Covenant and care–a baptismal promise to safeguard creation

“Will you strive to safeguard the integrity of God’s creation, and respect, sustain and renew the life of the Earth?”

“I will, with God’s help.”

With the passing of resolution C001 at this year’s General Synod, these words were added to the baptismal covenant in the Book of Alternative Services (BAS) as the ninth question of the “covenant inquiry.”

Though it quotes directly from the fifth Mark of Mission (part of a framework used to describe and encourage ministry throughout the worldwide Anglican Communion), the addition to the baptismal covenant comes from a grassroots movement in the church.

“Sometimes the national church catches up with what’s going on at the grassroots level, and in some ways that’s what’s happened with this,” says the Very Rev. Louise Peters, dean of Kamloops cathedral in the Anglican Parishes of the Central Interior, and mover of the resolution.

“This came from families and young people and adults who were coming to receive baptism, wanted and needed something more, and were asking about our role as stewards of creation. It reflects what the church has been exploring for the last 30 to 40 years—the understanding that to be faithful as Christians and as God’s created beings is to be co-stewards with God.

“There is an enthusiasm out there [for the addition]. In casual conversations I’ve had with people, it’s been ‘Well, absolutely-that makes sense.’ We’ve been having those conversations for quite some time.”

The official process of incorporating this language into the baptismal covenant began with a motion by Peters at 2010’s General Synod, asking that Synod direct Faith, Worship, and Ministry (FWM) to consider the best way to include language recognizing the imperative to care for creation, and to make a recommendation to General Synod in 2013.

In the interim, FWM formed a working group that considered baptismal liturgies from other churches, from other provinces in the Anglican Communion, and read them aloud to each other.

“This is language that needs to be heard and spoken as well as read,” says the Very Rev. Peter Wall, seconder of the 2013 resolution and dean of Niagara.

In the course of this reading, the working group found that there was significant emphasis on creation care in provincial rites from around the world. This year, FWM brought a resolution to General Synod recommending an addition to the baptismal covenant based on the fifth Mark of Mission.

“We had a number of different options in terms of how to look at the language,” says Peters. “We felt that the Mark of Mission, adapted, was the most appropriate. It says it the most succinctly, and also connects us with the Anglican Communion.

“In 40 years the language will be clunky, because language changes. But for now, it’s elegant, it’s articulate, it names what needs to be named in terms of living out our responsibility as Christians in relationship to all of life.”

Naming—and taking up—that responsibility is already a way of life in the Diocese of Niagara.

“We’re doing some really aggressive work in this diocese in matters environmental,” says Wall. “This [addition] actually says it out loud, and requires the people who are participating in the baptism—which is the assembled people of God in the congregation-to actually think about that. To even just make people think about it is a really important thing for us to do.”

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