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Advent = Urgent

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Environmental Chaplaincy is something which those who drafted my job description wanted me to find ways of spreading, but in order to reach into the ‘hat’ and grab the requisite pair of ears, I need to have some idea as to what sort of [droid or ] ‘rabbit’ it is that we’re looking for

I’ve reached down the odd burrow as well over the past year. Asked around, pondered.

And reviewing the past year, of all the Christian Seasons, it is probably Advent, into which we are now launched, that has most shaped my spirituality, insights and theology in this role.  At least, now we know we’re well into an age of Emergency, the Season of Environmental Chaplaincy par excellence, is Advent. Advent, though, has long been the poor relation of Christian seasons, an embarrassment  to the outside world, reduced to a ‘Countdown to Christmas’ rather than a time of reflection, longing and urgency in its own right. There is, therefore, plenty of scope: plenty of space to work into, without seeming to threaten festivals like Christmas.

What has long been apparent, is that environmental  pastoral and liturgical input at a local church level needs to arise out of  the ‘general practice’ of the life of the churches. Whatever shape I might find for this project will not emerge by becoming remote from the day-to-day life of churches.  

There is also no way round the imperative of getting the key issues into Sunday worship and teaching. Fringe meetings have great value, but without developments in prayer, liturgy, preaching, hymnody and the rest, it will still be too easy to marginalise the evolution of  transformative ‘green’ attitudes, together with the evangelistic mission bonus it represents to young folk and many others to whom ‘church’ and ‘irrelevant’ go together like….. well.

Thus, although on occasion, and by invitation, I do pick and choose Scriptures for worship, I work, as far as possible from the ‘run of the mill’ that is,   with what would anyway have been part of the worship life of the local church.  Often, this means the Revised Common Lectionary (and its very close cousin used by the Roman Catholic Church). 

A reservation, and sometimes a problem, is that at the time when these programmes were devised, the climate emergency, which is our defining context, was not even on the radar. Nor did any of the committees or companies of translators of any of the most popular versions of the Bible see any cause either to highlight the earthed outlook of so much of the writing, nor even to fill in the gaps, as paraphrases (like the Good News) like to. Sometimes quite the contrary. As if the ‘world’ meant the human race, and so on. But if it were all ideal, it wouldn’t be realistic.

As regards the shape of chaplaincy, one  possible dimension began to emerge last year in Advent, and this happened simply   because  I was not avoiding  what goes with this season. I became aware in a different way of  how the traditions of that poorly  observed Christian Season focussed on  ‘apocalyptic’ themes, including the ‘Second Coming’, on which neither I  myself nor most preachers I have heard have ever had much of value  to say, other than perhaps recognising a vague longing for justice. 

Not that that is a bad thing. 

Global injustice and the climate emergency are so close as to be identical: the imbalance of causal responsibility and the experience of hardship and catastrophe is extreme. Even if that is all we grasp, it is worth going with the flow of the season.

A digression….

Just to pick up this point before  adding more. I heard of a story told at a party, (it would complicate to attribute)  recently of a western church worker being welcomed in the midst of poverty, asking what it was that the church could offer such downtrodden people. The answer they received was”hope” , with the proviso that we “should not confuse hope with optimism”.  Our global situation, where even the biggest, richest, and most powerful churches lack the scope to offer ‘solutions’, now evens out the pretension of those with an imperial legacy. 

Hope gets communities through crisis, even in the face of apparent impotence and insignificance. And the message of Advent and then Christmas, is of realistic hope, through the solidarity of God with Creation. 

Being sign of hope, a ‘Light in the Darkness’ is indeed a key gift, identity and task  of all the churches, including our own. It’s also what we’re qualified for, across the board. ‘You are the Light of the World’… said the Light of the World.

The wilder bits of the Bible actually locate us there. God knows.  Especially these ‘Advent readings’. Which offer, when you go back and look at them, spiritual guidance for times of crisis, such as those in which they emerged. Even if we’re still not sure how to ‘drive’ them.  There’s a harsh realism in the idea of “one will be taken, one left” : pause for thought on the indiscriminate nature of crisis and disaster.

