(Above) The Salvation Army participates in No Faith in Fossil Fuels, an ecumenical climate protest as part of The Big One, a collective action at Parliament Square in London, England, last April (Photo: Louise Norton, Catholic Agency for Overseas Development) 

Climate change represents a growing threat to people and the planet. In 2015, the majority of countries around the world adopted the Paris Agreement, an international framework to reduce the effects of climate change by limiting the rise of global temperature to 1.5 C. Salvationist features editor Giselle Randall spoke with Major Heather Poxon, the first territorial environmental officer in the United Kingdom and Ireland Territory, about how she is helping to change hardware and hearts.

Mjr Heather Poxon is The Salvation Army’s first territorial environmental officer in the United Kingdom and Ireland Territory
Mjr Heather Poxon is The Salvation Army’s first territorial environmental officer in the United Kingdom and Ireland Tty

The Salvation Army in the United Kingdom and Ireland recently introduced the role of territorial environmental officer. Why is this role needed?

During a review of its mission, the territory decided on five missional priorities—similar to the Church of England’s five marks of mission—and one of them is to care for creation. My appointment, which started in October 2022, is to encourage a greater engagement of our people around this subject. We have been aware of it for decades, and Salvationists and people linked with the Army have been making changes in this area, although it’s never been formally recognized. 

There were a growing number of young people who were becoming quite vocal about the climate crisis and saying that we, as an Army, need to step up, to make deep, significant changes in our behaviour and to raise our voices for justice. We are already too late in many ways—but we are still able to make a difference. A group of young people cycled from their corps to territorial headquarters (THQ), with a letter for the territorial commander, asking The Salvation Army to declare a climate emergency, which we did on June 5, 2023, for World Environment Day.

In declaring an emergency, we recognize we all need to put our energy into making a difference. We cannot just leave this to the government, or to our property department at THQ, to lower our carbon emissions, for example. We all have a responsibility to do something.

Why should caring for the environment be a priority for Christians?

For me, the theological reasons are because God loves this world, and he gave it to us to care for. However, it belongs to him—it doesn’t belong to us. And as he loves it, then so we love what he loves. In John 3:16, we read that, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,” and the word for world is cosmos. God so loved the whole created order that he gave Jesus—not just for people. And he calls us to be reconcilers of all things to God, which includes creation and people. We have a responsibility, as in the Garden of Eden, to care for our common home.

Then there’s the justice side. If we love our neighbour, then we need to love this world; we need to tread softly on this world. My background is in international development, and I’ve seen first-hand the awful plight of people around the world who are struggling with longer dry seasons, with floods and fires and all of the fallout from our carbon use. For many years we have supported other territories who struggle with the impact of climate change, but this is an opportunity for us to get our own house in order because otherwise our neighbours will just continue to battle against the effects of a warming world.

What is your mandate as the environmental officer? How are you helping the Army respond to climate change?

I see it in two sections: hardware and hearts. The hardware makes up our buildings, vehicles and procurement, etc. There are specialized staff who are working toward Net Zero—90 percent less emissions—by 2040, and half of that by 2030. So that includes our insulation, LED lighting, solar panels, changing to electric vehicles, and scrutinizing our procurement. All of this will take a great deal of investment, but we cannot afford not to address it.

However, unless you have your people with you—“hearts”—this will be a losing battle. For the heart side, we address this at three levels: conduct, community and campaigning. 

Can you tell me more about each of them?

Conduct is about our lifestyle—how I tread softly in my life, how I waste as little as possible, how I eat as little meat, if any, as possible, how I travel. It’s looking at how we as individuals act; until we do that, we can’t move on to anything else because we’re not being authentic.

Community is about encouraging Eco Church, an environmental award scheme run by A Rocha, a Christian environmental organization. It helps you look at your church and evaluate your worship and teaching, building and land, lifestyle, community and global engagement, and provides supporting resources. The awards move from bronze to silver to gold. It’s a great program, and I’m trying to get as many corps signed up as we can—50 corps have signed up so far. No gold awards have been achieved yet, but we are working on that!

Also under the community heading comes how we can build resilience among our communities. The next decade is looking like it will be quite alarming. Temperatures are rising, there will be more floods, more fires, and Pacific islands going underwater. The dry seasons are getting hotter and longer, so there will be increasing food insecurity and food prices will continue to rise. There will also be an increasing movement of people north, escaping the heat and food insecurity.

Commissioner Anthony Cotterill, then TC, United Kingdom and Ireland Tty, prays in Parliament Square
Comr Anthony Cotterill, then TC, United Kingdom
and Ireland Tty, prays in Parliament Square

How can The Salvation Army respond? Can we share local energy sources? Encourage community gardens so that more of our food is local? What about investing in repair workshops, so people don’t throw things out? As we look at strengthening the resilience of our local communities, can we welcome the stranger when they come to us? Are we ready for what’s coming?

Campaigning. Who is the government listening to? Is it those with money, big businesses, the oil industry? How do we raise our voices and challenge this? They alone have the power to change policy, to change the way we behave through our systems and infrastructure. We need to do all three—conduct, community and campaigning—to respond to the climate crisis.

Can you tell me more about your approach to campaigning?

Last April, we participated in No Faith in Fossil Fuels, which was an event that brought Christians from across denominations together for a prayer service before joining a protest outside Parliament in London, England. About 50-70 Salvationists joined with 4,000 other Christians and attended the service, where a cadet shared why she was taking part, a Salvation Army band played and then we marched with the band to Parliament Square to protest.

