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By Rev. Allie McDougall

In early February, I gathered with my fellow newly ordained clergy for a session of post-ordination training in balmy 10-degree temperatures and sunshine that permitted our group to walk comfortably outside without a coat on.

While unseasonably warm weather is often received as a pleasant surprise, my colleagues and I were unsettled. This has been an unnaturally mild winter. At the time of writing, the weather this week has been a rollercoaster of Spring temperatures, thunderstorms, and blizzards.  Optimistic, stereotypically Canadian small talk about the weather has been replaced with terse, clipped, slightly ominous interactions that seem to dance around the elephant in the room: the consequences of climate change are starting to bear out in ways that we can no longer ignore.

Despair about the climate is most clear to me in the summer months when the weather tends to be more extreme and deadly. Last year’s scorching temperatures and country-wide forest fires were not only uncomfortable but environmentally devastating. Now milder winters will have an impact on the agricultural patterns in our region of Southwestern Ontario that will undoubtedly impact the supply chain and food production. Experts and scientists have been begging people to pay attention to these issues and to take them seriously and this winter has been the first time I have observed a widespread angst about the climate from people across age groups and demographics.

Climate anxiety was first defined by the American Psychological Association in 2017 as “a chronic fear of environmental doom” that can manifest from mild stress to pervasive psychiatric illnesses and unhealthy coping mechanisms. The majority of young people in Canada (up to 78%, according to my preparation for this piece) report climate anxiety and the Canadian Psychological Association projects that this will only increase, and that country’s mental health infrastructure will not be able to respond to the demand generated by the needs of our children and youth.

Climate anxiety is impacting how younger generations feel about not only their lives and future but their perspective on previous and forthcoming generations. Those struggling with climate anxiety have remarked on feeling resentful and angry towards the environmental choices and inaction of those who came before.

There is also a powerful sense of guilt attached to the thought of bringing more children into the world and fear for the type of world children already born will inherit. This has promulgated a palpable sense of nihilism that borders on hostility toward parents and children, which are sentiments that have been directed at me by my peers as a mother. This way of thinking about reproduction and the continuance of humanity is at once understandable and deeply disturbing.  It is quite obviously a product of deep psychological and spiritual unrest.

On the first Sunday in Lent, we were reminded of the everlasting covenant made between God, Noah, and the whole of creation, that the Lord would not destroy that which He has made. But what happens when we seem bent on destroying the world and ourselves with it?

Modern Canadian Anglicanism is infused with concern for the care and stewardship of creation. This is something that has been prioritized at the national, provincial, and diocesan levels. We must be explicit with those struggling with climate anxiety about what our own tradition affirms and beliefs about creation and life. Christianity is a religion of life and abundance, not death and deprivation. While the possibility of salvaging the climate becomes increasingly distant and the gods of industry and consumption keep demanding our resources, we can cling to and offer the world the eschatological hope of our faith.

We affirm on a weekly basis that Jesus Christ will return to judge the living and the dead. We believe that creation and all that is contained within it will be made new in the Kingdom of God. We are called to stand firm on the promises of God, and we continue to be people of covenantal relationship with our Creator.

Those who are paralyzed by fear and despair about climate change, particularly those who are young and disconnected from the Church, need to know that Anglicans are already engaging with environmental activism and have the theological framework to address the grief, sorrow, and anxiety felt about climate change. We should be clear and honest about what we believe about environmental stewardship and the hope of Jesus’ Second Coming.

Sometimes the activism we engage in as the Church becomes de-theologized or toned down to be more palatable in the age of Post Christendom. It’s time to re-theologize, to own and proclaim with boldness the hope and life woven into our belief system. That hope of Jesus Christ is what can soothe the terror simmering in our society and perhaps even motivate us toward real change and delight in the continued gift of life given to us all.

Rev. Allie McDougall is the Assistant Curate of St. Paul's and St. Stephen's, Stratford.