Hymn text: Jesus help us, when our friends….

Jesus help us, when our friends…
(for Mark 8 31-38) .
(for those difficult times when our conviction and commitment puts us at odds with family or friends. Verse 5 sounds a note of caution. We too can be wrong)

(Meter 7777) (Suggested tunes: St Bees, Monkland, or many other possibilities. Even ‘Jesus loves me this I know’ without the chorus).

1)Jesus, help us when our friends
though they care, though love transcends,
might, through friendship’s best intent
undermine and circumvent.

2)Justice often counts the cost
healing Earth, and saving lost;
Change of life too much to pay?
-“try again another day!”

3)Friends will do their best for you
Jesus cared for his friends too:
tempting him to quiet life
flee the cross, divert from strife.

4) Jesus loved his friends you see:
loved enough to disagree.
loved enough to risk a rift
when decision must be swift.

5)Friends and family may be wrong
though your love for them be strong:
Test the spirits, pray you’re wise:
in dark night to seek sunrise.

Church Heating

Church Heating – Practical Considerations

Net Zero

Monday 15th February 2021

How do you heat your church?

Church buildings come in lots of different shapes and sizes, historic and modern. How will you know which kind of heating is right for your building? What are the practical issues that need to be thought through in changing a heating systems? What kind of heating system should you install in a new building?

What do you need to change to achieve net zero emissions? 

Responding to the Climate Emergency, the October 2020 General Assembly of the Church of Scotland agreed to develop a strategy for the entire organisation to transition both locally and nationally to net zero carbon emissions over the coming decade.

In December 2020, General Synod members of the Scottish Episcopal Church also backed a motion paving the way for a commitment to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2030.

Register now

Join us and hear from Andrew MacOwan – Chartered Energy Engineer and the Church of Scotland General Trustees Heating Consultant – as he shares his experience and talks about some of the practical considerations in looking to achieve net zero carbon emissions from church heating systems. There will be time for questions and discussion. Please register at the following link:

Climate change impact

Christian Aid Gathering

Tuesday 16th February 2021
Email to register

Christian Aid Scotland is a key partner of Eco-Congregation Scotland and we are delighted to encourage you to join the Supporter Gathering next week. Christian Aid Ethiopia will be sharing the impact of climate change, locusts and conflict on vulnerable communities.

There will also be a look forward to the COP26 climate talks and how we can all be involved in the fight against climate change. Email to register and receive the joining instructions:

Join the Lenten Journey

What is the hope of COP26?

Scottish Catholic Laity Network
What is the hope of COP26? – Professor Jim Skea 

Thursday 18th February 2021
Further information
Email to register

Eco-Congregation Scotland is pleased to support the Scottish Catholic Laity Network and invite you to join its Lenten Journey of discernment “to help us imagine the way in which we are being called to prepare a future that gives hope to all the children of our world, and their children’s’ children, and to Mother Earth.”

Opening the series on the hope of COP26, Eco-Congregation volunteer Margret MacPhail will introduce speaker Professor Jim Skea, currently chair of Scotland’s Just Transition Commission and co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group III on mitigation of climate change. Margret leads the Eco-Group at St Ninian’s Parish in Professor Skea’s home city Dundee. Please email to register.

Worship, reflection, prayer and action

Eco-Chaplain online

Eco-Chaplaincy open for invitations: however and wherever you are this year!

Rev David Coleman continues his work through coronavirus restrictions, engaging imaginatively with local churches as a visiting digital preacher. Please email the Eco-Chaplain to connect and work with your own church on dates throughout this year.

This coming Sunday 14th February at 7pm we encourage our volunteers and supporters to continue joining Christians in prayer across Scotland.

We are also now linking all our resources to Climate Sunday, the initiative hosted by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland encouraging all congregations to:

  • Worship – hold a climate-focused service before the start of September and Creation Time
  • Commit – take action as a local church community, reducing greenhouse gas emissions as an eco-congregation
  • Speak up – call for the UK Government to lead action on the climate crisis, signing the The Time Is Now declaration towards COP26 in Glasgow

Please email for more information or to register your own Climate Sunday service.

