The Green Room ~ Reconciling a Wounded Planet

20/11/2015

By the Revd Dr John Harrison

 

One small step...On September 18/19th The Diocese of Coventry organised a conference at the Cathedral entitled ‘Reconciling a Wounded Planet’, the principal objective of which was “to consider stories of hope in the midst of the growing environmental crisis that the world is experiencing”.

There is a reader-friendly report on this conference by Peter Lornie at www.jri.org.uk/blog/reconciling-a-wounded-planet-report-by-dr-peter-Lornie. The Diocese of Newcastle held a somewhat similar conference ‘Renewing Creation’ back in March 2003 at which Bishop Martin said “The care of the environment has never been a more pressing or urgent issue and the churches are given a special responsibility to be wise and responsible stewards of God’s Creation”. This is not to say that Newcastle is 12 years ahead of Coventry but to ask the question whether the Christian churches as a whole have moved forward on environmental issues.

Before their conference, Coventry surveyed regular churchgoers which provided the encouraging news that 65% of those who responded thought that protecting the environment was ‘very important’ and 56% felt informed about the issues. However, more than 40% felt that their church provided little or no preaching or opportunities for discussion on environmental issues, and where an environmental policy was in place, it attracted very little attention. Why should this be? Perhaps we should ask those local churches who do have an active engagement with environmental issues – are you steered by environmental expertise or by a collective desire to engage with the pain of a world that humankind has damaged?

I have heard ‘uninformed’ or ‘ill-equipped’ used as reasons why a church does not engage with environmental issues. A church outside this diocese once said to me that it was not possible to consider environment issues because neither the vicar nor any member of the congregation had any professional expertise in the relevant sciences. I find this quite frustrating when the same churches are prepared to confront matters which, adopting the same criterion, could be seen to require expertise in, for example, economics, sociology, psychology or anthropology. The underlying science in environment issues is a dynamic field of study and the best any of us can do is to take a quick snapshot at any point in time, like reading the adverts on the escalators on the London underground.

So while the science of the environment presents us with an ever-changing picture do we really need to engage with the scientific detail if we are to be wise stewards of Creation? I would argue that our strength as a Christian church is to see the implications of where our environmental journey is taking us, based on our understanding not of the complexity of the science but of our relationship with our creator God. As with all the processes which are drawn into this relationship, most of the time we don’t get to see the full movie and the best we can manage are freeze-frames of where we are. So why not put aside the excuses, and look again at how we relate to the world around us, not as amateur scientists but as committed Christians.

 

 

  • Dr John Harrison FRMetS is the Bishop of Newcastle’s Environmental Adviser, and a former Vice-Dean of Natural Sciences and Senior Lecturer, Climate Laboratory, in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Stirling University.

  • Go to Environment pages

 

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