Blog #87: A "Green" King

September 22, 2022
Monika Weber-Fahr
Last week, there was no CreationKeepers Blog. It was a week when silence and mourning seemed more appropriate, remembering the life and service of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. First and foremost, the people of the United Kingdom said farewell to their Sovereign, together with friends and allies from many other countries. Just like here at Christ Church in Vienna, Anglican communities around the world mourned the Queen’s passing, given her role and service as the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. This role has now been passed on to King Charles III. And while I’d love to tell you more about the many environmental and stewardship topics that are of importance right now and here in Vienna, as September nears its end, we felt we should take a quick look at what it might mean for the Anglican community to have a leader in the Church of England who profoundly cares for, and knows a lot about, helping solve the environmental challenges we all face today.
Will the United Kingdom have a Green King in the years or decades to come? And will the Church of England have a green Supreme Governor?  The mainstream press did not dedicate much attention to this question. Spiders and familial interactions seemed to dominate of the headlines, alongside more serious expressions of respect and acknowledgement of historical relevance of both the late Queen and her succession.  A website dedicated to Orthodoxy shared a Telegraph Article informing us that the King will not attend the annual conference on Climate Change to be held in Egypt in November (COP 27), even though in his role as a Prince, he had originally planned to do so. But otherwise, I did not see many comments about the new Church of England leader’s environmental interests coming from faith-based organizations. In particular, organizations dedicated to exploring and championing environmental stewardship across the Anglican and Episcopal churches seemed to remain quiet on this question throughout the last two weeks.
A Green Prince, the new King has been, for many years, going back to the 1960s when he noticed the perils of the local salmon population up in Scotland, stemming from overfishing in some waterways. He also publicly lamented the destruction of nature from oil pollution early on. Ever since, Charles has dedicated considerable time and energy to advocating for sustainability, whether through his contact with ministers in government, through public comments, through chairing or supporting specific charities, or through some of his own initiatives. The need to live sustainably seemed to be obvious to someone who, by role and upbringing, may be looking at life’s questions within more of a framework of centuries past and centuries to come. Whatever one may think about monarchy as a political system, Royals are there for the long term, offering an opportunity to translate a sense of values, inheritance, and care for  generations to come also to the longevity of God’s creation more broadly.  For the last forty years, Charles has championed many a green cause, backing charities, supporting campaign groups, and getting personally involved in conversations with world leaders about the climate crisis. Notably, he has for fifteen years now, annually published his own carbon footprint, for longer and and with more information than most corporations.
King Charles III, in his first statement as the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, has spoken movingly about his personal faith and about his commitment to diversity and respect for other faith communities. He seems to be a leader that will support us in mobilizing our faith and action towards some of the biggest challenges we all face together. He may well be doing so in the future also in appealing for more and better stewardship of nature. In doing so, he would be able to build on a strong foundation here since, in fact, we are already in a good place in the Anglican Communion. Much progress has been made by our churches over the past years, certainly in how we formally and regularly direct recognition and prayers towards the important and urgent environmental challenges of today. In the Church of England, we have Creationtide, the liturgical season of remembering and cherishing God’s creation. We have the five marks of mission, the fifth of which is our commitment to “strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth.” We have La Rocha, the work on our own churches to become eco churches. We have Environmental Officers as well as within-and-across-church networks, such as the Green Anglicans and and the Anglican Communion Environmental Network. There is a lot already, and it's diverse and sometimes truly thriving.
My sense is that we may well not hear as much from Charles the King as we heard from Charles the Prince on choices and topics in the environmental realm, given the King’s constitutional commitment to political neutrality. The responsibilities for many of Charles’s environmental charities seem to be passing on to Prince William, who already began championing some of such causes over the past years, including but not limited to launching the new EarthShot prize as well as an ITV documentary about his environmental work (“Prince William: A planet for us all”) and involving himself in work to engage the private sector in environmental action. But Charles may, in some of his other roles, perhaps as the Head of the Commonwealth, remain a champion for environmental action. The Commonwealth itself is pursuing an ambitious environmental agenda with major programs to address climate change and the loss of biodiversity. The King’s role in environmental matters may well be more behind the scenes where he can use his presence and convening power to bring people together, supporting international effort to build a coalition of the world. As a member of an Anglican church, I feel encouraged by his presence.
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