Praying in public for environmental justice

Christian leaders plan to take entreaties for planet out into community during Lent


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At age 90, Donna Cawker feels compelled to step out of her comfort zone this Lenten season and publicly pray for the future of the Earth.

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At age 90, Donna Cawker feels compelled to step out of her comfort zone this Lenten season and publicly pray for the future of the Earth.

“If we follow the advice (Jesus) Christ gave us, we take our actions into the world, not into the church,” says the member of St. Paul’s Anglican Church.

“Prayer without action is not accomplishing a lot. We activate our prayers with our activity.”

Cawker and about 20 other Christian leaders — some ordained, some diaconal ministers, some lay people — plan to take their prayers for the Earth into the public sphere during Lent. Beginning Wednesday, Feb. 23 and running until Thursday, April 6, the Christian season of Lent is marked by fasting, prayer and reflection.

The group plans to visit several Royal Bank of Canada branches in Winnipeg during Lent to draw attention to the bank’s huge investments in the fossil-fuel industry and pipeline development, says organizer Lynda Trono, a retired United Church of Canada minister.

“Lent is this time of sombre reflection when we look at ourselves and our place in the world and try to be a better person,” says Trono, who is also involved in the Multifaith Climate Action (Manitoba) group.

“We’re calling on RBC to consider their actions and be better corporate persons.”

Trono says RBC finances projects actively resisted by many Indigenous nations, including the Coastal Gaslink pipeline, Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and the Line 3 pipeline.

In preparation for their public prayers, participants from Anglican, United Church of Canada, Lutheran, Mennonite and Quaker traditions met for training sessions with Karen Ridd, who teaches conflict resolution courses at Menno Simons College

Although Christian leaders are well-practised in praying publicly, they may not be as prepared to articulate the reasons for their upcoming action or to know how to respond to security guards or bank managers asking them to leave, says Ridd.

“For most people, it’s not in their usual comfort zone to do this action, so they will have to (learn to) explain to family and friends,” she says.

For Rev. Tyler Gingrich, taking part in the public Lenten prayers are an extension of the beliefs he preaches every Sunday at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church.

“If we say things like ‘love your neighbour’ and ‘care for the environment,’ we should be able to live that out,” he says.

“I think we can be a visible reminder to people around us that we are called as people of faith and as human beings to work for the common good and the welfare of others.”

Ministers pray publicly every Sunday in their churches, but praying inside a bank during a weekday takes the prayers to another level, says Caryn Douglas, minister at the United Church in Meadowood. She hopes the prayers of protest and lament attract the attention of local bank officials as well as those higher up.

“Prayer is about community, it’s about opening ourselves to a connection with God and out of that experience, great change happens,” says Douglas.

RBC spokesman Rob Ritchie said in an email statement that climate change “represents a significant global challenge” and the bank is focused on helping clients reduce emissions and supporting green solutions.

“We are committed to achieving net-zero in our lending by 2050 and have established interim emissions reduction targets that will help us drive action and measure progress,” says Ritchie, regional director of communications for Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Nunavut and western Ontario.

“These targets are informed by science and reflect a measured and deliberate approach to climate action.”

Trono says RBC may be investing in clean energy, but as Canada’s largest bank, it also needs to exercise its considerable influence by not investing in more fossil-fuel projects.

“We are in a climate emergency, and we need to act,” she says.

For Cawker, being involved in the upcoming prayer protest sets an example for her grandchildren and she also hopes it helps ensure a safer, healthier environment for her 18-month-old great-grandson.

“I want to be a beacon for them so they know there are things they can do,” she says.

“I want the Earth to be still full of creation and species and for it to be healthy.”

The Free Press is committed to covering faith in Manitoba. If you appreciate that coverage, help us do more! Your contribution of $10, $25 or more will allow us to deepen our reporting about faith in the province. Thanks! BECOME A FAITH JOURNALISM SUPPORTER Click here to learn more about the project.

Brenda Suderman

Brenda Suderman
Faith reporter

Brenda Suderman has been a columnist in the Saturday paper since 2000, first writing about family entertainment, and about faith and religion since 2006.

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