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In our country’s temperate climate and in the relative comfort of the southeast we are sheltered from many of the realities of the climate crisis. However, we have probably all noticed that on occasion our rainfall can be more like a tropical monsoon downpour than an English April shower and that we increasingly seem to have winters with little or no snowfall.
Gardeners are also becoming more aware that the pattern of the seasons is less predictable and that some things do not grow as well as they used to do, while semi-tropical plants may flourish in the summer. The effects of the average increase in global temperatures are already around us all the time and in our churches we may be made even more aware of this through our links with mission partners or other contacts in countries far away, where the challenges of extreme droughts or catastrophic flooding may be part and parcel of their new reality.
Frances Ward, a Church of England vicar, like many others up and down the country, has suffered from intermittent climate grief or eco-anxiety for some time. About to move from Cambridgeshire to Cumbria, she and her husband purchased a new canal boat and, aided by a rota of friends, she travelled along the river and canal network to move it to its new home.
The resulting book is her story of spending around six weeks in late spring 2018 in a slow-moving ‘retreat’: she takes us on a multi-layered journey as she spends time reviewing her position as a minister of the church alongside experiencing periods of intense anguish over the damage that humanity is inflicting on the planet. As she travels, both physically and emotionally, she comes to understand that she needs to accept that lament has its place alongside hope within her life of faith – the despair she sometimes feels will not disappear but must be acknowledged.
But in what is more than a record of a chapter in her spiritual journey, this book also charts the history of the English canal system as her voyage takes her from the south of the country up to the north along the waterways. She describes coping with locks and tunnels, the changing countryside, the flora and fauna and the community of fellow travellers. There are maps, poetry extracts, reflections on passages from the psalms and snippets from favourite writers.
This book really does have something for anyone and everyone who grapples with reconciling the climate crisis and a life lived with hope, who loves nature or who is just interested in a nearby river or canal.
Nicky Bull is an Operation Noah trustee and a freelance editor and proofreader. Nicky holds several degrees, including a postgraduate degree in theology from the University of St Andrews where she wrote a dissertation on Christian responses to climate change.