The Public Witness for Social and Ecological Justice (PWSEJ) Coordinating Committee for the 2016-2019 triennium held its first face-to-face meeting on April 27-28 at Church House in Toronto.
Led by chair Nancy Harvey and facilitated by PWSEJ lead animator Ryan Weston, the meeting provided an opportunity for committee members to learn about their mutual commitment to social and ecological justice issues, set priorities for the current triennium, and identify engagement strategies with the wider church.
“Certainly there was a lot of energy that came out of it and a real commitment to connecting what’s happening in different parts of the church,” Weston said. “I think that’s how we all see our role going forward—to really be those connectors.”
Since taking on his current position on March 1, Weston has been making connections across the country with people active in various justice issues, discussing how to bring them into a wider conversation or support their efforts at the local level through the resources of the national church.
At the April meeting, which followed a teleconference in November, the coordinating committee identified several issues as their current priorities.
One of the most active groups associated with PWSEJ is the Creation Matters Working Group, comprised of diocesan ecological justice representatives who share information related to environmental issues and engage Anglicans to live into the fifth Mark of Mission. Harvey currently serves as co-chair of the working group, along with Dean Ken Gray.
Weston described Creation Matters as “very well-established, so it’s ready to do some work and to build on some of what’s happened.”
Responsible resource extraction
One of the key issues outlined in the 2013 Joint Declaration between the Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, responsible resource extraction will continue to be a “big focus going forward, and particularly in our full communion relationship, but also in the larger church,” Weston said.
Many dioceses have already begun to take up the issue of responsible resource extraction on their own. Furthering that momentum, a working group on responsible investment established at General Synod 2016 has begun to meet to examine how the Anglican Church of Canada might use its investments as a tool for expressing its public witness.
While not confirmed, Weston suggested the possibility of future work with the Open for Justice campaign, a coalition of organizations seeking accountability for the mining, oil, and gas sectors.
“We want to be sure that the conversation around resource extraction and climate justice and care for the environment is not just about our investments—that while that’s an important conversation, that’s not the be-all and end-all,” Weston said. “We have to think about consumption issues. We have to think about some of the other impacts of that work, and how we can speak to that.”
Peace and conflict
Much of the church’s efforts to “challenge violence of every kind, and to pursue peace and reconciliation”, in the words of the fourth Mark of Mission, are centred around its participation in Project Ploughshares, a non-governmental organization that works with churches, governments, and civil society in Canada and abroad to prevent war and armed conflict and promote peace.
The Anglican Church of Canada continues to support Project Ploughshares, with Weston scheduled to meet Anglican board representatives in early May to discuss the church’s ongoing participation.
Justice and corrections
Anglicans are a founding denomination of the Church Council on Justice and Corrections (CCJC). The current representative of the Anglican Church of Canada on the board is the Rev. Sharon Dunlop, who continues to serve as president.
The PWSEJ Coordinating Committee at its meeting discussed the church’s continuing participation in the CCJC, and potential new ways it might build connections and engage on issues related to justice and corrections.
Where former PWSEJ director Henriette Thompson was heavily involved in working towards church reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, the recent hiring of Melanie Delva as reconciliation animator frees up the PWSEJ lead animator to concentrate on other areas. Even so, the coordinating committee discussed reconciliation at its meeting and still lists it as a priority.
Homelessness and affordable housing
At this early juncture, Weston has yet to dive fully into the church’s work on homelessness and affordable housing, but continues to observe dioceses that have been particularly active on this issue, such as the dioceses of Ottawa and Toronto.
Archbishop Fred Hiltz, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, has often drawn attention to the struggle against human trafficking and modern slavery. One of the main avenues for Anglican contribution to this struggle is the church’s participation on the Working Group on Sexual Exploitation in Canada, part of the CCC Commission on Justice and Peace.
To supplement the CCC learning kit on human trafficking, Weston said, preparations are underway for a series of videos and other resources around human trafficking specifically targeted to the Anglican context.
“Part of what we’re doing is to see what is already happening in this church … trying to figure out how we can make the information as accessible as possible and bring the voices into the conversation … and also how do we get the education about human trafficking down to the parish and diocesan level.”
With so many issues to be discussed, Harvey said that members of the coordinating committee “almost felt overwhelmed” on the first day of the meeting because there were so many social justice areas that required attention. A common theme, however, was the interconnected nature of different issues, which may streamline and facilitate the church’s response.
Though still in its early days, Harvey offered a positive impression of the coordinating committee as “a group that’s going to be able to have good, honest, transparent conversations with each other and learn on an ongoing basis.”
“This isn’t an action group, per se,” she said. “It’s more of a group I think that is going to be aware and discover pockets of social and ecological justice activity across the Anglican Church of Canada, and look for ways to raise up those folks that are doing good work at the grassroots level.
“But it’s not going to be a top-down approach. I believe it’s going to be more of a grassroots approach, empowering folks and enabling folks.”
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