In 1991, the General Convention of The Episcopal Church called on the Church “to view environmental stewardship as a matter of highest urgency.” As a response to that call, the Diocese of Virginia’s Stewardship of Creation Committee (SOCC) was founded. Since that time, more people of faith have become involved in direct earth care and advocacy for policies that protect the earth and mitigate the adverse effects of climate change.
As a parish priest and SOCC member, I was drawn to visit the Diocese of Davao, Philippines, to experience first-hand the work of a diocese devoted to the care of the earth and all living things. This desire came as a result of the SOCC’s mission to explore establishing a relationship with another diocese specifically devoted to the stewardship of creation.
The Diocese of Davao is located on Mindanao, a large southern island in the Philippines. The Rt. Rev. Jonathan Casimina became bishop of Davao two weeks before Super Typhoon Bopha devastated Mindanao in 2012. His discernment of the diocese’s mission soon became clear – to care for the people and the land that the typhoon devastated, and to tackle the local and global challenges of climate change.
When I arrived, I was struck by the youthful energy of the diocesan staff in Davao. Irwin Capistrano and Kairos Anggadoland met us at the airport; they were young, fun to be around, welcoming and curious about us. These traits conveyed a fresh approach to mission. That first impression extended to Bishop Casimina too. He is not only youthful but also full of new ideas for doing Christian service.
Those new ideas for mission emanated from the shared experience of weather-caused chaos and destruction and a related commitment to poor and marginalized people.
The end result of that passion and commitment has been mission goals addressing eco-justice and care for the earth community.
With Bishop Casimina behind the wheel of his 4-wheel-drive SUV and the opening notes of “Hey Jude” playing on the sound system, a two-vehicle caravan filled with diocesan staff, priests and Jennifer, the bishop’s wife, embarked on a two-day immersion in mission. We diverged early on from the well-worn highways and took to the less-traveled roads. We discovered the verdant and fertile land of Mindanao. And, as we entered small villages, we discovered the amazing grace of hospitality – smiles, photographs, the young and old members of the community, the leaders and the followers – and the fruits of their land – coconuts with straws to drink the water, the smelly durian fruit, an abundance of mangoes, and papaya.
During our time in the Philippines, we visited four churches. At each one, we told stories, marveled at the resilience of our brothers and sisters, laughed, prayed and relished the connection we have with one another – an understanding of oneness that transcends national boundaries, ethnic lines and class divisions.
On Sunday morning, following the Eucharist service, the body of Christ went directly from the Holy Table to the mud where we joined a throng of people with dirty feet and big smiles, and together we planted mangrove seedlings in the shallow waters of the Davao Gulf. We gathered together with people, many of whom had never attended an Episcopal service but were passionate about creation care, and we connected through our common action of planting seedlings. We joined hands in the stewardship of creation.
After a full and long day of planting, eating and connecting with others, the core group sat down for a last meal together. We talked, laughed and cried about what we had done and what was ahead. We felt a genuine oneness in that the mission of the environmentalists, the cooperative entrepreneurs and the diocese had intersected in a fruitful way, thereby bringing all living things into healthy and lasting relationship.
There is much to do in the Philippines. But our responsibilities begin at home. As we learn more about the causes of climate change, we become painfully aware that our actions locally do have repercussions globally. If the status quo remains protected
by government and business policies, and supported by our consumer culture, then our brothers and sisters in Mindanao will again suffer severely from the disregard of our responsibility as stewards of creation. It is our responsibility to change, to repent, and to find individual and collective ways to live simply so that all living things might simply live.
The Diocese of Virginia and its Stewardship of Creation Committee are committed to keeping climate change on the Church’s agenda. By building relationships with our brothers and sisters in Mindanao, the urgency takes on a very human face.
By: The Rev. Neal Halvorson-Taylor, Vicar of McIlhany Parish, Charlottesville