A closeness of catastrophe and redemption is certainly noticeable in the New Testament. The ‘Kingdom’  ‘draws near’, as does redemption (cf Luke 21:28). The Day of Judgement, or of Doom, as our friend  Alastair McIntosh put it in his visionary speech at the Edinburgh Climate  Fair in the Summer, are decisive times; likewise the coming of the ‘Lord’ ( Matthew 24)

The ‘coming of the Lord’……  whom some have identified, more or less as ‘the Destroyer’, which fits perhaps better with other faiths than Christianity.  The Second Coming ends up as a fantasy of holocaust.  “It’s OK to press the button”, religious advisors told presidents, “because it will be the will of God anyway”. (!!!!!)  No wonder sensible theologians leave it well alone. But in so doing they leave the stage clear for heavy rock musicians and nutcases.

As things stand, and without very radical change of direction for our species as a whole, we are on course for some terrible outcomes.  This is no longer alarmism, but the most respectable science.   As reports of possible global ‘tipping point’ thresholds emerge, following on from all the terrifying wildfires of this last year, and plenty more besides, from the very humble position of Environmental Chaplain, I can’t but hazard a few fresh views, and in particular one positive slant.

Which, given our trajectory, is to look to the mythology of Second Coming as a reassurance of God-with-us: that ‘Emmanuel’ business the carols will be going on about. 

The solidarity of God that we need, not to dictate a solution, but to face with hope and courage what does lie ahead. And respond in some ways more wonderful and creative than paralysis and despair.

The hungry diary

Creation Time/Season of Creation won’t be in your own diary, perhaps, for another nine months, though preparations have begun. This has so far involved my assessing the Lectionary readings for September 2020 with regard to their suitability  for shaping worship with an environmental  slant/bias/commitment/call it what you will.  

As someone who, most weeks,  preaches with this approach, this bit of ‘subjective’ is going to be the closest to ‘objective’ you will get.

I used a five-point  grid:

XXXXX Ideal, with obvious Creation themes

XXXX Some obvious Creation themes

XXX Ok with prompting

XX Struggle: only for consistent writers on Creation

X Part of a set, but not easy.

It might be surprising that  ideas like ‘the voice of the Earth  or references to trees, seas and wildlife are not the only ‘point-scorers’  in such an assessment. 

Themes emerging from an intensive reading of these texts are as follows:

Responsibility  ( to self, God, world, neighbour )  including the responsibility to move beyond the mess you have made, rather than being overwhelmed by it.  Given our (collective)  complicity in global damage….  It is responsibility, rather 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. The vital movement in our thinking and praying is from “it” to “who”.

’Payback’ and revenge  vs Forgiveness = as enabling power.

Urgency in all things: though set against  the disabling  idea of  ‘already too late’. ( Advent is a time for alertness and urgency: ‘Lord come QUICKLY’ – rather than the luxury of relaxed patience.)

…………………………..

Maybe forgiveness, and the experience of grace will be the key to the most effective Christian environmental witness. 

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. 

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.

Advent (not Christmas countdown) Calendar 2019

Dear friends: as last year, I am preparing a series of video reflections, ‘freewheeling’ in a way I could not on behalf of a denomination, on the Lectionary readings for Advent. These will appear on the Facebook page ‘Advent with the Ecochaplain’  at 1 minute past midnight on each day of Advent. If you use Facebook, please do subscribe, and spread it around. Disclaimer: as I write, about a quarter of the ‘Days’ are prepared. All 24 will only happen barring unforeseen circumstance, but it’s good use of morning devotional time to prepare them.

Gold Award given to Lomond Parish Church for their environmental work.

The Lomond Parish Church Eco- team received their Gold award from Len Gregory, Eco-Congregation Scotland trustee. Pictured here are MSP Jackie Baillie, Mary Sweetland, Doreen Lowe, Cllr Sally Page, Len Gregory, and Cllr Ian Dickson.

The Gold award which Lomond Parish has achieved recognises that their congregation has met or exceeded Eco-Congregation’s highest standards in spiritual living, practical living and global living, and is seen as a beacon in the area for caring about environmental issues.

The congregation has been especially commended by the assessors for the breadth of their work, with many members taking positive action to reduce their individual carbon footprint as well as that of the church building. Environmental issues are embedded in worship and extend beyond the grounds, with a reflective walk being  prepared for RSPB Loch Lomond as part of a Faith Action for Nature project.

