The timing of an assigned Scripture reading for Sunday, Nov. 28 struck Rev. Bill Booth as fitting.
“There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars,” Jesus says in Luke 21, according to one translation. “On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea.”
Booth lives in Abbotsford, B.C., which has been hit hard by recent flooding.
“The signs are there that now we have to radically change the way we are living in our world, care for creation,” he says.
When Broadview spoke with Booth last Friday, he and his congregation, Trinity Memorial United, were safe after floodwater swamped area farmland along with other southern parts of the province. The church is above the floodplain, so they haven’t dealt with direct flooding.
“If our sump pump wasn’t working, we’d be in trouble,” Booth says.
But heavy rainfall continued this week, and evacuation orders were issued for some properties in Abbotsford. Booth says he’s been checking in with members of his congregation, keeping them informed and providing a theological context for the situation. He’s also talking to Anglican colleagues about offering pastoral counselling to the broader community.
This is only the latest climate disaster to hit B.C. Earlier this year, wildfires wiped out much of the town of Lytton and displaced thousands across the province. Record-high summer temperatures killed nearly 600 people. And some area clergy draw a direct line between these events and our neglect of the environment.
Booth notes the timing of the province’s most recent climate disaster.
“All this happened just as the [COP26 climate] conference in Glasgow was wrapping up,” he says. “And we once again get compromised statements from those conferences.”
A last-minute wording change to the climate agreement from India, one to “phase down” instead of “phase out” coal power, disappointed many at the COP26 conference who thought it weakened the final deal, according to The Associated Press.
A town where climate change is close to home
In Merritt, B.C., roughly 200 kilometres northeast of Abbotsford, some residents are being allowed back into the town to assess their properties after last month’s evacuations. A combination of rain and heavy snowmelt swamped the valley town in November, knocking out the wastewater treatment plant and leaving hundreds of homes underwater.
Rev. Elaine Diggle, the minister at Trinity United in Merritt, notes that summer wildfires have left land barren and unable to absorb water well.
“That land is just going to shed water down into the rivers,” she says.
— Kamil Karamali (@KamilKaramali) November 16, 2021
Diggle lives in Summerland, nearly 140 kilometres away, and was able to leave Merritt on Nov. 14 before it flooded. But one of her congregants, a resident who was evacuated, is currently living with her. The home of another Trinity United member whose husband’s funeral Diggle recently performed will need “a lot of work,” Diggle says. Other congregants are living with relatives or in hotels. She said a member who owns a ranch south of Merritt is now dealing with land that was washed away in the flooding after two of his barns burned down this summer.
“I don’t believe in hell and damnation, but I do believe there are consequences to our actions,” Diggle says. “And as people, generally speaking, we have not taken care of God’s good creation.”
Higher global temperatures are caused by increased emissions of greenhouse gases, often through burning fossil fuels like coal, natural gas and oil to power our cars and heat our homes, and turning forests into farmland.
‘We don’t yet understand the full impact’
Rev. Dianne Astle’s church, Hope United, was among one of the few buildings in the town of Hope, B.C., that wasn’t full of people. More than a thousand people, including what Astle said was a tour bus with visitors from South Korea, were stranded in the community last month after flooding cut off all travel routes in and out.
Astle opted not to put up travellers in the church, but she and a few of her congregants hosted people.
And the flooding has affected more than travel. Astle, who has neuroendocrine cancer, opted to cancel an MRI appointment scheduled for Tuesday in Abbotsford because of worries about more rain.
Astle says her faith sustains her through difficult times like these, but she feels a responsibility to speak the truth — about global warming, the pandemic and the importance of vaccination — even though people in her family think differently.
More on Broadview:
- How Indigenous burning practices can help stop destructive wildfires
- ‘The Beachcombers’ town is now famous for fighting climate change
- Videos show stunning impact of thawing permafrost
“I tell people to turn to God, to pray, to draw strength from their faith,” she says. “I don’t think we’re doing anybody any favours by downplaying the reality of the times in which we live.”
Back in Abbotsford, Booth notes that the nearby Matsqui and Sumas Prairies, which are currently largely underwater, grow a lot of B.C.’s vegetables and fruit.
“We don’t yet understand the full impact of what’s happened. Is all that land still arable?” he wonders.
“We feel we’re called as a church, locally and worldwide, to stand up in a prophetic voice and say now, now we’re living the consequences of our choices and we have to change our ways.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated that Merritt, B.C. was 341 kilometres northwest of Abbotsford. It is, in fact, northeast of Abbotsford and closer to 200 kilometres away.
Emma Prestwich is Broadview’s digital editor.
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