Church bells to ring climate alarm as faith joins science in Denmark

December 7, 2009
By Peter Kenny
Ecumenical News International

Geneva - When church bells start ringing in Copenhagen, and all around the world, on Dec. 13, they will not be heralding an early arrival of Christmas. Rather they will peal out a call to action and prayer to respond to impending climate change.

More than 100 world political leaders, as well as faith leaders and supporters of action to deal with climate change, are converging on the Danish capital. There a crucial United Nations meeting began on Dec. 7 to set the international agenda on climate, so that the city can live with the nickname of "Hopenhagen" that it has been given by one group of campaigners.

On Dec. 13 before participating in a climate change service, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu and activists from around the world will present a global petition to Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The event is organized by the global Countdown to Copenhagen Campaign, which includes church-related development organizations, partner groups in the Global South and the World Council of Churches, in cooperation with Hopenhagen, the name of the campaign.

Representatives of nearly 200 nations will look to powerful countries to pave the way for rules and action to deal with climate change, and there to cajole and persuade the leaders will be thousands of representatives of advocacy groups.

Mingling and working with many of the activist groups will be representatives of major faiths, including bishops, imams, rabbis and priests. During the 11 days there will be workshops, services and protests.

Churches will chime in with their main attempt to awaken the world about the need to look after the planet, by sounding their bells or other instruments 350 times at 3 p.m. wherever they are.

The 350 chimes represent the parts per million that mark what many scientists say is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Groups that include the Open Sanctuary at Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Tilba Tilba, Australia, the Lutheran congregation in Sibiu, Romania, and Kairos, an ecumenical organization in Canada, are to participate.

Some are linking the climate action with their traditional Advent celebrations, that precede the celebration of the birth of Jesus around Dec. 25. The Evangelical Lutheran Epiphany Church in Hamburg, Germany, is to invite children to draw stars of hope while the bells will be rung and 350 drum beats will be sounded ahead of the congregation's Advent concert.

As each group starts their own observation of the Dec. 13 event at 3 p.m. local time, a chain of chimes and prayers will be stretching in a time-line from the South Pacific where the day first begins and where the effects of climate change are already felt, across the globe to Denmark and beyond.

"In some countries, the question has been raised whether churches have the right to use their bells for what may be considered to be a political campaign," said Guillermo Kerber, the World Council of Churches program executive on climate change. "Those who support the campaign see the care of creation and of people's lives and livelihoods threatened by climate change more as an ethical and spiritual issue that, of course, has political implications, not in a partisan sense but referring to the common good."

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Nov. 3 told leaders from the world's major faiths at a meeting near London that they occupy a "unique position" in discussion on the fate of the planet, and that their communities count on this crucial issue.

In a speech at a three-day conference on faiths and the environment organized by the Alliance of Religions and Conservation and the United Nations Development Programme at Windsor Castle near London, Ban spoke before around 200 leaders representing nine of the world's major religious communities.

"The world's great faith communities occupy a unique position in discussion on the fate of our planet and the accelerating impacts of climate change. You are the leaders who have the largest, widest and deepest reach," Ban said. "You can inspire, you can provoke, you can challenge your leaders, through your wisdom, through your followers."

Ban noted, "Together the major faiths have established, run or contribute to more than half of all schools worldwide. You are the third largest category of investors in the world. You produce more weekly magazines and newspapers than all the secular press in the European Union. Your potential impact is enormous." And Ban added: "You can - and do - inspire people to change."

Ban said, "Science has made it quite clear - plainly clear - that this climate change is happening and accelerating much, much faster than one realizes."

One delegation of world religious leaders, led by the U.S.-based Global Peace Initiative of Women, will travel to the Copenhagen meeting to discuss how the religious community can mobilize action against climate change.

They will participate in a series of workshops, including "A new partnership between science and religion," "Sacred activism - mobilizing spiritual communities to address climate change," and the "Moral dimensions of climate change."