SLOWLY, carefully, the Reverend Tofiga Falani, from the tiny nation of Tuvalu, walked down the long aisle of the Copenhagen Cathedral, holding in his arms a piece of bleached dead coral from the Pacific Ocean. With him came the Reverend Suzanne Matale from Zambia clutching dried-up maize from Africa and Bishop Sofie Petersen, from Greenland carrying stones uncovered in the melting glaciers of her ice-capped home.
As a thousand worshippers sang All Creatures of Our God and King, the three religious leaders from far-flung corners of the world joined scores of bishops and priests who gathered in Copenhagen's most famous church on Sunday to pray for the planet and for the politicians who are disputing its fate.
The dignitaries of the Danish Lutheran Church in their black robes and stiff white collars sat shoulder to shoulder with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, in flowing pale yellow, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu readily recognisable in his red, white and black robes. Opposite the bishops, Denmark's Queen Margrethe II and her husband Prince Henrik, took their place in the royal cathedral where their son Frederik had married his Australian bride, Princess Mary.
Far more than the weekend's mass demonstration, this powerful display of church and palace seemed to capture the moment when the moral argument for tackling climate change suddenly became mainstream thinking.
As the historic UN climate change conference nears its climax, the politicians and officials are still in deep disagreement over the basic question: will the big polluters cut their greenhouse gas enough to avoid dangerous climate change?
As the negotiators remain divided, the churches are uniting behind what is rapidly becoming one of the largest civil campaigns since World War II.
The Reverend Henrik Stubkjaer told the overflowing crowd in the cathedral the bleached coral was brought to Copenhagen as a symbol for the rising sea temperatures, the dead maize for extended droughts and failed crops, and the stones for the melting polar worlds. ''Lord'' he called, ''we lay in your hands these symbols of your suffering creation. Forgive us our part in the destruction of your carefully balanced world, our home and community. Help us heal and reconcile your earth.''
The Church of the Rock Choir sang in Zulu, the Aavaat choir in Greenlandic and the Copenhagen Royal Chapel Choir in Danish and English. But in every language, the religious leaders had the same message. They wanted the politicians to tackle climate change as a moral imperative because, they argue, poor nations will suffer the most and will have the least ability to adapt to it.
At the end of the service, the diminutive Archbishop Tutu stood in front of the huge white marble statue of Christ and gave the final blessing. Each worshipper lit a candle and took it out into the fading afternoon light as a symbol of hope for the talks.
The cathedral bells chimed 350 times to remind leaders of the ambitious climate agreement now being demanded by the poorest nations on earth and now the churches. This is an agreement that keeps carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from rising above 350 parts per million, to stop the temperature from rising more than 1.5 degrees, not the 2 degrees acceptable to the big players.
Daniel Varmeer, a Christian youth activist from the Netherlands, said he had come to march in the political demonstrations but he was glad he had also come to the cathedral. ''It's a moral problem we have right now, not just politics,'' he said. ''And I think the church has something to say about this.''