Bishop of Oxford adds climate change questions to baptismal liturgy

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The Bishop of Oxford has added a sixth question to the Church of England’s baptismal rite, calling upon the newly baptized to “strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the Earth”.

In his 11 June 2022 address to the diocesan synod, the Rt. Rev. Steven Croft, spoke at length of what he saw as a “climate crisis” facing the world. Bishop Croft noted:

“We see the consequences of environmental catastrophe everywhere. Climate change is a lived reality now the whole world over,” noting the South African diocese of Kimberly and Kuruman had been plagued by droughts and failed harvests, while “Our own country is seeing rising numbers of extreme weather events year by year: storms and floods and fires which devastate communities and will steadily grow worse. More and more of our national wealth will need to be invested in the mitigation of these effects and in adaptation in order to continue anything like our present way of life.”

Bishop Croft believed “We have only a limited time to take action. The world is not at present on course for net zero admissions by 2050 and limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees. That target is slipping away from us. It seems more likely that global warming will hit 2 degrees or higher by the second half of this century, and the effects will be devastating for life on earth …”

The “climate crisis demands a response as well from every household and every person,” he explained, noting that “more than 60% of the change required to get to net zero involves personal behavioural change by individuals and communities: change focussed in the three areas of transport, home heating and diet.”

He explained he was a member of the House of Lords Select Committee on the Environment and Climate Change, and for the “last six months we have been hearing evidence weekly on the theme of behaviour change and climate and the role of government in encouraging that change.” 

The church “and the other faith communities globally” brought much to the climate debate, Bishop Croft said. “We bring hope to counter despair and anxiety. We bring our experience of being global and local communities. We bring the potential of educating tens of thousands of climate ambassadors in our schools and churches. We bring practical ingenuity. We bring the disciplines of understanding personal and behavioural change: repentance and amendment of life. We bring a passion for justice.”

The bishop spoke of the practical steps that parishes and individuals could take to alleviate the risks of climate change, stating the diocese would spend £10m to improve the energy efficiency of vicarages with the goal of reaching net zero carbon emissions by the year 2035. The diocese also had divested from its financial portfolio all of its coal, natural gas and oil company shares.

The Diocese of Oxford would also add a liturgical arrow to the quiver in its  battle against climate change.  Bishop Croft said that he was authorizing:

“under Canon B5 to the Service of Baptism and Confirmation and Renewal of Baptismal Promises with the full support of my area colleagues and the Chair of the Liturgical Commission, the Bishop of Exeter. As most people will know, services of Baptism and Confirmation contain words of commissioning. These are the words we use in these services and in the Renewal of Baptismal Promises on Easter Eve:

Those who are baptised are called to worship and serve God.

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?

With the help of God, I will.

Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?

With the help of God, I will.

Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ?

With the help of God, I will.

Will you seek and serve Christ in all people, loving your neighbour as yourself?

With the help of God, I will.

Will you acknowledge Christ’s authority over human society, by prayer for the world and its leaders, by defending the weak, and by seeking peace and justice?

With the help of God, I will.

May Christ dwell in your heart(s) through faith, that you may be rooted and grounded in love and bring forth the fruit of the Spirit.

Amen.

There is nothing in this Commission about the environment and care for the world. As Pope Francis and many others have argued, this now has to be an integral part of the discipleship of every Christian.

I am therefore authorising under Canon B5 an additional question for this Commission, based entirely on the fifth Mark of Mission of the Anglican Communion:

Will you strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth?

With the help of God I will.

As bishops, we will use this new question as part of every confirmation service from now on – I’ve introduced it already at two Oxford confirmations over the last two Sundays. I will be writing to clergy inviting them to include it in local baptism services where appropriate and to teach people what it means as part of baptismal preparation.”

Climate activist groups applauded Bishop Croft’s announcement. The Guardian reported that Greenpeace and the Young Person’s Christan Climate Network thanked the bishop for his initiative. A Greenpeace spokesman told the Guardian, “[I[n a climate and nature emergency, you need to make environmental considerations central to your project right from the very beginning and keep them in mind the whole way through. That sounds very much like wisdom worth listening to.”

Not all responses were as laudatory. Writing on twitter, the vicar of St Mary’s Kilburn and St James West Hampstead in the diocese of London, the Rev. Robert Thompson said his parish was “very pro care for creation as being part of Christian discipleship. But to add it as a sort of baptismal promise constitutes an attack on the Catholic & creedal nature of the Church.” The Rev. Marcus Walker, rector of Great St Bartholomew  in diocese of London asked on twitter, “Which other contemporary political issue are new Christians having to swear allegiance to in order to be baptized? @oxforddiocese this is really, really bad.”