Read our new monthly briefing on COP26 and how you can get involved.

Register for free and begin your church’s journey as an eco-congregation. Please consider church membership to become more active in the charity and support our Local Network activities – join online.

Please donate if you can, to help support our work and encourage growing interest across Scotland’s churches. If you or others in your church would like to receive this newsletter regularly, please subscribe.

St Mary’s Cathedral, Palmerston Place, Edinburgh gains Silver Award.

St Mary’s Cathedral, Palmerston Place, Edinburgh have recently been given their Silver Eco Congregation Scotland Award in recognition of their work and commitment to caring for creation.

St Mary’s Cathedral were praised by the assessors for several aspects of the work that they are doing. The assessors noted that a great deal of work had gone into making the case for the cathedral divesting from fossil fuels, and the congregation had played an important part in persuading the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church to consider further steps to do the same.

The assessors were impressed by the investigations that are underway by the Cathedral team to reduce the carbon footprint of the Cathedral. An important aspect of this is investigating possibilities of installing a lower carbon heat source. This will allow them to reduce heating and other energy uses in the cathedral. Whilst this work is still ongoing, serious consideration is being given to installing a heat pump. The team have sourced grant funding allow them to investigate all these possibilities.

The assessors praised the way that care for creation is embedded and visible in all aspects of the life of the cathedral including prayer, sermons, magazine articles, and can be seen on their website. Recycling is actively promoted within the cathedral. Members of the congregation are frequently challenged to consider ways to reduce their impact on the environment.

Exciting work has been carried out in the cathedral grounds. This has included planting fruit trees  and creating a wildlife area. The assessors praised the wonderful idea of setting up a seed library. This initiative encourages people of all ages from the local community to become involved. There is a good link between the Cathedral Green Team and their neighbouring congregation at Palmerston Church of Scotland. The Cathedral congregation are active members of the local Eco Congregation Scotland network, with members attending some of the national events held by Eco Congregation Scotland too.

The Cathedral is a Fairtrade Church and its One World Stall has been  selling Fairtrade products for many years.  

The cathedral is participating in a scheme to link up a cycling route through the city and will be encouraging travel by bike.

We look forward to hearing how the team continue to develop this good work.

From the waters’ fond embrace ( Hymn for lent 1)

Sea Baptism, by a Zimbabwean church group in Hove.

Tune : ‘Aus der Tiefe’ 77 77
(Baptism and Temptations, especially Mark)

1)From the water’s fond embrace
Earth’s Beloved grasped the sky
torn apart, yet bound to Earth
wings the calling amplify.

2) Driven out where people aren’t
Wilderness, yet filled with life
At the mercy of the Earth:
‘Self-sufficiency’ would kill!

3) Nonetheless, survival’s hard:
shared with wildlife, by God’s grace
learning how the ravens feed;
forced to live at angels’ pace.

4) All the answers, offered free!
Sheer perfection within reach!
God’s in charge, so take a leap!
(Christ rejects what greed would teach.)

5) God is with us, oft unknown
If we’re here – then God is too!
Every help and every breath
you for me and me for you.

Science and Faith The war is over: the peace is more demanding. For all.

Picture: painting by my son, who has grown up very happy that faith and science inhabit the same planet!

Blogs are a useful medium, in that thoughts can happen without the demands of other genres.

Throughout much of my career in Christian ministry, I have been able to reflect with congregations on science and faith. In a lockdown situation, this is rather difficult, but this is that time of year!
Herewith therefore, some inevitably flawed and opinionated thoughts from this experience.

Ever since the bicentenary of Charles Darwin’s birth, and indeed, well before, I have found it beautifully useful, as a grassroots minister in various places, to emphasise the mutual concern of science and organised (Christian) religion, where both are pursued with the discipline, integrity and openness proper to their traditions and cultures. Perhaps, also, with love.

