Rev’d David Coleman is eager to get to know local congregations’ initiatives, and to hear of your trials and joys, and to lead or share leadership of worship, when appropriate, taking note of your own tradition. Encouraging the committed core of congregations is also a high priority. David is an experienced, ordained minister in the United Reformed Church, a mainstream Christian church in the UK, and is also a Member of the Iona Community, having led programmed weeks at the Abbey.
Invite David to visit you by getting in touch through our staff page here
In preaching and in presentations, David makes exciting use of multimedia (see one of his videos below), and is well-equipped to work in very varied venues, not just on Sundays, or Sunday mornings.
A visit from the chaplain is an opportunity to celebrate what it means to be an Eco-Congregation.
Continue reading to follow his thoughts and reflections:
This blog entry arises out of participation in a Bible study on Luke 4:1-13 with URC minsters from Cumbria in the North of England. At the end of the Bible study, in the ‘Swedish’ method, participants are encouraged to make a feasible commitment.
Writing this is mine. It reflects a struggle.
Our AGM/Gathering on 30th March has the theme: Transformation. It could not be more timely or appropriate.
The most resistant entities to transformation of any kind are our conviction, conscience and consciousness.
‘Fix’ these, and change follows rapidly.
And right from the start, this is the business of the Church. ‘Behaviour change’ was not invented by governments trying to raise consciousness of carbon footprints.
(Remember, in your Bible at home ‘repent’ means ‘change of mind’, and it follows from/goes with the proclamation of Good News. )
Given the alarming progress of climate disruption, we might sometimes feel we are struggling to offer with honesty anything more than “slightly less worse” news, but nonetheless...
Matters of conscience and integrity are amongst the most fraught and potentially divisive in spiritual conversation.
This holds good in particular, for those in leadership and those ‘on the ground’ who share the brunt of any immediate consequences.
The pressure is intense on local churches and pastors - and for that matter, elected political representatives of one sort or another - to stand with the immediate needs for shelter and career.
Our conversations with MSPs in particular have shown that ignorance of climate issues is unusual. The confidence and power to act adequately on them may be a different matter.
The tension between pastoral (in intimate and local solidarity) and prophetic (in global and long-term solidarity) might therefore seem irreconcilable. I can’t offer a solution, but pretending this shared problem isn’t there will be adding to the burden of denial that we’re already struggling with.
How, as a local church, can you minister to/with people in a place of low or no employment, offered the possibility of, for instance, jobs in a brand new coal mine or nuclear power station, if you also agree -and campaign- in public that coal should be ‘left in the ground’?
This, because of the urgent (though superficially less immediate) threat to every livelihood on the planet including, in a shorter timescale than we might imagine, those very local jobs as well. And not just jobs, but the whole living environment.
There's a wilderness of sorts here.
You can prayerfully offer up your own contradictions, but not everyone will be able to be both prophetic and pastoral at the same time. Then again, different parts of the body have differing functions. You may be on different sides, but not antagonists.
Divided, but not polarised.
Conveniently absent and enjoying their immunity from any such confrontation will be the political and commercial decision-makers whose policies have led to this sort of artificial either-or blackmail in which no alternative is offered other than environmentally unacceptable occupations, and no transformation of conditions and livelihood is envisaged.
A comparison with scapegoating of migrants and minorities when, through none of their doing, the health service is starved of funding, would be apposite.
Off the hook entirely are those in industry and politics who have long known full of well the danger to all life on the planet, but are content to pretend business can still be “as usual”.
The idea of a ‘Just Transition’ from where we are now to where we need to be, (in which the welfare of those in industries which, in view of crisis, cannot continue, becomes a priority,) needs to be mainstream in the proclamation of churches and other humanitarian groups.
That said, campaigns for environmental causes, we can expect, will have costs to someone, (“I’ll support you except if my job is on the line”) though we may also need to be much clearer and more honest both about their limits, and their unexpected benefits.
Do you love, and how do you show love, to those who lose jobs in the event of the changes you advocate?
Jesus offered examples on disagreement with your family (- whom, presumably, at the outset, you love and feel loyal to -) for the sake of the Kingdom of God.
Some of these were very strongly and rhetorically worded. The outrage we might feel at Luke 14:26 is part of our discipleship. It sets any wishy-washiness in perspective.
