Book Review: Transition Movement for Churches by Tim Gorringe and Rosie Beckham

Transition movement for churches?

The Transition Town Movement has nearly four hundred initiatives in Britain, emphasising community-based responses to climate change, over-dependence on decreasing oil supplies, and the failings of the global economic system. How should churches respond to Transition? Trevor Jamison, Environmental Chaplain at Eco Congregation Scotland, has been reading the recently published book, ‘Transition Movement for Churches’ by Tim Gorringe and Rosie Beckham.


Tim Gorringe and Rosie Beckham

Transition Movement for Churches. Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2013. 84 pp.
This is a world with people increasingly worried by climate change, continually searching for additional fuel supplies, and doubtful about claims that all is well with the economic system. The Transition Town movement, with nearly four hundred initiatives in Britain and more than nine hundred worldwide, seeks to address these concerns through community-based actions, stressing appropriate technology use and the role of the local economy. Transition, argue Tim Gorringe and Rosie Beckham, authors of this slim but very useful volume, is a movement of the Spirit, with which churches should engage, both benefitting from the relationship.

Church-based environmental initiatives, such as Eco Congregations are affirmed, but being church-based, they don’t take part directly in a wider movement within society, with the benefits and opportunities that presents. Through involvement in Transition, Christians have the opportunity to reclaim something of the concept of Church challenging popular views of it as a location, a set of buildings. Participation brings an opportunity both to learn from others. It also brings the credibility needed to offer fresh insights and friendly critique for some aspects of the Transition movement, particularly with regards to the practice of ‘Inner Transition’.

After an introduction to Transition, readers are offered eight (short) chapters which set out a Christian perspective on the movement. This begins with God (‘the NAME’) and the biblical story of journey. Christianity is presented as a faith of ‘the way’, involving a deep, appropriate appreciation of God’s creation. Christian responses must include talk of Jesus, whose incarnational life, death and resurrection demands an active, this-worldly response. That needs to recognise the reality of ‘powers’ – economic, political and social – which create ‘a society organised against God’, but challenged in occasions such as the Eucharist. Some aspects of Transition are also questioned, such as a tendency to downplay failing and pain as part of the shared experience, in favour of emphasising fun and progress in order to maximise participation.

Also, Christians, we are reminded, understand and experience the Spirit as God acting externally, in the world, not just in the terms of the individual psychological change emphasised by Inner Transformation. Christians give a central place to worship, a practice of praise, taking us out of ourselves; including prayer, which makes us look to the situation of others beyond ourselves. All of this is grounded in hope, not a blind faith in technology or even informed faith in better technology, but ultimately believing (using words from Jurgen Moltmann) ‘that even the end of the world hides a new beginning if we trust the God who calls it into being.’

This book is informative, providing strong affirmation of the Transition movement, though also prepared to ask questions of it. It is written in language that suggests a Church setting is envisaged for many of its readers, but an awareness that others might also be interested. The book includes resource lists for information both on Transition Towns and on specifically Christian approaches to the environment. Chapters conclude with two or three well-crafted questions for thought and discussion, presumably with church reading and study groups in mind. Ultimately, however, the authors most want this book to be in the hands of church decision-making groups, where discussions lead to action. In their concluding words, ‘this book is a call to the discipleship community to get involved – urgently – in the task of Transition’.

Trevor Jamison, Environmental Chaplain, Eco Congregation Scotland