From the outset, people in the (Welsh, English and Scottish) congregations were overwhelmingly grateful and encouraging.

More than twenty years ago, a lady in a village church came and said how good it was for her that she ‘can now own up to believing both in God and dinosaurs’.

More worryingly, a church-connected child in a city primary school ( about 2010) was told by a teacher, precisely, that these things were incompatible. Museum curators who had been hassled by obnoxious Creationists, were extremely wary about any contact with churches, but generally also relieved that this was not the only face of religion.

The myth of the war between science (observation) and faith (interpretation) has been so pervasive, and damaging, and the barriers between these fields so heavily fortified, that we did need a period comparable to the recognition of colonial injustices, of the rights of colour, or women, and LGBTQ+ communities, when perhaps people of faith for a while stood back, as if we only had things to learn, and listen, rather than contribute.

It’s sad and complicated, that this point will be reached at different points in different places, but from where I’m standing, it’s happened, and I can’t continue putting energy into battles no longer worth fighting, (here) even if skirmishes continue elsewhere. My condolences if you’re still under heavy fire.

If the cultures of science can also trust faith (though I appreciate people of faith can make this enormously difficult!) we’ll be getting somewhere. But ‘victory’ is the toxic option for all.

Similarly comes the shocking point at which even faith/science initiatives can become a distraction from the existential urgency of multi-layers environmental crises, ignoring these with the same apparent anxious meticulousness as some Biblical education bodies still undoubtedly do.

Some years ago, my congregation accepted funding from a foundation happily encouraging churches to engage with science, with – in the small print – a prohibition on environmental projects. The resultant exploration was fun and worthwhile, though in 2021, I hope every colleague in ministry would spot that glaring moral inconsistency and call it to account. Science/faith must never be an excuse for fiddling whist the Earth burns.

With the fun branding of ‘Dinosaur Sunday’, and inspired by the ‘Clergy Letter Project’ in the US, I led congregations on explorations both of scripture and science. The magic that spreads through a congregation when a genuine (and local) fossil is brought reverentially into the sacred space of worship has been wonderful to see. In these excursions , it seemed that evolution- as life’s adaption to changing circumstance through engagement with disaster – provides a hermeneutic (a mode of analysis) far more congenial to scripture than the forcible imposition of a nineteenth century model of linear progress.

Likewise, we should proceed with far more respect for the efforts of our forbears, more ready, helpfully to recycle whatever resources, spiritual or otherwise, if we do not only see ourselves automatically as superior to previous generations, but assess instead, how well they adapted to their time, place and environment.

As environmental chaplain, I have had the opportunity, additionally, to discover the hermeneutic of recycling: that the spiritual and other ‘assets’, with which threat and oppression were encountered, can and should be repurposed (rather than crassly, blindly re-used) as we encounter global threats which appear without precedence. Even some scary and wild parts of our traditions can be valued and reassessed as spiritual responses to crisis, and the real challenge of Endings, rather than the comfortable capitalist mythology of a singe-use planet, which can be discarded.

There’s certainly an idolatry of ‘eternity’ seen as a featureless continuum, rather than a succession of ‘ages’ with turmoil at times of transition. This emerges from the specious ‘logic’ that because God is assumed to be endless, the pursuit of endlessness – and endless economic growth at all costs – must be sacred!

And yet elsewhere in the archive of faith, we find a befriending of mortality; a recognition that endings – and even death – are not failure, but part of life. Memento mori! Creation is serially recycled. Nothing is single-use. Thank God.

Can anyone begin to engage with the state of the Earth, without accepting that disaster -or even extinction – is a possibility? Can anyone engage with Christian Scripture without a similar acknowledgment?

