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Sunday, July 17, 2011

New Vision Speech

This speech was delivered at the Parramatta- Nepean Uniting Church Adults Fellowship gathering in Sydney on the 16th of July. 

It’s Sunday morning so I drag myself out of bed and ride my bike to church. As I enter the solar panels on the roof glint in the sun and I can see a water tank peeking around the side. I am greeted by a smiling face and handed a newssheet printed on recycled paper. I flick to the environmental tips and events section and scan the offerings. Then I move to a table to place some native flowers and a box of fruit from my garden on it for distribution. I grab a cup of Fairtrade coffee and sit in the sun to enjoy the building’s passive heating. In worship we sing thanks to God for the wonders of creation and as it is September and we are doing the Season of Creation we have an interesting sermon about the need to follow Biblical practices and values in our lives in order to reduce our environmental impact. When we share communion it is with bread made from organic flour and environmentally friendly grape juice. The gentle light of beeswax candles and sunlight illuminate the scene.
In our prayers for others our weekly endangered species prayer is for the endangered frogs we had a talk about at the youth meeting on Friday. We also thank God for the way he has blessed and added to our church through our environmental work.  After the service I pack up my copy of the Green Bible and join the communal lunch. Fresh, local, vegetarian food abounds and is shared with the homeless. After the meal I quickly make a couple of arrangements for the clothes and tool swap next week, then I meet up with the church greening group and we head out to the area of bushland we have adopted for a working bee. Our Christian Environmental Action group is going quite well, with our church teams and local conservation groups making quite a difference by dedicating a few hours per week. It is a testament to the way the church has now taken leadership in the environmental arena.
Ok, so you could say I’m dreaming. Yet increasingly churches are doing many of the things I have just mentioned in what is just one way of imagining what a greener future for the church might be like. Over the last few years, I have had the privilege of working with some of the most innovative and forward thinking churches in this country through the Five Leaf Eco-Awards, and every day I come to believe even more strongly in the importance of the church’s role in forging a new and more sustainable future for all creation. Because, after all, this is God’s creation, and we are God’s people. Who has a better incentive to care for the environment than we do?
When I visit churches, most think it’s a good idea and want to do more for the environment, but they are reluctant to commit to what they often see as just one more thing that needs doing. One minister expressed the sentiment perfectly to a parishioner who wanted their church to get involved recently, saying “that’s great, as long as I don’t have to do any of the work”. In some ways this is fair enough, I know how busy and under-resourced our church leaders (both lay and ordained) are, but today I would like to talk about why greening the church can be seen as an opportunity for growth and revitalisation of the church rather than just more work. The vision for an individual green church is one that I have shared with many people, but now I would like to extend that vision, to challenge you to think about the impact not just of an individual green church, but of the church as a whole, in all its denominations, becoming an eco-leader.
Imagine a world where the church has become a leader of society that everyone looks to in order to find greener and more ethical ways of living. Imagine a world where churches have become the centres of their communities by embracing the sustainable agendas of sharing, recycling, reusing and reducing. Imagine a world where the supreme god is not consumerism, the supreme philosophy not capitalism, and the supreme achievement not wealth. Imagine churches spreading ripples of community and social capital out into the world and challenging our individualism and selfishness. Imagine a church that is not a reactive respondent to social concerns, but a proactive leader that forges new ways of living for society and bravely confronts and overcomes change. Imagine a church flocked with young people drawn by the relevance of its eco-theology and sustainable lifestyle messages and engaged in the many environmental programs being run by churches around the world. Imagine a church revitalised, redirected and full of the Holy Spirit going about the Lord’s work in renewing all creation. Imagine the church today responding to this call to convert policy into praxis and words into action.
I know all this is hard to picture, but I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I believe our dreams for the church in this area are currently too small. There are some wonderful churches out there doing things for the environment at the moment, and there have been great successes through programs like community gardens in bringing churches into community and community into churches, yet how often do we think beyond trying to make our own church a little bit more sustainable?
Unfortunately, we let the train bolt years ago. Over the recent few centuries, we forgot our faith’s long and vital history of caring for creation until we got to the point where suddenly the rest of society started caring about the environment and then started blaming us for the ecological crisis. We realised we better start doing something. Yet even since then, we have reacted slowly and we are still just trying to catch up, especially in Australia. This is particularly disappointing because we may well be the missing piece in the puzzle to make a sustainable future work. A real, long term, sustainable future. I’m talking the bigger picture here, the next 50 – 200 years (if we are still alive), not just policies aimed at dealing with our current problems. We have the science to respond to climate change, but as we have all seen, that is not the problem. The problem is changing the way people think. The problem is making people want to change.
