Youth Lead the Uniting Church to the Climate Strike
The entrance to Pitt Street Uniting Church mills with people signing in via QR code, marshals in hi-vis offer hand sanitiser as they direct congregants into the sanctuary. There, young people wearing taʻovala and i oro chat with Uniting Church President Dr Deidre Palmer. Common Grace CEO Brooke Prentis speaks with students from Pymble Ladies’ College as they prepare to deliver the Acknowledgement of Country. Christian Students Uniting (CSU) organisers Michael Ramaidama Utoni and Paige Owen practice their script as MCs, to the sound of the Auburn Uniting Church band rehearsing beautiful vocal harmonies. Attendees claim shirts emblazoned with a paraphrase of John 3:16, “For God so loved the Earth,” and gradually fill the wooden pews.
On Friday 21 May, 126 people from across the Uniting Church and beyond gathered at Pitt St Uniting Church for a worship service. We sang together, prayed together, and heard the Word preached. We stood and affirmed together our commitment to climate justice as a central tenet of our faith. We came together as people of God and were strengthened in our faith, nourished by our community, and reminded that climate justice is a vital part of being the church. We gathered in answer to God’s call that we be stewards of Creation, and in response to a hurting planet.
This is the second time CSU has led the church to a climate strike, and on both occasions it has been important for us to gather in worship before taking to the streets. CSU – an organisation of university students committed to keeping faith, doing justice, and building community – is passionate about climate action and its importance for people of faith. These worship services equip us for the public ministry of protest, and allow relationships to deepen between different parts of the church who care about climate justice.
The service began with a moving Acknowledgement of Country, delivered by Aspen, Giselle, and Georgia from Pymble Ladies’ College, some of whom spoke in language. We were then welcomed into the space by Pitt Street minister Rev. Dr Josephine Inkpin, before MCs Michael and Paige led us in a poignant call to worship, available on the Common Grace website.
The sermon was jointly delivered by CSU’s Matthew Powell and Pulse Field Officer Pastor Ofa Foiakau. Matthew drew parallels between the lectionary readings for Pentecost Sunday and our calling as the church to participate in climate action. He cited the “dread” often inspired by the enormity of the climate crisis: “I think we are guilty of hiding in our churches just like the apostles hid in their upper room. But we have not gathered here in this church to hide. The same Spirit that came down on the apostles at Pentecost moves through us today.”
Pastor Ofa told a personal story about the impacts of climate change in her home village of Sawana, Fiji. She challenged those gathered “to allow the Holy Spirit to lead you into uncomfortable spaces, to speak truth in spaces of privilege, to listen to the wisdom from our Indigenous and culturally diverse communities as the Holy Spirit works through them, and to bear witness as Christians that we are stewards of all of God’s creation.”
After the sermon we sang Garden together, stirringly performed by Andrew Maifelemi, Kathleen Sikuea, and Talita Ata from Auburn Uniting Church. Written by CSU’s Mikali Anagnostis, this song calls for new life amid brokenness, using vivid garden imagery.
At the conclusion of the service, we were sent out by Dr Deidre Palmer, President of the Uniting Church National Assembly, to join the rally at Sydney’s Town Hall. There we heard young people from Gamilaraay Next Generation and the Pacific Climate Warriors as well as high school students recount the impacts of climate change already being felt across Australia and the Pacific. Each reinforced the demands of School Strike 4 Climate that governments fund “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-led solutions” and create “secure jobs” that “transition our economy and communities to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030”.
Following the speeches, marshals guided the Uniting Church contingent toward the march route, while our drumming core moved to a street corner. From there, we drummed the climate strikers past, invigorating school students, community groups, and organisations as they made their way down Elizabeth Street. The crowd was alive with dancing, clapping, and chanting, fuelled by anger at the government’s inaction and by hope for change, as we made our way to Prince Albert Park where the march concluded.
On Friday 21 May, 126 people gathered for worship before taking to streets: young and old, students and educators, elected officials and emerging leaders – from many different cultural backgrounds. We stood and sang and marched, united by our care for God’s Creation and an urgent call for action. This is the Uniting Church at its best, moving with the Holy Spirit toward justice.
Gabrielle Cadenhead is Insights’ Intern