Christians being confirmed or baptised in the Oxford diocese will now be asked to commit to protecting the environment as part of the church’s formal liturgy.
The addition to the ceremonies is supported by the Right Rev Steven Croft, bishop of Oxford, and asks people being baptised or confirmed to “strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the Earth”.
The move, thought to be the first of its kind in the country, comes amid growing concern about the climate and ecological crisis among religious leaders. Earlier this year, more than 500 church leaders signed a letter to the government calling for no new fossil fuel developments, and Christian activists have been at the forefront of many climate protests in recent years.
Steven, who is a member of the Lords select committee for the environment and climate change, said the church had a key moral and spiritual role to play in addressing the climate and ecological emergency.
“The target of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees is already slipping away from us,” he said. “Society has only a limited time to act but we should be in no doubt whatsoever that there is a strong and deep possibility of change if we act now.”
The addition to the liturgy comes as the Oxford diocese also announces plans to spend £10m improving the energy efficiency of its vicarages in an effort to hit net zero emissions by 2035. It is one of 10 dioceses to have divested from fossil fuel companies, making commitments not to invest in coal, oil and gas in the future.
At a national level, the Church of England has been criticised for not acting quickly enough to cut its links with fossil fuel companies. It began to cut ties to coal and other heavily polluting industries in 2015, then pledged in 2018 to divest by 2023 from high-carbon companies that were “not aligned with the goals of the Paris agreement”. But as the deadline approaches, the organisation has said it is still “engaging” with key oil and gas interests, rather than cancelling all of its holdings.
Chris Manktelow, of the Young Christian Climate Network, told the Guardian earlier this year that that was not good enough. “The church should be moving quickly and showing moral leadership, and is just not going fast enough. We are not happy with this response [to the calls to divest].”
On Wednesday Greenpeace welcomed the Oxford decision.
“The diocese of Oxford is moving away from fossil fuels, which is essential, but this liturgical change goes deeper,” said a spokesperson. “Today’s lesson is that, in a climate and nature emergency, you need to make environmental considerations central to your project right from the very beginning and keep them in mind the whole way through. That sounds very much like wisdom worth listening to.”