This is where religion comes in. As Sagan said in 1990, “Problems of such magnitude and solutions demanding so broad a perspective must be recognised from the outset as having a religious as well as a scientific dimension... The historical record makes clear that religious teaching, example, and leadership are powerfully able to influence personal conduct and commitment.”
It is essential that the church takes a leadership role within the environmental movement because ultimately this is not about an ETS or a Carbon Tax, it’s not about multinational corporations or e-waste, it’s not about deforestation or even climate change. These are all important issues, but they are only a part of the problem. The root of all this is a spiritual crisis. Ultimately the ecological crisis is only the visible signs of a spiritual tumour. This is really about what role humanity should play in the global ecosystem. It’s really about the right and wrong of our interactions with other creatures. It’s about what is sacred. And ultimately it's really about who we worship – God or ourselves? The church is in a unique position to answer these questions.
Think about the many assets we have as a church: our social capital, the way faith can change people, our moral compass, the power of prayer, our long tradition of respect for the environment throughout the history of the church through leaders like St Francis of Assisi, and our tradition of leading social changes like the abolition of slavery, civil rights and the endangered species act in the USA. We have enormous potential clout, and an enormous ability to create change and act as God’s hands and feet in the world. We have done so many times before, and I believe the Holy Spirit is calling us to do so again. After all, when we have been given all these talents and gifts, isn’t the master going to ask us how we used them when he returns?
It is hard to imagine now, but in the early 18th century the notions of slavery as an abomination and fighting poverty as a Christian responsibility were simply unthinkable for the majority of the community. It was believed that the poor were poor by the will of God and the rich were favoured by God. This is in spite of Biblical mandates such as proverbs 31: 8-9 which had been handed down since around the fourth century BC. It is strange to think that humanity had so long ignored the intolerable, and even the church has seemed happy with the situation, despite the encouragement of the Bible. It took the power of the Holy Spirit opening the eyes of a small group of people, led by William Wilberforce, and then an immense struggle over thirty years to open the eyes of the rest of the country to bring about the end of the British slave trade in 1807 and then finally, the dream they couldn’t even mention when they started, the emancipation of slaves in 1833, 26 years later and only 3 days before William Wilberforce’s death.
In a similar fashion, I believe God is now calling us to open our eyes to the passages of scripture and the leadings of the Holy Spirit that reveal God’s desire to take this emancipation further. Since the industrial revolution we have often forgotten God’s creation in our haste to achieve progress. And yet there are over a thousand Bible verses that deal with Creation and how it relates to God and Man. We are called to be good stewards and neighbours to God’s creatures; revealing ourselves as children of God by redeeming creation and loving that which God has created and loved. It is a challenge that we all need to rise to, a challenge to make the impossible possible by finding ways for humanity to live in peace and righteousness on God’s earth.
Of course, even if we are inspired and carried away by this new and wonderful sustainable world the Lord is calling us to create, making it happen is still going to take some work. That is why you should get your church involved in the Five Leaf Eco-Awards. After all, the organisation exists to support churches and make their greening work easier. We can provide tonnes of resources, books, weblinks, information, sermon starters and Bible versesyou're your church to use, and we can even do your research or possibly write your sermon for you. Thanks to the Joan Stott UCAF Bursary, I’ve been given the opportunity to study theology at St Mark’s theological college in Canberra, so I’ve been able to really increase the depth of my understanding of the doctrine of creation, animal theology, and both basic and cutting edge eco-theology, all of which I hope to use serving the church. So don’t just struggle through on your own, why not ask if I can give you a hand? After all, Ecclesiastes tells us that two are better than one (Ecc. 4:9-12).  So let us walk into the challenges of the future together, and with faith. 
Thank you.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post, Jessica. I particularly liked what you said about the church challenging selfishness and individualism. I believe that this is an important role for the church. And I also believe that (whereas there might be disagreement with some Christians on whether climate change is happening and how far we need to go to protect the environment)challenging selfishness and individualism is something that all Christians should be able to agree with (at least in theory if not in practice).



Important Lessons from the Bible

Why Jesus came:
"that the world might be saved through him"
John 3:17

Who Jesus is going to use to save the world:
"For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God."
Romans 8:19

Our role on earth:
"The LORD God put the man in the Garden of Eden to take care of it and to look after it."
Genesis 2:15

The Five Pillars of A Christian Theology of Sustainability

1. God is the creator, sustainer and redeemer of creation.

2. Covenantal Stewardship (we have a covenant with God as stewards of the earth).

3. The creation-fall-redemption paradigm (God made a good world; human failure broke the relationships between god, man and creation; Christ provides hope for all creation).

4.Bodily resurrection(we will rise with bodies, not as spirits)

5.New Creation (a new Heaven and new Earth refers to a renewal and an earthing of heaven, not starting over).

Adapted from When Enough is Enough: A Christian Framework for Environmental Sustainability, Edited by R.J. Berry, Published by Inter-Varsity Press, 2007, Nottingham p43+