How to Engage a Catholic Parish on Climate Change

The Catholic Church is influential in the lives of many Americans. A quarter of the U.S. voting population and a third of all members of Congress identify as Catholic.  Church authorities have expressed concerns about climate change in the past, but Pope Francis’s upcoming encyclical on the environment is expected to raise the profile of the issue and emphasize Catholics’ responsibility for Earth stewardship. This creates a special opportunity for Catholics to educate their fellow Catholics about the science and policy of global warming and encourage them to become involved in addressing the problem.  For example, Steve Coleman of Madison, Wisconsin, created and presented a PowerPoint presentation for his home parish, led a short course, wrote a booklet, and produced a video, which has been used elsewhere.   His steps were as follows.

Before You Begin

  1. Learn what the church says about climate change. See links at catholicclimatemovement.global/resources or the Catholic Climate Covenant.
  2. Educate yourself about global warming. You don’t need to become an expert; just strive for a basic understanding. For additional resources see the Global Catholic Climate Movement and/or resources such as the following:

Climate Change Evidence & Causes a 36-page booklet co-published by The Royal Society (England) and the National Academy of Sciences (USA) in 2014.

What We Know: the Reality, Risks and Response to Climate Change – a 28-page booklet published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2014.

National Climate Assessment – the federal government’s latest scientific assessment of the impacts of climate change on the United States, published in 2014.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment reports – the latest information from the Nobel Prize-winning international group of scientists assembled by the United Nations to evaluate the current state of scientific knowledge about climate change, updated periodically.

Climate Literacy: Navigating Climate Change Conversations – a free online course offered by the University of British Columbia.

Climate Reality Project – offers a climate leadership training program and other useful information.

Citizens Climate Lobby Community – for topic-specific forums, archived talks by guest speakers at the monthly meetings, CCL University programs, and much more.

Engaging a Parish

  1. Talk to the pastor. For starters, ask for a brief introductory meeting. Use it to explain your concern about global warming and why you consider it worthy of the parish’s attention. Give the pastor a copy of Steve’s booklet (which you can print, back-to-back, on 10 sheets of paper), and ask him to read it. It takes less than an hour. Request another meeting afterward to discuss the topic. Explain that you would like to do a presentation for the parish. (Keep in mind that even if the pastor is enthusiastic, he may still need his bishop’s approval.) Being a parishioner who is grounded in the church’s teaching, passionate about the issue, and in good standing in the parish will enhance your likelihood of success. If you cannot arrange a meeting with the pastor, contact the staff member assigned to adult faith formation, social justice and/or outreach ministries.

 

  1. Organize a program. If you have permission, seek an opportunity to give a presentation within the parish, such as a Knights of Columbus meeting or another appropriate gathering. Once you have secured an engagement, invite the pastor and encourage him to participate. Spread word of the event any way you can to ensure good attendance. Enlist help, if necessary, from within your parish and your CCL chapter.
  • Find leaders who have credibility in the group to which you will be presenting and identify intersections with key values.
  • Communicators should talk about their personal journey, especially if they have come to their conviction from a position of doubt. Be emotionally honest, talking openly about their hopes, fear, and anxieties.

 

  1. Facilitate a discussion.
  • Encourage people to explain, in their own words, these moments and the process by which they came to terms with the science, recognizing that conviction is sometimes hard to maintain and needs to be reaffirmed. Frame climate change as an informed choice between desirable and catastrophic outcomes, in which people can understand that inaction is itself a choice in favor of severe climate change.
  • Recognize the role of your own emissions. We won’t get there by tweaking our current system. The only conceivable way to produce that level of reductions is a full-scale, all-hands-on-deck mobilization, what William James called “the moral equivalent of war.” http://www.constitution.org/wj/meow.htm.  This is a critical effort.  There is no more important duty for a society than safeguarding the human person;” Francis said in the speech to the Pontifical Academy for Life.  At his inauguration, Pope Francis said “all men and women of goodwill: let us be ‘protectors’ of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.”  He has also spoken forthrightly at numerous junctures (e.g., “Greed for money is the root of evil” 05/24/2014)
  • Summary of Moral Principles from Bishops’ Committee Energy Statement, Reflections on the Energy Crisis  A Statement by the USCCB Committee on Social Development and World Peace, April 2, 1981

 

  1. Prepare your presentation. Use or modify existing presentations (contact GCCM for one) or create your own.  Print enough handouts for everyone who may come. Allow time for questions. Have a sign-up sheet for anyone interested in discussing/learning more.  An agenda and prayer, a modified copy of the Catholic Climate Covenant’s St. Francis Pledge, and a copy of CCL’s tri-fold brochure are available from CCL Community. 

 

  1. Follow up. Offer to lead a discussion group or class for those on your sign-up sheet. Conduct it somewhere in the church so participants feel at ease. Encourage them to express their thoughts and feelings about climate change. Ask what they would like accomplish as you move forward. Catholic and evangelical books are available; one example of the latter is A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-based Decisions, by Katharine Hayhoe and Andrew Farley.  Steve Coleman of St. Dennis Parish in Madison created a spreadsheet so participants could calculate their climate footprint, which led to a discussion of personal impacts and responsibility. He also shared some of CCL’s laser talks. Steve later repeated the class with another group of 14 people. This group also read and discussed the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ document.

 

  1. Keep the pastor informed/involved. Give him regular progress reports on your follow-up activities via face-to-face meetings and/or written summaries. Invite his comments and suggestions. Encourage his involvement.

 

  1. Outcome. Every outcome will be unique and shaped largely by the interests, energy, and motivation of the individuals involved. Further resources are available from the GCCM.  Some creation care or climate  change action groups write their members of Congress every other monthAdditional Resources

Catholic Perspectives on Climate Change

  • Catholic Action Team – a CCL interest and discussion group open to anyone with access to CCL Community.
  • Catholic Climate Covenant
  • Global Catholic Climate Movement (PowerPoint presentations on climate change available)

Contacts

 

 

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