Where politics divide, the environment unites. Anglican priests, Muslim Imams, congregations, youth leaders, and children attending Sunday schools and madrasas, will all be focusing on the natural environment and what their communities can do to protect and conserve it.

In this groundbreaking new project funded by the WWF Nedbank Green Trust, the Anglican Church of Southern Africa and the Claremont Main Road Mosque, representing the Cape Town Muslim community, are partnering with the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI) to develop faith-based environmental learning materials and leadership programmes for their respective congregations.

“Across all religions we need to be preaching and praying about the environment to convey the message that God made this beautiful world of ours, and we need to be proactive about taking care of it,” says Reverend Dr Rachel Mash, the environmental coordinator of the Anglican Church of Southern African, who initiated and motivated the funding proposal for this multi-faith project.

Revd Mash and Mariam Baderoon, a board member and environmental justice portfolio holder of the Claremont Main Road Mosque, are currently developing the learning materials and programmes, in collaboration with other interested stakeholders from their religious communities.

“We need to encourage people of all faiths to support environmental conservation campaigns in their communities, such as the campaign calling for accountability in acid mine drainage in Gauteng, the campaign against shale gas fracking in the Karoo and the campaign to save the Princess Vlei in Cape Town from being destroyed by a shopping mall,” explains Revd Mash, formerly a parish priest in Khayelitsha for ten years, and who currently serves at St Mark’s Church in District Six.

Revd Mash says all faith communities have an extremely important role to play in environmental conservation in this time of pandemic environmental degradation and climate change. “Climate change is a huge threat, but even if you are a climate denialist and you don’t believe in climate change, it doesn’t change the fact that our planet is in a bad way and we need to change this. In response, we have decided to take a positive approach in this project. We want to inspire people to aspire to a world where we have clean air, clean rivers and a healthy environment.”

“Environmental justice is part of our mosque’s mission and we see it as being an integral part of what it means to be a conscientious Muslim,” adds Baderoon. “We believe that we need to play an active role in environmental conservation and environmental justice and not just leave it up to environmental experts and public officials.”

Baderoon explains that the lessons and programmes developed will be used in the Muslim community to explore the concept that the Earth is a mosque. “We will provide ideas, resources and practical advice to teachers, leaders and youth as to how we can honour the ethical principles that connect humans in our collective duty to protect the planet.

“The key ethical principles we want to convey is the Oneness of God and His creation; to understand what it means to be a steward on Earth and how to make the natural environment central to our faith and lifestyle.”

These principles are shared by the Green Deen Movement – an initiative started by the Muslim Students’ Association in Johannesburg that calls on all Muslim youth to come together to conserve the planet.

SAFCEI is managing the finance for this three-year project and is responsible for submitting regular progress reports to the WWF Nedbank Green Trust.

“We’re very excited about the opportunity as a multi-faith organisation to be able to partner with the WWF Nedbank Green Trust. It is encouraging that different faith communities are working together on this initiative to raise awareness and take action to improve the wellbeing of planet Earth, our only home,” says Sean Brown the Operations Director at SAFCEI, headed by South Africa’s well-known ‘Green Bishop’, Bishop Geoff Davies.

“SAFCEI is all about what we as Earth Keepers can do for a common, positive, faith-led purpose,” says Brown, explaining that the resources developed through this project will assist the leadership and all age groups in the Anglican Church and Muslim community to develop as Earth Keepers. The resources will then be made available to other faith communities throughout southern Africa.

Faith communities are encouraged by SAFCEI to participate in a variety of environmental and climate change initiatives, including an Eco-congregation programme. In their Energy 100 Project, SAFCEI undertakes a simple audit and carbon footprint assessment process in mosques, synagogues, churches and other faith centres. “We work with all faith communities to see what they can affordably do to reduce their footprint – from basic water saving efforts such as putting a brick or bottle in the toilet cistern, to using energy-efficient light bulbs, to installing renewable energy systems such as solar power,” Brown explains.

Considering that there are over 1000 churches in the Anglican Church of Southern Africa alone, the green footprint initiative can make a considerable impact.

“We’re getting wonderful material from all over the world that we are including in our teaching resources,” says Revd Mash.

“For little children we’re putting together material that looks at the wonders of creation – the sky, the water, the animals. From here we look at how we’ve messed it up, and then at what we can do about it, and we’ll put this all up on large, visible murals.”

Mash says children and young leaders are great mobilisers, including her children. “When they were young my children came home and asked why we don’t recycle, and so we started recycling,” she explains. Her children are also a large part of why she got involved in the Greening the Churches movement. “I felt I could not face my children or grandchildren if they turned around one day and asked ‘If you knew what was happening to our planet, why did you not do something about it?’”

The project team is also putting together environmental resources for the leaders of churches and mosques, and for five interns who will receive training and support as environmental educators at leading environmental organisations in South Africa, including WWF-SA and the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA).

The ultimate aim of this project is to educate current and future South African leaders to be well informed on environmental issues and to proactively respond to environmental issues in our country and beyond as faith-based Earth Keepers and Environmental Stewards.