No solutions, but comments offered in the hope they may be helpful:
Firstly: a church is a body, a community. No one should be abandoned to carry the prophetic burden in a pastoral situation. Perhaps shaping this supportive and transformative community is one of the key roles of networks in a movement like Eco Congregation Scotland.
Secondly, though churches almost universally proclaim their respect for the rights of conscience, the witness of writers like Bonhoeffer : that conscience may itself be in need of transformation, is salutary. Conscience needs to be well-informed, as well as aspiring to be receptive to the guidance of the Spirit through prayer.
You do have the right to your opinion. Do you also have the right to hold unchallenged, an opinion which will lead to harm for others?
Thirdly: solidarity goes with humilty. A principled and conscientious stand deserves respect, though raising questions on a conscience (which defends climate destruction) may still be the loving thing to do.
Complacency and smugness, wherever they arise, play into the Devil’s hand.
God help us, even in the wilderness, to love our neighbours, and our fellow creatures, as ourselves.Continue reading →
As we advance into Lent, it’s worth a close look at the Bible stories it’s meant to be based on. Lest, just as the ‘Magi’ turn into kings on Christmas cards, and the Massacre of the Innocents gets left out of the Nativity so as not to spoil a pretty, harmless story, we only receive the story of Jesus at second or third hand.
At my induction, I drew attention to a closer reading of the story of the Temptations of Jesus, as given in the early and discreet witness of the Gospel of Mark, 1:13.
As the King James Bible rather quaintly puts it:
13 And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him.
Whilst there are many authentic and traditional ways to observe Lent as a time of some sort of discipline, with the aim of being built up spiritually, may I, on the basis of these verses, suggest two further aspects:
Firstly, the companionship of the creatures in the wilderness, which need not be seen as lifeless desert, but rather a domain not dominated by people. The ‘beasts’ are not necessarily ‘beastly’, and the addition in English language of “wild” simply conveys that neither are the creatures in question domesticated. No antagonism is suggested. They are ‘wild’ in the sense of the wild birds you may have been helping through the winter, and may need additionally to care for if they are taken by surprise with a return of cold weather.
Try reading “he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wildlife”
Thus is it not surprising that in previous ages, (in the carvings of the Ruthwell* and Bewcastle high stone crosses, as well as, arguably, St Martin’s Cross on Iona), depictions or stories of Jesus experiencing the fellowship of our covenant partners on this planet have been presented as properly part of the preparation for his ministry of service to all the world.
Maybe this is a time to take care of the ‘wild’ creatures you yourself encounter, providing birdseed, a bug hotel, or some other expression of hospitality and fellowship, as a Lenten discipline, joining Jesus ‘with the wild beasts’. If you’re already doing so, just be happy!
You can find more ideas in the ‘Faith Action for Nature’ material prepared in collaboration with Eco Congregation Scotland and the RSPB
Secondly, and perhaps more shockingly for some, especially anyone feeling exhaustion or discouragement, in the face of slow progress in greening our lives, churches and societies, maybe Lent is a time to remember the pampering of Jesus by the angels away from it all. The refreshment of a walk in the country, and a readiness to receive the kindness and encouragement of others is at least as much a ‘discipline’ as ‘giving something up. What will prepare you for a committed environmental witness? What will sustain the embedding of care for Creation in the spiritual, practical and global issues we share? Who is an angel to you?
Think of it, and grasp it.
Give up being at a loss in Lent.
*The Ruthwell carving carries this wonderful inscription: "IHS XPS iudex aequitatis; bestiae et dracones cognoverunt in deserto salvatorem mundi" – "Jesus Christ: the judge of righteousness: the beasts and dragons recognised in the desert the saviour of the world.
bug hotel: Loch leven RSPB)Continue reading →
The very strange story of the Transfiguration is grounded in a realistic depiction of human frailty and intransigence.
Falling back on the familiar when we have the chance to take a leap into the unknown. Undergirded by our faith.
Not at all irrelevant as “climate change” slides down the slippery slope into crisis.
Whilst this story ( Luke 9:28-36) does call, I like to think, for some wild and far-fetched speculation as we read it, our reading will also be grounded in everyday humanity. Grounded in our failings and our potential. Which in its turn authenticates the strangeness. Helps us to grasp it, value it, rather than dismiss it.
Jesus takes Peter James and John ‘up on a mountain to pray’, at which the disciples are gifted with a bright and mysterious vision of Jesus, authenticated, as it were, in conversation with Moses and Elijah, the legendary sources of near-supreme spiritual authority, for their people .
