sharing in the life of Hilton Church as part of her training.

But Judith also works as  Co-ordinator for Eco Congregation Scotland, a movement which works with Scottish churches of all denominations who are keen to address environmental issues in their life and mission. I chatted to her and her Central-Belt based colleague Adrian Shaw about her work, and about Christian responses to climate change.

Judith tells me she has always had an awareness of the ecological challenges the world is facing. Two related factors have become particularly important to her.

An interconnected world

Judith speaks of her awareness of ‘the interconnectedness of creation’, ‘the fact that everything is joined together.’  Which means that our choices, both collectively and as individuals has far-reaching implications.

Adrian picks up this point. ‘I feel that we have strayed, as it were,’ he says.

We hear people talking up ‘growth and development’, but once we see the consequences of that for the environment it makes us think we should rather label it ‘economic greed’ and step back from it.  The story we have told ourselves leads us away from what we should be doing and into trouble.

The relentless demand for resources, for oil, or gas, or coal, or iron or steel or uranium puts immense pressure on the environment. And further problems arise from the wastes that we put back into the eco-system.

It reminds us of the Bible’s teaching  ‘If you worship money, you will end up in a bad place.’ Yet this is a message we have ignored.  

And Adrian likens the Prodigal Son story to humanity’s profligacy with the global resources entrusted to us by the Father. The young man’s father gave him his share of the inheritance: off he went and squandered it. We pillage the earth, polluting it with waste in pursuit of wealth and economic growth.

We need to repent and make radical changes as the young man did, returning to his father in despair, pleading ‘give me the humblest of jobs.’

And we must recognise, as Judith puts it that ‘We’re part of creation, and I think we have to understand that, that we are part of creation. We’re not above and beyond it. We are part of it.’

Justice

Closely related to this is the issue of justice, about which Judith is passionate. The way we consume the earth’s limited resources has a direct consequence on the lives of others – individuals in other parts of the world and our children and grandchildren – and also has consequences for the planet and the web of nature.  There’s a need, says Judith ‘for justice. Justice between the generations. Justice between nations. Justice  between people and place and creation generally.’

And she also sees injustice in the fact that  ‘it’s almost easier if you’re a wealthy person to respond in a positive way and to make the life changes that will make you carbon neutral than it is for someone who doesn’t have a lot of money.’  Electric cars are expensive,  she points out. Buying organic food is ‘far more expensive than going to the budget supermarket.’

‘And insulating your home and putting in double glazing, and changing the heating system is difficult or impossible for someone simply living from one pay packet, or one benefit packet to the next.  You know,’ Judith concludes, ‘how do you sort that kind of stuff out? ‘

Judith’s role with Eco-Congregation Scotland

Judith tells me about her work as Eco-Congregation Programme Co-ordinator in Scotland.

What I’m doing is putting together a programme of events, and really trying to support congregations and local churches as they grapple with what all of this means,  and supporting their journey if you like. So a lot of what I’m doing is looking for opportunities and it’s been very different I think since we’ve hit the pandemic.

Prior to the pandemic, I was doing a lot of travelling by public transport to different places in Scotland, and putting on events in local venues, so I’d go and book a place like a particular congregation’s hall or whatever, and host an event there. And it might have been an event with an agency like Zero Waste Scotland doing a practical training session.

But since the first lockdown, all our events have been on-line. We’re starting gradually doing some more in-person events again, and some events that are hybrid, but we’re still feeling our way with that.

And she speaks of the benefits of ‘on-line meetings:

Being online has been fantastic in some respects, because it’s brought people into conversation with people from other parts of Scotland that would never have had these kinds of conversations. I has connected up  Christians from one end of Scotland, with others who are living in very difference circumstances within the same country. And it’s given people the opportunity to hear the issues prevalent in other communities.

And about the issues people face when they consider making lifestyle changes:

When we think about the lifestyle changes we should be making, some of them are different in different settings. For example, using public transport. That’s quite easy to do if you live in a city. Lots of buses pass your door. You don’t really need to take a car somewhere. But if you live up in Caithness or down in Dumfries and Galloway you may have one bus that goes through each day, and there may not be a bus back the same  So what do you do?  You really do need some form of your own transport  You can’t safely walk and cycle if you’re going down the main road. 

And if your area is predominantly rural – with dairy farming  and meat farming going on, then calls to eat less meat becomes a real worry about jobs and economy – how do you deal with that? It’s the same with some of the traditional oil and gas areas such as Aberdeenshire. How do you deal with the loss of jobs in these types of industry which will occur when you transition away from using these fuels?

So the issues are quite different, but actually, it’s been a very rich experience.  I think hearing from other communities and hearing what other people are doing, and the ways that they’re responding, just even the sharing of ideas between congregations. It’s very inspirational to hear other people talk about what they’ve been doing.

Locally, Judith is working with Inverness Presbytery Church Support, pulling together a series of ‘Eco-Highland 21’ events to be hosted by Highland churches during the COP26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow  (31st October – 12th November)

There will be a mixture of things, Judith tells me. ‘Some, like the opening Service at Hilton Church on Sunday 31st  October will be faith-based. And there will be prayer events as well going through that fortnight. And there will be lots of practical things too. The idea is that everything that’s on will be open to people who don’t normally come to church but are from the communities around us, because we feel that this is so important.

But what can we do?

I asked Judith and Adrian how Christian lifestyles will look different if Christians in Inverness and elsewhere are awakened to the reality of the trauma the earth and its freight of precious life are facing.

Judith cautions ‘Every congregation is at a particular point in this particular journey, so you have to take people where they’re at, and people have to go with the things that kind of suit where they’re at to start with.’

Adrian tells me that what impresses him is that

…when congregations make a commitment based on faith, they come up with solutions, they come up with ideas.  I strenuously avoid trying to tell people what to do over the years. People say ‘What should we do?’  Well, you’re grown-ups. You can work it out.  

In any congregation, there’s a range of skills and experience, knowledge of the local area.  And people can generally work out things to do.  It may start small, recycling perhaps, but it soon starts to grow as people realise connections, particularly between, say, Inverness, and people living on the other side of the world. 

And when people come to COP26, hopefully physically one or two will be able to come to Inverness, and tell their stories, and those stories then inspire change.   And people come up with ideas and solutions.  And I don’t know what they will be. I don’t necessarily know the best way forward.  But in worship and action and advocacy there will be opportunities and solutions.

And Judith emphasises the need for us to work together:

If we all sit on our hands then nothing will happen, of course nothing will happen.  But as we work together…. Human beings have got the world into this position. We need to be working, and partnering with God, and praying about it, and getting out there and doing what we can do to affect change. 

And if we don’t speak about it in church, there will be individuals within a congregation caring about this who won’t know that the church does care, that the church is interested in this.   You actually find that there’s a lot of knowledge, a lot of skills there, and a lot of interest.  But if you don’t talk about it, it just goes by the way doesn’t it?

And we can be sharers of hope when there is great anxiety and mental stress over what the future holds. ‘The Christian message is one of hope ultimately,’ Judith concluded. ‘A message of hope which we can offer uniquely.’

(The photo shows members of the Young Christian Climate Network who are on Pilgrimage to Glasgow for COP 26. The model boat they are carrying symbolises our hope to set sail towards a more just future.)