EcoCongregation Scotland has been preparing material for use during the ‘Season of Creation’ for some years, previously gathered by Miriam McHardy of ACTS and my predecessor Rev Trevor Jamison. We've struggled this year, with the background of COVID, which has added to everyone's workload and stress, and we are thus all the more grateful to this year's writers who found they were able to take part after all.
We began the project looking forward to preparations for the COP conference, which will now happen next year in Glasgow: we have a breathing space to work towards a fruitful use of the opportunities for prayer, and the raising of consciousness which that will bring.
We aim to provide something which is of real use to local churches, many of whom will be using the Revised Common Lectionary, or its close relative used by Roman Catholic congregations.
We’re grateful for permission to use the graphic from the Global Catholic Climate Movement this year, as we’ve very much aiming at partnership rather than competition, and the overarching theme of Jubilee for the Earth has deep biblical resonance.
We also welcome the initiative of Climate Sunday from Churches together in Britain and Ireland, whose launch coincides with our first ‘Sunday’.
Our approach, quite appropriately, is encouraging and challenging, though never prescriptive: use these things as seems good to you and the Holy Spirit. Work it in together with the way you do things: between us we provide both the medicine and the spoonful of sugar to help it go down. Grab a phrase, an image, or an idea, and run off with it! Have fun! Get carried away! See what you can get away with!
We’re indebted to the care taken by Church of Scotland Weekly Worship in shaping their own very helpful guidelines, though, necessarily, we go further.
We are not ‘filling in a gap’, but rather making space. We bring to this task a belief, born of current and practical experience, that much of the Bible can immediately be read, with integrity, in a way which highlights the rootedness of our faith in the partnership of God with Creation - variously described as ‘covenant’, in which human beings have a vital part to play, though by no means the only part. We are, as Pope Francis has said, “ruled” by the Earth.
I’ve discovered that this may require the cashing in of some reserves of daring. We often exist in a theological environment patrolled by what Alastair McIntosh calls “silverbacks”
“:Silverbacks” = older and once eminent men (as they usually are) who still pronounce with a head-of-department authority on matters over which they’re either out of touch, or aren’t within their field”[Riders on the Storm, published 13th August 2020 ]
So sometimes we need to say things differently, which seemed long ago to be settled. But God alone is unchanging. To be clear :we never impugn the integrity of those who came to different conclusions in a different time and context, but we do need, most urgently, to open wide eyes ( including our own) to the signs of these particular times, which are not by any means exclusively, of the virus threat, which seems, prematurely and lethally, to block out all others.
The surprise for some is that no mode of churchmanship has a monopoly either on ‘climate’ issues, nor, for that matter, the problems of denial and incrementalism within our communities. We turn up treasure new and old.
Once a church, congregation or community learns to trust and read the Voice of Creation through the honesty of science, Christian commitment compels involvement.
I’m relieved that I’m not a ‘climate’ chaplain only, as there are so many stacked up but interweaving environmental crises, of which COVID 19 is but one.
in our writing, we have required the discipline of taking note, but not being overwhelmed by the crisis which has forced us online , thereby actually multiplying the scope of our audience.
In Bible poetry - frequently - the mountains dance, the trees clap hands, the stones (threaten to) shout aloud and Creation groans. Poetry is so often the most emotionally accurate way of expressing deeper truths - without conflict with science.
The currently renewed appreciation of the sentience of fellow creatures, brings a new depth of meaning to this imagery. We ‘hear the voice of the earth’ as never before, though we have a whole raft of wonderful ( and well-financed) strategies for ignoring, or postponing action on what that geo-prophetic voice might have to say.
The most obvious images ( beasts, birds, seas, skies, soil) are not at all the only ‘creation’ themes. As environmental scientist Gus Speth has famously said,
“The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy”,
Thus themes emerging from this year’s texts are as follows:
Responsibility ( Given our (collective) complicity in global damage.... It is responsibility, more than ‘control’ that God gives to our species in Genesis 1:26
Love for neighbour (taking neighbour rather widely). There’s a very serious need to hear and be shocked by the partisan xenophobia of some of the passages; to grow beyond local parochialism to a global concern.
’Payback’ and revenge vs Forgiveness = as enabling power.
Urgency in all things: though set against the disabling idea of ‘already too late’.
Maybe forgiveness, and the experience of grace will be the key to the most effective Christian environmental witness, especially where churches have been bombarded with the demand to “do more”.
This last attitude is, of course, one of the errors which is killing the world with the pursuit of endless growth.
It takes little study of the New Testament to confirm that Jesus’ practice was to liberate with forgiveness first, before evidence of changed life came to light, so encouragement takes precedence over condemnation.
Should it be a surprise that the best we have to offer in the state of the world today are also the best expressions of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? The sheer practicality of making forgiveness/healing/enabling a priority over vengefulness shoes through.
If the one who sings prays twice, then the one will also hurt twice, who insists on suffering and punishment, rather than a more ‘restorative’ sort of justice.
Enjoy the Season, and see where the Spirit leads!