Religious teachings are full of lessons about caring for the planet. Christian Scriptures are full of detailed examples of God’s revelation in nature; from the first story of creation in the Book of Genesis, to Leviticus, where we are reminded that the land, too, must sometimes rest. It is in the natural world that many of us recognize the wonder and mystery of our faith. I was reflecting on this as I was preparing to attend the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai as a Christian climate observer.

The Church is the perfect body of stubborn, hopeful humans. As a minister in the United Church of Canada, I serve a faithful, struggling congregation in Vancouver. We are struggling because the world has already been changed, and the church with it. We struggle with the stains of our history: the participation in residential schools and the Sixties Scoop. Yet, here we are at the crossroads of our reconciliation work and climate justice. And this time, we are poised to make a difference.

For the first time in the history of the UN’s climate summits, there is a faith pavilion in the heart of the Blue Zone, where meetings and negotiations take place. And for the first time, this meeting of the parties is hosted by a Muslim nation in a venue that declares we submit to a higher power, where we will stand shoulder to shoulder, listening to stories of transformation and hearing from communities that are bending towards healing and hope. But this is also a place where the fossil fuel industry holds great power and is continuously looking to lock down business deals.

I am a minister who is not an expert on climate science. But this is why it matters that I am here. I am in Dubai to witness, to watch governments and industry lobbyists try to convince the world that it is still OK to pollute our only habitat, chop down the last old-growth forests, and destroy the dreams of our grandchildren. I am here to watch and not look away when the truth is ugly and demanding.

I am here because faith leaders have an important role to play in the environmental movement and the future of climate justice — we have circles of influence, we work with communities that value beauty, that care deeply for others, and we are people who believe in reciprocity across the generations.

Our faith perspective and the congregations that we serve are filled with folks just like you and me, seeking to live in meaningful ways that contribute to the well-being of the Earth. We live for a future that is abundant and sustainable and will be a gracious legacy for all who follow us — inside and outside the Church.

The complexity and moral contortions required for COP28 are not too different from a typical Sunday morning for a faith leader. We navigate special interest groups all the time. Have you ever been in a choir? We often hold onto the uncomfortable knowledge that two things can be true at the same time, and we always risk the awkwardness of offending someone with the decisions we make. Much of our work is, in fact, life and death.

It’s not surprising to me that my path to this Christian Climate Observer Program has been meteoric. I attended one meeting last January that was hosted by Sierra Club BC, which led to another meeting where I met Dr. Suzanne Simard, an author and professor at UBC’s Department of Forest and Conservation Sciences. This led to a series of workshops with local faith leaders who made up the inaugural cohort of Sierra Club BC’s Mother Tree Local Leaders Program. Now I am in Dubai. I believe I have been summoned.

In my community of faith, we accept that we are all on the journey. I want to stand side by side with women from Mauritius. I want to meet youth from Kenya and Indigenous leaders from Aotearoa. I have an entire community of active climate justice seekers following my experience and ready to take action together. In these stressful times of climate grief, we need community more than ever. That’s why I am here.

Faith leaders have an important role to play in the environmental movement and the future of climate justice — we have circles of influence, we work with communities that value beauty and that care deeply for others, writes @RevDebWalker #COP28

So, as we join our hearts in Dubai to observe the proceedings and discuss how to heal the Earth, I will not be a simple bystander. Being here less than a year after embarking on my environmental journey reminds me that all things are possible. We are stronger when we are together and faith communities know that we are going to need deep connections to each other more than ever as we face what lies ahead.

Deb Walker is the minister of connection and social justice for Shaughnessy Heights United Church. She has been serving communities as a United Church minister for 20 years in Western Canada, most recently as lead minister at St. Paul’s United Church in Saskatoon.