Following that particular leap, of re-use, re-cycling, repurposing, things go deeper: discovering the surprising coherence – as a record of experience- of an Old-Testament closed-earth view of sky and soil (heaven and earth as one Creation) , and the deep awareness of the cycles of nature, identical with divine partnership in continuing life. And the ‘kingdom’ the ‘reign’ or ‘way of rule’ of that sky seems close to these cycles. There is no ‘incompatibility’ with science here, if we approach with respecting humility. Likewise the wonderful, if differently expressed insights in science and scripture, of what human beings share, down to a molecular level, with all the life. In Christianity, ‘the Word was made flesh’, rather than merely human.

In my own ‘field’ of theology, where I seem to have become more a ‘folk-singer’ than ‘classical musician’ I note that poetry, preaching and storytelling are potentially the most sophisticated tools we have for processing existence, where a more systematic approach sits back and assumes that for just so long as we analyse something, then we will have no cause to ‘fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day’. Ivory towers are as fragile as any other human construction. The life of the world and the danger we urgently face, does not wait for an essay to be fully referenced. Urgency is now a condition of existence, not a threat to it, though if we do speak or act urgently, we do so in humble awareness that we may turn out to be mistaken. And grateful for any chance to correct or refine our provisional vision.

It was always useful groundwork to share in a worship context, insights about the great age of the Earth, and evolution. Creationism has precious little to offer in comparison. 4000 years, and a big stick if you disagree, compared to 14 billion and counting. For someone concerned with building up the faith of a worshipping community, awe and wonder are amongst the most basic building blocks.

There were two additional bonuses: first, the clear awareness that both faith and science are essentially evidence-based, even if the modes of what can be admitted as evidence vary sharply, and secondly, that both fields, in order to maintain any authority at all, must needs modify their statements and habits when new evidence comes to light.

Awe and wonder should sharpen our abilities to process such evidence, rather than insulate us against them. And yet it is possible so to love a snapshot way of expression and of faith, that such enrichments come as a threat.

We see, all of us, ‘though a glass, darkly’ pending enlightenment with a small “e”. The capital E of the rationalist movement in the Age of Enlightenment, whilst lending authority to positive ideals of liberty, progress, toleration and more, also intimidated and entrenched division between different, but inevitably overlapping aspects of the broad richness of human reason, when not limited to its verbal expression.

Alongside the great achievements of the Age of Enlightenment, the place of women, of enslaved people, and those lacking the privilege of the philosophers, let alone of fellow creatures, was not at all fully addressed by that movement, and worst of all, the priority of purely human modes of thought over all else in Creation, laid some terrible foundations that it has taken the threat of environmental catastrophe finally to shake.

The objectification of everything other than ‘Man’ ( sic) forbidding ‘who’ in place of ‘it’, remains a shortcut to violence, exploitation and gross injustice. The frequent biblical insight of the co-occurence of injustice and environmental devastation should be no surprise. Welfare and happiness, though notoriously difficult to quantify, are values nonetheless. Science always requires the humility to acknowledge, that to disregard the immeasurable is an experimental expedient, rather than a final resting-place. And the most disciplined of scientists remains richly human.

Though Christianity can teach, with integrity, that ‘conquest’ is an inferior outcome to reconciliation, nonetheless, conquest, domination, victory and the pursuit of perfection, were powerful spiritual drivers of an age when ‘improvement’ of, for instance, Britain’s native wetlands, took precedence over the understanding on which that improvement was believed to be based.

The Voice of the Earth, which is now ( with irony?) conveyed by the insights of science, together with the voices of marginalised and oppressed humans, was always easy to ignore in these circumstances.

Working ecumenically, I have discovered that traditions and ‘churchmanship’ are far less significant as to whether a congregation is able to embrace care for the Earth than the presence or absence of trust in science. Catholics and protestants, liberals and evangelicals, conservatives and progressives all inhabit the same common home, all cherish the same scriptures, though of course, with diverse traditions of interpretation.

But, truly, a critical trust in the honest observation of the Earth (as opposed to the crypto-spiritual overstepping of this by militant atheist movements) should be native to all wings, at least, of the Church.

