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Date posted: 23 September 2015
Board members Jean Leston and Alex Mabbs represented Operation Noah at the ‘Reconciling a Wounded Planet’ conference in Coventry on 18-19 September 2015. Jean reports on the lessons learned.
Coventry Cathedral was rebuilt from the ruins of human destruction from World War II and is dedicated to the mission of reconciliation. It was therefore the perfect place to consider the climate crisis, man’s increasingly destructive impact on the Earth, and what the church needs to do in response—to bring reconciliation and restoration to God’s precious creation.
Inside the Cathedral, Graham Sutherland’s extraordinarily beautiful and enormous tapestry of Christ in Majesty (which appropriately has a deep green background) loomed overhead, helping us to remember that all creation belongs to God, not to us, and in Christ all things hold together.
The purpose of this conference was to challenge and equip the church for its mission to care and protect the world entrusted to us. Although mostly attended by CofE bishops, clergy, ordinands and laity involved with environmental issues, there were other denominations present and lots of students. As the generation that will carry the burdens of our failure to address climate change, they brought all-important young voices to the conference.
Participants were treated to an incredible range of speakers, including top theologians and Christian conservationists, who spoke with passion and conviction on our need to address climate change as an urgent Christian issue and to consider creation care as central to our faith, not a fringe activity. ‘Why have we missed this for long?’ was the cry of Revd Margot Hodson, author (with her husband Martin) of the newly published A Christian Guide to Environmental Issues.
Sir Ghillean Prance, leading botanist and former Director of Kew Gardens, then gave us several inspirational examples of reconciliation in practice, from the creation of green spaces out of abandoned land to growing food for the homeless.
We then broke into discussion groups according to our interests (mine was on Political Engagement) where we concluded that the church has immense importance as one of the key actors who can help to solve the climate crisis. But we need more preaching from the front on the theology of creation care in order to help people understand that climate change is a faith issue and not just political.
In the evening we were all delighted to see Baked Alaska, the new play about climate change reviewed by Operaton Noah here.
On the second day of the conference, we heard from two theological heavyweights: Prof Richard Bauckham, the New Testament scholar, and Bishop James Jones, one of the CofE’s most prophetic voices on the centrality of caring for creation to the mission of God.
Prof Bauckham explained that reconciliation means peacemaking and that we must recognise the value of all things in God’s sight and find ways of bringing peace to the Earth, including peace between humans and animals. Using Colossians 1:15-21 as his theological base, he stressed the interdependence of all things and the fact that we belong to a community of creatures created by God—a theocentric rather than anthropocentric community. He reminded us that creation exists for the glory of God and that we should lament when we see creation being damaged or devastated.
Bishop James Jones was emphatic that creation care is not just an Old Testament issue but a Gospel imperative, again bringing us back to the Colossians reading (1:16) that ‘all things have been created through and for him’ (Christ). In order to take the whole church with us on the importance of creation care, Bishop James challenged us to demonstrate that this was central to the teachings of Jesus, and pointed us to the ‘Son of Man and Earth sayings’ which appear in all four gospels. He called on us individually and collectively to respond to the climate crisis by ‘living a rule of life for the earthing of heaven’.
He suggested seven steps for doing this: praise, prayer, personal life, parochial, partnership, politics and planet. Commenting on the forthcoming UN climate talks (COP21), Bishop James stressed that climate change is a justice issue for the poor who suffer the consequences of climate change but are least responsible for the problem.
So what were the key takeaway points of the conference for me? It was a real encouragement to know that those of us who care for creation are doing God’s work. Like Francis of Assisi (and Pope Francis), we have been called to ‘repair God’s house’, our earthly home.
We live in a world of broken relationships between ourselves, God and creation. Our gospel has been too small for too long, focussing on personal salvation but neglecting the importance of creation as a gift, which reflects the glory of God. We urgently need to seek reconciliation by rebuilding these relationships, if we are to have a future. And as Christians, we can show the world that there is hope and joy in living simply and counter-culturally, seeking a better world which honours God, shows love for our neighbour and protects creation for future generations.