Good New Year - and I’m not joking!
(and I won’t rub it in about how nice it is once more, suddenly, as a cyclist, to enjoy clear roads!)
What a cloud of opportunity comes with this year! as a movement, we have learned so much as we engaged with barriers of distance and regulations: not of our choosing, but in place for our protection.
As chaplain I discovered I really can offer to be wherever and however you are as churches, and then also share our experience with others online. That’s one reason I can be happy to visit, irrespective of the numerical size of your fellowship: we give light to the ‘whole house’. And the encouragement even of small things lifts the spirits of others.
Churches in vacancy, and currently lacking in support might also consider using one of the Chaplaincy’s ‘major reflections’ ( video sermons) each month. There will not be a month without at least one, and there is a back catalogue,
So yes, some tough months remain, both of precautionary restrictions to the fuller life of our churches, but also, to make the most of our spiritual preparations to welcome the nations of the world to Scotland, to discuss and challenge each other towards greater ‘ambition’ in their responses to ‘climate change’.
When lockdown first loomed, we seemed about to miss the expected boat of COP 26 - when the world was due to descend on Glasgow, in the colossal international circus of a Climate Change conference, though something by the same name, even more urgent, if, reshaped by the events of this last year, still awaits us in November 2021.
Perhaps the cancellation in 2020 was a blessing: I saw little sign in 2020 that our churches were anywhere close to being prepared for this catalyst for growth in our familiarity with the backdrop of crises against which every single aspect of our faith, life and worship will, for the rest of all our lives be played out.
Certainly, there have already been conferences and consultations as to what might be the “priorities for Scotland in the year of COP.”
Listening in on these, folk often opt for
‘more charging points for EV’s’
or push for
“an earlier target date than 2045 for the nation to be carbon neutral”
Or yell at governments to do all the work, make all the changes. Carts before horses? (Though I will admit that sometimes, investing in a cart encourages the acquisition of a horse!)
However .... having recognised amidst what should have been a totally compelling torrent of facts and figures, that it really is primarily the change of mind and heart that takes the lead and tips the domino of change, and leads to the “behaviour change” so beloved of our Scottish Government, I’d like to suggest some much more demanding priorities than these.
First of all, the oldest and most basic of spiritual duties: hospitality and welcome. Together with the Trees of their homeland, Abraham and Sarah - the founding family of our faith and of others - welcomed the Strangers who turned out to be God.
(Of course, attending conspicuously to the details of hospitality, such as eco-friendliness in food and facilities, greatly strengthens the witness. It really does undermine the point of an environmentally-themed service when you meet for fellowship afterwards over single-use plastic.)
Whatever else we might contribute to the deliberations and decisions in the white heat of the conference floor itself, an atmosphere of welcome and encouragement in the cold and damp of a Glasgow November should not be underestimated as a force for good. In that, whether we’re next door to the conference site, or in the hills and islands exposed to the November gales. We really have learned lots about being in touch; and about being more than just physically present, this past year.
Secondly, as we have seen from the surprisingly worthwhile statement from Scottish faith leaders (- and my surprise is that a statement with such broad agreement can be so strong and searching-) a commitment to change ourselves, and the things within our own grasp, rather than looking only to others and to governments to play their part without disturbance to our own participation in cultures and lifestyles which, like it or not, are still part of the problem, rather than leading the way in engagement.
Of course these changes will involve, challenge -and potentially strengthen - our ways and targets of prayer and worship: though this is also a joyous challenge: to deepen our relationship with the Sustaining Christ; to uncover the treasures in our fields, and to bring from our hoarded reserves of wisdom and hope. To encourage prayer and worship, in partnership with Creation, to come into their own.
And this year, that’s what the chaplaincy of EcoCongregation can reasonably hope to offer to local churches. Not a convenient filler for a gap in a preaching rota, but solidarity, encouragement and partnership in realising the spiritual value and potential of the Body of Christ. How blessed and gifted we already are. How seldom we recognise this. We. And our neighbours too.
I will continue, on receiving invitations, to enquire how congregations have reached out to neighbouring churches to share the occasion. EcoCongregations are the yeast in the dough of the church, as the church is the yeast in our various cultures, networks and environments.
The future we had been relying on is gone. Since this future involved acquiescence in the demonic myth of church irrelevance, despair, and terminal decline, other options may not be all bad! But alertness and responsiveness are mainstream gifts of Christianity as a whole.
Some parts of our movement have helped each another with visible signs of spiritual change: *attention to the environmental impact of a congregation and - even more - its component households;
*support for Christian Aid, SCIAF, Tear Fund and others who bring to light the harm long entrenched and visited on those with least power and wealth;
*facing with solidarity rather than blame and condemnation the just transitions which will have up-front costs not only to ourselves, but to others, and having the courage not to be neutralised by the towering “we-know-better” demons of threatened employment, prosperity and peace, when it is the crises we are still perpetuating that, not only in the long term, deeply threatens all these human values and far, far, more in the home our species shares, as the sustaining peace and balance of the living planet.
The spectacularly, if understandably unpopular healing courage of Christ at Gerasa/Gadara, [(see Mark 5:1-20, Luke 8:26-39, Matthew 8:28-34). ] which was also an attention to misplaced spiritual powers, is given us not just to inspire awe, but also action.
As everyone who is pleased that their taxes fund the NHS will recognise, healing change will cost someone somewhere something, usually long before the costs of continued harm, however apparent, are sufficiently recognised.
It’s a very difficult story, not least in what also seems to be the destruction of living creatures, let alone the prosperity of the swineherds, though intervention and partnership with the living world has its robust side.
We plant trees, and need to plant more, though the right trees in the right places help most, and yet those tending our most valuable wetlands often remove them, transforming carbon-positive to negative.
Is any of this ‘simple’? I don’t think so. But human beings like you have brains and the capacity for discernment.
And before the Season of Advent fades, hold on to its key message: even in winter “Wake up!” - there’s an exciting and demanding year ahead, and as part of EcoCongregation Scotland, you’re well-placed to enjoy it too!