Like going for a drive in the country, and coming across a couple of A-list celebrities.
Transforming Energy surrounds Jesus . Preachers have seen it as a foretaste. A signpost to what is to come. But we are told of Jesus’ forthcoming ‘departure’. So it’s not at all about standing still
Peter’s – perhaps understandably – odd reaction is not to soak in this fleeting gift and use it as a stepping-stone for reflection. For him, it’s not awe, but overdrive.
He looks to build “refuges/booths/shelters”. He puts his energy into slowing things down. To preserve the moment. Like a fan besotted by celebrity. Clings to a fleeting moment which is only given as a moment
We are told he “didn’t know what he was saying”. I wonder if we know what we are saying, when we ponder the authority of the radiant and transformative messages we hear from climate scientists. The intoxicating message of impending catastrophe. The urgency of action. The journey, which should already have been under way. Ah yes.
We sigh. And we go back to the car-park. Get back on the planes. We go back to the reassurance of our conspicuous consumption .
What refuge would we offer, perhaps up on one of those ‘viewpoint’ car-parks that adorn our beautiful country.
Would the friends of Jesus be unusually adventurous outdoor folk, set out on foot, or would they rather have gone for a drive in the country?
You can get unnecessarily scholarly about the ‘shelters’. Maybe that is the fall-back refuge of those of us who preach, or try to pre-wrestle these stories to the ground for congregations.
Maybe there is a reference here to the ‘Feast of Booths/Tabernacles, otherwise known as Sukkot, though the season seems to mitigate against it. Whatever, Peter suddenly roused from his sleepiness, aims to offer temporary refuges, with the implication of prolonging the moment, and, traditionally, of waiting for the Messiah, when he has the chance to head off with Jesus on the journey to see where he might lead.
But by then, Moses and Elijah, the two authenticating conversationalists (I wonder who we would choose, or who we would see?) are already on their way.
Before the disciples know “what next”, the mysterious cloud overwhelms them and identifies Jesus in no uncertain terms as ‘my Son’, perhaps rebuking their misinterpretation; setting in perspective what it means to mistake the gift of a call to action for an encouragement to procrastinate.
What is the tone of this heavenly voice? Is it irritation that they didn’t read the signs in the first place? Is it kindly, giving yet another chance to ‘get’ what Jesus is about. Does it say “Get on with it!”
Many are the “maybe’s”. But following Jesus into the hazardous unknown, leaving behind our fall-backs, is what Eco-Congregation is there to encourage, as we approach the season of Lent, and then Easter.
Amongst the various relics of bygone ages in my household is a ‘Missionary Box’. It’s a small, quaint mud hut, perhaps made of something a bit like papier maché, with a slot in the top to put coins in, which would then finance the ‘mission’ of our western churches to romantically faraway places, where people lived, as indeed millions still do, in houses that looked, to western eyes, a bit like the missionary box.
Much good was done, much compassion expressed through this medium. A kind response to problems far away can be an encouragement in our lives here and now.
By the time I was reaching my teens, it was recognised that donor-recipient aid interventions didn’t quite tell the whole story. ‘Mission IS partnership’ began to be the watchword, and this is very much reinforced by the developing global strategy of Christian Aid and other expressions of ‘good news’ arising out of Christian faithfulness.
Not so much ‘giving’ but doing our part. And where Christian giving is involved, of course, it is giving that you do happily or not at all. It can be its own reward, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
You’re more likely to keep on doing things that make you happy, and give meaning. And the world benefits too.
As encouragement, we do now have the advantage of widespread and excellent communications: we can see and hear via various media, of the experiences of our sisters and brothers in Christ (and everyone else God loves) in places which can nonetheless still seem conveniently far away.
In these situations, thank God, myths can and must be busted.
Firstly, the romantic picture of innocence or naivety of people far away in difficult situations is unsustainable. A worker from the Scottish Government who has spent time observing climate mitigation strategies in Malawi assured me that the people he encountered were fully ‘climate literate’, well aware both of the alarming changes confronting them, and their causes. As well as that that these developments were not, primarily, their own doing. Having accepted the evolution of their environment, their ingenuity and conscientiousness in adapting to circumstance is impressively set free.
A visiting speaker from Christian Aid Sierra Leone confirmed a similar situation, from a country where the annual dry season is all but disappearing, with resultant impact on agriculture.
