What are Christians doing to protect the natural world?  It is a question that secular environmental organisations and concerned individuals have asked regularly over the past decade or so.  It is a fair question but also an ironic one given that it is Christians who see the created world as God’s work. Over time there have been Christian groups such as Christian Ecology Link and A Rocha working and campaigning but their influence has been limited.  And of course our own Bath & Wells diocese has had a comprehensive environment policy since 2007 although I suspect few people have read it.

Humans are an integral part of the natural world.  But only recently it seems, as a result in particular of Christian charities like Christian Aid and Tear Fund, has the impact of its destruction by man and weather and climate change become generally realised by church people. So it is good to see the seriousness of the situation is sinking in and the church taking notice.

Today it is Christians who are beginning to influence the wider world, with some powerful voices leading the way.  The most influential in recent months has been Pope Francis with his ‘Laudato Si’ (Praise be) encyclical, sub-titled ‘care for our common home’ issued back in May last year.  It is very long (40 000 words) but full of wise words, warnings and sound spiritual advice. (www.W2vatican.va): Most Papal encyclicals are meant for the attention of fellow Catholic bishops.  But this one has been aimed, very successfully, at ‘every person living on this planet’.  I have lost count of the times I have seen reference to it.  Not just the Christian media but the secular too; from The Washington Post to the Guardian to Youtube.

Commenting on the encyclical the Church of England’s leading voice on the environment the Bishop of Salisbury, Nicholas Holtam said:

"The Papal Encyclical is a substantial development of themes very much in line with statements made by the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Orthodox Churches, the Letter on Climate Change from the Swedish Lutheran bishops as well as by the Church of England and the Anglican Communion's Environmental Network and others.”

So what did the Pope say that caught everyone’s attention.  In its analysis The Washington Post identified ten key aspects of this very long document.  Here are just four I think particularly important (www.washintonpost.com):

Climate change has grave implications.  Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plants and animal species which our children will never see.

Rich countries are destroying poor ones.  The earth getting warmer as a result of huge consumption on the part of rich countries is having repercussions on the poorest areas of the world, in particular Africa where temperature rise together with drought is proving devastating for farmers.

Christians have misinterpreted Scripture and must reject the notion that we are given absolute domination over other creatures.

Technocratic domination leads to destruction of nature and the exploitation of people.  The market cannot guarantee human development and social inclusion.

‘Yes, but that’s the Catholic Church.  What have the rest of the churches been doing? And what can we do?’ Well quite a lot actually on both counts.  And Anglicans have been taking a major role in this.  One leading voice has been Rowan Williams who during his time in office as Archbishop of Canterbury played a prominent part in highlighting the role the church should be playing.  More recently he said:

‘I think it is for the church to show the world around that there are things that can be done.’

In January he helped launch a new scheme that rewards churches for being environmentally friendly.  Called Eco Church and devised by the Christian sustainability charity A Rocha, (the organisation that gave us our 3-year eco-congregation award back in 2011) the scheme aims to help churches tackle climate change through a points based award system.

Churches complete a survey covering five areas to assess how ‘green’ they are. These cover aspects such as worship and teaching, management of buildings and land, community and global engagement and lifestyle. At the launch in St Paul’s Rowan Williams spoke of people in the green movement referring to the church as a ‘sleeping giant’.  But, he said, churches have huge potential to inspire wider society to take firmer action to preserve the environment.  Equally they could not expect to mobilise the non-Christian world unless they were putting their own house in order too.

So now the question for us at Christ Church, with our eco congregation award behind us, is what could we be doing to help put the Christian church’s house in order?


Brian Kellock - (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.