“I encourage you to join in this exciting initiative in your way, whether by protecting a precious environment, restoring a degraded one or planting something new. All these activities are spiritual acts too, for to plant is to hope, to protect is to love and to restore is to heal – to share in God’s reconciling work in all creation”. Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury
On Wednesday 3rd August, in the garden of Lambeth Palace, the Communion Forest was launched. Hundreds of bishops of the Anglican Communion, gathered for the Lambeth Conference, their spouses and invited guests joined in prayer and commitment to this new initiative. The short service was led by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Archbishop of Central America Julio Murray, who is the Anglican Communion’s lead bishop on the environment and chair of the Anglican Communion Environmental Network. They were accompanied by their spouses, by Kenyan climate activist Elizabeth Wathuti, by Indigenous Anglican leaders, by eco-bishops from across the Anglican Communion, and by others involved in developing the initiative.
The Communion Forest is a vision for the Anglican Communion to join together in protecting and restoring forests and other habitats throughout the world. It is set to be one of the legacies of the 2022 Lambeth Conference – a shared expression of the Communion’s commitment to the Anglican Fifth Mark of Mission: Strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth. The initiative is inspired by – and builds on – environmental initiatives already taking place throughout the Communion and provides a mechanism for Anglicans to share and learn from one another.
The Communion Forest’s launch took place against the backdrop of the wider London Day of the Lambeth Conference, a day given over to prayer, fellowship and reflection on the themes of the environment and sustainable development. The day took place in the grounds of Lambeth Palace, surrounded by birds, insects, plants, trees and hundreds of other species. Yet, as Archbishop Justin pointed out, even in the midst of such beauty, the evidence of the environmental emergency was all too apparent in the scorched earth and dying plants of the garden – the result of unprecedented extreme heat.
As part of the launch, a symbolic tree was planted, the first official tree of the initiative. The bishops and other guests were invited to bless the tree by pouring a cup of soil on its roots. The long queue of people that formed to do so was deeply moving. Earlier in the day, over lunch, the bishops had shared with one another the environmental challenges affecting their communities and written prayers on paper leaves, which were added to trees of life in the garden.
And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations
Central to the vision of the day and the Communion Forest initiative is the biblical image described in Revelation 22: 2, with its hope of abundance and restoration:
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life, with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations”.
As Archbishop Justin Welby says in the introduction of the Communion Forest booklet, “We are living in a time of multiple global crises, emerging from the Covid-19 pandemic and with climate change, conflict and an emerging food crisis. In our collective pain, we need symbols and actions of hope. The Communion Forest is a symbol and act of hope – something we can do together as God’s Church for God’s World as we journey on from the Lambeth Conference”.