It just felt so right. We are a protest movement. We seem to have become a bit shy and retreated behind our walls, so this was a great opportunity to raise our voices for justice. We belong on the streets. We need to take our place there again. This is part of being a holiness movement. In her book Living Right While Righting Wrong, Colonel Wendy Swan writes: “holiness refers to the persistent discomfort of its members with the unchallenged existence of oppression and exploitation in the world.”

We have just launched a 10- day, 24/7 prayer vigil coming in Parliament Square. Again, we joined with other denominations and Christian organizations to pray for our government and push them to make the right decisions for our environment.

Climate change, the loss of biodiversity and the exploitation of our world cuts across every political party, so that is why we need to speak up. Every party in Parliament needs to take this on board.

A Salvation Army band leads the No Faith in Fossil Fuels march
A Salvation Army band leads the No Faith in Fossil Fuels march

How do we overcome climate anxiety or the feeling of despair?

Climate anxiety is a real concern, especially for young people, as they see such uncertainty about their future. We need to make sure that they’re able to talk and share that anxiety. Talking about it can lead to action. If we can translate our anxiety into action and advocacy, then that helps reduce the anxiety.

This is God’s world. And he is a redeemer God; he’s the God of hope. If we’re all working to do all that we can to reconcile our world to God, to make it a more beautiful place, then he will do what we can’t, and will bring about a redeemed world, a new heaven and a new earth.

What encouragement or challenge do you have for other territories?

With our global reach, The Salvation Army has a huge opportunity to make a difference. I am sure that in every territory, there are environmental champions keen to do something. Leadership endorsement and a clear way forward, with investment behind it, should spark action. I would encourage every territory to recognize the urgency of this issue and engage with action, especially those of us who are causing the problem. We have to take responsibility. We have the opportunity to make a difference in hardware and hearts. If I can link up with any territories that might be interested in looking at this, I would love to have that conversation. We run a global Bible study online once a month, where we look at environmental issues through the eyes of Scripture. Email me at heather.poxon@salvationarmy.org.uk if you’d like to join.

Further Reading

International Positional Statement on Caring for the Environment

Resources from The Salvation Army Ethics Centre


On Thursday, May 2, 2024, Robert Brewer said:

The Salvation Army in the UK is on the right side of climate change. Climate change is killing hundreds of thousands of people a year and that number will increase to millions if not stopped. If we don’t do something, how do we save the lives of the dead? How do we plan on feeding people when the crops are in droughts and there is no food to give? We have been told by God to look after the earth and to love our neighbours. Fighting to stop Climate Change is a major way we can continue to have Soup to give and Souls to save.

On Friday, April 26, 2024, Sally said:

The Salvation Army is surely letting their standards down on this one.No wonder your churches are emptying out.Stop with the politics.Go back to God and get on your knees and pray to him for direction.This is not the correct path to follow.You are following the world.

On Friday, April 26, 2024, Concerned said:

It is disconcerting and sad to see the continued drift of the Army away from the purpose for which God raised it....the salvation of souls. It is little wonder halls are emptying and numerical strength is in steady decline.

On Friday, April 26, 2024, Mississippi-Rideau Lakes Church said:

Hello I agree with Ken Kimberly... We should be saving souls ... Soup Soap and Salvation

On Thursday, April 25, 2024, Isaiah Allen said:

Major Poxon is right that environmental matters do not belong to a narrow department (e.g., property). Environmental sustainability is relevant to all aspects of Army work (e.g., program transportation, supplies). Our Christian worldview and biblical values need to be applied broadly, not compartmentalized or off-loaded. Creation care is for everyone.

On Thursday, April 25, 2024, Ken Kimberley said:

I'm saddened (but not surprised) to the the Army falling for the climate crisis scam. CO2 is not a pollutant. It is an essential element for all life on earth and is at an historically low level. Fossil fuels are what brought our civilization out of the dark ages and into the standard of living that we enjoy today. Are you wanting to give up all that? How are you going to heat your homes? How are you going to get around - are you going to restrict yourself to your immediate neighbourhood? What are you going to wear? What are you going to eat? Our ability to enjoy all these things depends on the use of fossil fuels. If you want REAL pollution - then go the route suggested by the eco zealots. What do you do with windmills and solar panels and electric car batteries when they no longer function? And don't forget the conditions many of the minerals required for those electric cars are mined under. Look at our 2nd doctrine that tells us the God is the Creator, Preserver, and Governor of all things. Do you believe that? Do you think that God is not able to control the climate of the world?

On Thursday, April 25, 2024, James Read said:

So pleased to hear of this development in the UK. Perhaps you could add a link to the international positional statement on Caring for the environment. The UK initiatives begin to lift the statement off the page and add action to principle.

On Thursday, April 25, 2024, Gerald Reilly said:

Catchy banner, but I don't think I've ever heard a Salvationist claim to have faith in fossil fuels, nor have I ever preached having faith in fossil fuels. I have preached common sense, which seems to be lacking when one decries oil based products while holding what looks like a vinyl sign (and at least one plastic name tag and a lot of nylon apparel).

On Thursday, April 25, 2024, George Crocker said:

Great the the Army is taking part in this very important task in the the way we are to continue on in our Christian movement.to much inside and not enough on the outside. We got it to comfortable now. Hope everything works out for the well bing of the human soul.

On Monday, April 22, 2024, Aimee Patterson said:

This is an important story about a matter that is critical for all of us. Are there practical examples of climate concern within our own territory we can learn about?

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