The assessors were very impressed by the commitment and enthusiasm of the congregation. Strengths were noted in all the areas being assessed but particularly in the area of spiritual living.  They were commended for the outstanding work they are doing in making connections between Christian faith and environmental concerns for the whole congregation.

The church grounds are used to provide community allotments. These are managed in an ecologically positive way and this has had an impressive impact both within the congregation and the wider community.

The church has been involved in the pilot of Faith Action for Nature, supplying locally grown plants for community displays and running an Eco fair. This work has contributed significantly to the church becoming very well known locally for their leadership and their commitment to environmental concerns.

Energy use within the church buildings has been monitored and they now have a zoned heating system with smart WiFi enabled controls, which has helped them to minimise the energy they use in heating their buildings. They are careful to monitoring and evaluate their use of energy. Members of the congregation have taken steps to address the use of energy in their own homes, addressing a range of issues from buying locally to attending a course to learn how to change their driving habits to reduce the use of fuel. There are a variety of examples of the congregation going the extra mile to find environmentally friendly solutions such as switching to bio oasis for flower arrangements and finding a recycling provider for old photographs

“We started on this journey in 2011, and have worked through the levels of the award, raising awareness among the congregation and users of our buildings on the importance of reducing our carbon footprint to protect  God’s Creation. With the Climate Emergency now declared by governments we will continue to strive help the transition to a low carbon economy, so that our children and their children can continue to enjoy the beauty of Loch Lomondside and the Leven Valley ”    Mary Sweetland, Eco-Convenor

Lomond Parish is the new name for the Church of Scotland in north Vale of Leven following the union recently of  Alexandria Parish and Jamestown Parish. The award was assessed for Alexandria Parish Church.


Nov 2019

Food is not rubbish- Love Food- Hate Waste training

A free, interactive and fun workshop to help you find new ways to reduce food waste. Coming along to this workshop could help you save as much as £460 a year (that’s the amount of food the average Scottish household throws away and much of it could have been eaten.) Come and learn some new food saving tips and help play your part in creating a cleaner, greener Scotland.

Creation Calls! The Moray Eco-Congregation Network at Refuel 2019

Refuel festival in the grounds of Gordon Castle, Fochabers

Is creation care part of your walk with God? This was the question we focused on during this year’s Refuel. We were trying to emphasize that Christians are called to care for this world that we inhabit because God loves all of his creation. He has a purpose for it all, not just for people.

We designed a brief survey as a way to encourage reflection, and to start discussion. We asked people about their environmental awareness and actions, and whether their faith had an impact on these.

Our display highlighted a host of Biblical verses about creation. We contrasted these with facts about how humans are currently treating God’s world, our impact on our environment. In the midst of these we had red and green hearts illustrating Christian responses: hope, reflect, love, pray, change, act, share and restore. Over the display hung our beautiful banner – ‘For God so loved the world’.

The combination of the display and the survey prompted good discussions with people: those attending seminars in the Moray Churches tent, others coming in to browse or for a quiet moment of prayer, and, not least, fellow stall holders. (The Moray Churches tent aimed to provide a sanctuary for prayer and reflection in the busy-ness of Refuel.)

Nearly 90% of those surveyed said their faith had an impact on their desire to protect the environment. We found that most people recycled. Many tried to reduce their plastic use and waste more generally. A few opted to travel more sustainably and reduce car use. A handful ate less meat or grew their own vegetables. Some had not linked their faith to creation care before. Several were very environmentally aware and active and wanted advice and encouragement to build creation care into the life of their church. 

We appreciated the opportunity to start these conversations, hopefully planting seeds that will bear fruit in the future. This year, David Coleman from Eco-Congregation Scotland held two seminars in the Moray Churches tent. We were delighted to be able to reinforce his message with our week-long presence at Refuel – and we’re looking forward to next year!

David Coleman, Environmental Chaplain presenting one of the seminars.

Love Food Hate Waste Workshop in Kilmartin

Many thanks to the Energy Saving Trust for leading a really interesting Love Food Hate Waste workshop at Kilmartin and Ford Church, Lochgilphead on Friday afternoon (25.10.19). Everyone enjoyed the workshop and felt they came away with new tips and ideas to save on food waste. Lots of good discussion and memories of things that Mum and Granny did years ago, that are still so relevant today. Looking forward to trying it all out.