As part of a series highlighting the work of young people in addressing the climate crisis, writer Patricia Lane interviews Matt Humphrey, an Anglican priest, writer and educator who mixes faith with environmental stewardship.
The 1990s were personally tough for me. I spent the decade immersed in action based on climate catastrophe science, trying, and by all accounts failing, to stem the tide. Hardest of all, death and dementia came to my family.
As my awareness deepened about the growing divide between young and old and rich and poor, grief had become a pretty constant companion. I could choose to go further into the abyss of fear and loss or choose the only thing stronger: love. To choose love is to hope. But I had forgotten how. So I made a resolution — one that could last a year or even a decade if need be. I chose to study hope.
Part of my journey is to seek out promising young people who are contending in evidence-based and impactful ways with the climate crisis and engage them in conversations about hope. I am grateful for Canada’s National Observer’s commitment to solutions journalism, which provides these determined, joyful and, yes, hopeful young people a voice.
Meet Matt Humphrey, a 37-year-old writer, educator, husband, father of three and Anglican priest. Currently living on Songhees territory in the Cecilia Creek watershed (Victoria, B.C.), he serves as director of theological education for A Rocha Canada and is community life minister of the Abbey Church in Victoria and the curator of Wild Church Victoria.
Tell us about each of your three titles.
A Rocha is an international Christian organization engaged in scientific research, environmental education, community-based conservation projects and sustainable agriculture. Abbey Church is a Victoria congregation of the Emmaus community, whose members vow to lead lives of prayer, presence and simplicity. Wild Church is a global movement of faith communities, which, in the words of theologian Thomas Berry, has moved from seeing the world as a collection of objects to appreciating it as a communion of subjects, gathering to delight in and defend this Earth, our common home.
Is there a theme that inspires all your work?
"We are disciples of Jesus who see our home watersheds as teaching us to live sustainably with the land upon which we depend," says Matt Humphrey, a Vancouver Island priest and educator who mixes faith with environmental stewardship.
I am drawn to a way of interacting with the natural world called “Watershed Discipleship.” Our culture usually understands a disciple as a committed follower of a person who teaches them or models what they want to learn. We are disciples of Jesus who see our home watersheds as teaching us to live sustainably with the land upon which we depend.
This is inseparable from an understanding that God works with and through people who are economically or socially marginalized. Through deep relationships, we can learn from one another how to heal the harm our dominant economic systems inflicts upon us all, but especially on the poor.
Christians have a reputation for wanting to convert people. Are you interested in convincing environmentalists to become Christians?
Quite the opposite, actually. We seek to convert ourselves more fully into people who pay closer attention to our places — much like many committed environmentalists.
This sounds like a far cry from the image I am sure many National Observer readers have of the life of a Christian congregation. What is your position within the larger mainstream churches?
I am part of an ecumenical movement of the Anglican and United churches. It invites everyone regardless of denomination. Our local Anglican bishop provided material I helped to write to the 50 priests and their churches in this diocese. Many churches have begun gathering for outdoor walks and have engaged with local urban planners about land use decisions. Some conduct letter-writing and public support campaigns. It dovetails beautifully with the commitment of both the United and Anglican churches for Indigenous reconciliation and has led clergy and lay people to publicly support Indigenous land and development rights.
Did your childhood or upbringing influence you in this path?
I like to say I grew up in a John Denver song in the Shenandoah Valley. My dad was engaged in slowly rewilding the place we lived, and I watched a small forest and bird sanctuary emerge over the course of my childhood. When I was in university, I learned how fish farming was poisoning the water for the fish it supported and I could not reconcile that dissonance. I discerned a call to leadership amongst Christians to engage caring for the world even as it cares for us.
While we have enormous responsibility to be careful, we can also have faith that God cares for us through this world of abundance and delight. If we pay attention, we discover a single leaf or a falling raindrop can teach us how we are connected to everything. We do not inhabit a static world of objects, rather we are subjects of a living world, as (poet Gerard Manley) Hopkins says, “charged with the grandeur of God.”
What is your advice to young people who may not necessarily be Christians?
The more I taste of the wonder of the world around me, the more I am drawn into it. It is easy to think that the world is just about competition or survival. But the miracle of small things tells me that there is so much more than mere survival on offer. How good clean water tastes. How a baby’s smile delights. How the sunset blesses us all with beauty. If we can learn to really see and be with the everyday beauty and mystery around us, we will be hopeful — and we need that to anchor us in the coming storm.
What would you like to say to older people?
You are not off the job yet! This is a relay, and you have still more time to carry the baton — so don’t look to younger people to solve the problems we collectively face. Use the power and privilege (and wisdom and understanding) of your agency to fight for good climate policy. To increase the degree to which our economy is fair for all. To make space at the table to ensure other people also get a seat.