Friends in Southern Africa cry out to us to get on with action in solidarity: to make the changes that fall to us, which we are not yet grasping with urgency. Putting our money where our mouth is.
Secondly, and with accelerating rapidity, the overheating of the globe is impacting directly our own weather. As I write, people are sweating in the streets of Edinburgh, having dressed for February, but encountered not just winter sunshine but a temperature above the average for May. The disquieting disruption of the rhythm of the seasons, one begins to suspect, will have ramifications beyond what we can see today.
So familiar and nearby animals and birds, and of course, our own agriculture begin to bear the brunt of what human activity is doing to the planet that we all share. Not so much ‘poor stewardship’ as deficient partnership, and this not just with human neighbours, but with the living planet of which we ourselves are part.
And, having just now reviewed the book ‘God so loved the world, and so what?’ by Nigerian Presbyterian George O Kalu, I’m wondering with him, whether even the cherished image of ‘steward’, which has sustained and encouraged environmental action and commitment, belongs with the missionary box as something whose time has come and gone.
The parable of the ‘Steward of unjust wealth’( Luke 16:1-13) has much to say to us, but maybe it belongs together with Jesus’ comments in John 10:12-13 about the uncommitted, stand-in shepherd. The world belongs to God, but we nonetheless need to ‘own’ our heartfelt commitment to it and responsibility for its welfare. Which is our own good, too.
We’re not the 'hired hands’: we’re part of the family business!
God, help us take notice;
God, help us change before it is taken out of our hands;
God, wake us up.
For it is late.
Though you are with us.
AMEN.Continue reading →
PICTURE: The pig-with-bagpipes gargoyle at Melrose Abbey
There’s a group of UK churches who do important things together: the Joint Public Issues Group (JPIT) is the umbrella, dealing with substantial justice issues like migration, refugees, and of course, the climate crisis.
JPIT are encouraging folk in the various churches - and of course, beyond - to use the traditions of Lent to develop our personal and public response, with a programme they are calling ‘Living Lent’
It’s very easy just to sit back and lament, in resignation, the alarming damage that is being done, now at a brutal pace, to everything which feeds and provides habitat both to us and our fellow creatures.
The Season of Lent has always offered opportunity for an exercise in spiritual growth, earthed in a strictly manageable level of commitment. How appropriate to dedicate and channel Lenten observances towards greater environmental awareness and personal active participation in our response.
I have already given up buying beef, because of the huge carbon footprint which that meat source has compared to, for instance, chicken (see the national Geographic film ‘Before the Flood’ available for free download ), but as with any addiction, getting to the point of being meat-free, and seeing that as a liberation, is a step or two further. Thus the encouragement of ‘Living Lent’ is rather helpful. And as ‘Living Lent’ points out, vegetarians have about half the carbon footprint of regular meat eaters.
I will be joining in myself, as the project has given me the kick-start to get back to vegetarianism. I really appreciate the odd bacon sandwich, and as a minister, there will be times when honouring hospitality ( as in sausage rolls at funerals) may provide exceptions, but I can’t simply ignore the basic, easy, manageable stuff: like giving up meat.
The other option, ’Buy nothing new’ also has its liberating attractions and challenges, but one at a time!
Recognising that the support of a community has more chance of embedding change in lives, the campaign is itself ‘live’ and will develop and take shape as Lent proceeds. Having ’subscribed’ to my commitment, I’ve just received a friendly acknowledging email from Hannah and the JPIT team.
To take part is a small and worthwhile step. And each small step, like a prayer, is in God’s hands.
I’m making a wee video clip about the experience, so I decided, a bit early, to get the wherewithal for my final bacon roll, not from a boring anonymous plastic shelf, but from a proper hands-on butcher, who knew where the meat came from and the conditions under which it was raised.
If, after the exercise, I do go back to meat, this is what I would need to go back to. And yes, it’s dearer, but perhaps that better reflects the cost to the planet.
I was delighted to see, in a display in the butcher’s shop, the mantra ‘reduce, re-use, recycle’ about their approach to packaging, as well as information about the farms they buy from, and the welfare of the animals.
Over and over again, the ‘small step’ of commitment turns out to be like ripples in a pond: doing the right thing for one reason ends up rewarded with a wider bonus. If I were a meat eater, these are things I should always have been concerned about.
I’m going to really appreciate that last bacon roll!Continue reading →