In this, the re-emergence of the scientific respectability of regarding, for instance, the Earth, as a ‘living’ entity in her own right, as well of the erosion of the human monopoly on language, complex communication, intelligence, reason, and feeling, have been signs of hope.

Many authoritative leaders, above all Pope Francis, have recycled the authority of spiritual – yes, personal – relationship with the Earth married to scientific observation, in the pursuit of justice.

The more we do learn about the ‘simplicities’ of nature, the more we are challenged by her complexity and the interdependency of all life.

Of course, our species has a decisive role, and having long since ‘filled the Earth’ with our populations, we have also reached the tipping-point frontiers, simply to step back and ‘leave well alone’ is not an option either.

With regard to the continuing destruction of habitats and ecosystems by humanity, there is no fence left on which to sit. We learn instead, from the experience of invariably faith-based liberation movements:

“In the end, “ says Martin Luther King, “we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends”.

Will the Earth now say likewise?

Desmond Tutu adds

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

This mouse, we have discovered, is neither vermin nor a mere object of pity, but the key to our own survival.

Two, perhaps unscientific, words, also along here: ‘Halleluyah anyway’.

The ( unwitting) Enlightenment intimidation of spiritualities, which often extends to the unspoken demand that the transforming power of hope must demonstrate a clear rational pathway, is most often rebelled against only by those who have already lost everything.

By those who have nothing to lose but their chains. Even out of lament, hope can emerge. Faith has a vital -and arguably objectively positive – role in maintaining ‘hope against hope’. From them we learn. Them we neglect at our peril.

Just as a scientific observer cannot but be part of the experimental environment, a community which, with eyes wide open is not naively optimistic, but rather embraces the spiritual resilience of apparently irrational hope, will encounter different outcomes to one which has only rationally extrapolated despair.

In the meantime, some generations of religious teachers unwittingly(?) took the species absolutism of the Enlightenment to heart. Representing the human responsibility for fellow creatures (including the land/earth) which is such a huge theme of the scriptures, as dominational sovereignty, and where this seemed too authoritarian, to the cosier ‘stewardship’, which, though honourable, demands, spiritually, little less than looking after someone else’s property, rather than a partnership. I have encountered (and in my training read) respected teachers of previous generations of religious scholars who, though acting with discipline and integrity are as oblivious of their anthropocentric bias as would be (the early) Immanuel Kant to ‘Me too’ and ‘Black lives Matter’.

To have to account for your treatment of an entity who ‘looks you in the eyes’ repurposes the laboratory. Science, though pursued passionately by participants in a very particular culture, with rules, doctrines and prejudices, will never be morally or spiritually neutral, though efforts in that direction are often honourable and perhaps essential.

Maybe this is a ‘get used to it’ insight. Like the one that all scripture is necessarily interpreted.

For all of us, ‘by their fruits, you shall know them!’

Please, let us all both learn and contribute. It’s later than we thought. More difficult. More exciting.

A prayer for COP ( United Nations Conference of the Parties)

Sustaining God
as in November, at great cost and with great urgency
the leaders of our species
and those with concern for their common home
will gather in Glasgow,
we ask for your welcoming, affirming presence
in the many layers of gathering
which are part of that event.

Give to those who make decisions
a freedom from the burdens of a past
which have pushed us to this cliff-edge.

Give a dawning vision of your offer of healing
greater than the blocked horizon of what it might cost

Argue and wrestle with the powers and principalities
of expediency and despair

Open every human ear to the voices of the Earth, and of sisters, brothers, siblings
who already suffer sharply

Save us from the despair of complacency
and the toxic temptation
when the visitors have departed
to embrace ‘business as usual’
for that ‘normal’ has gone

And our only future
will be in wakefulness
yes, joy
as we live out your love for the Earth we are part of
through your Word made Flesh
Jesus, our Friend.

Hallelujah Anyway!