In 2012 St Aidan’s Church in Clarkston (Glasgow) hosted the first in what has become an annual series of public lectures on a subject relevant to our faith but also of potential interest to a wider public. The 2023 St Aidan’s Lectures are being delivered by the Rev. Dr James Currall. The topic is The Environmental Crisis and the Church. The Lectures will be delivered on Monday evenings, 17 and 24 April, 1 and 8 May, beginning at 7.30pm and for the first time will be delivered both at St Aidan’s and on Zoom.
The questions to be addressed in the four lectures are:
- How did we get here?
- Where are we now?
- Not Zero?
- Where do we go from here?
The importance of the environment (and caring for it) is becoming more and more central to the life of many people, not only but especially for the younger generation who often look at the Church and think it has nothing to say with regard to the issues that concern them. This clearly has implications for the credibility of our mission in the world. It is, furthermore, an area in which people of all faiths and none have started working together for the future of humanity and the world.
The St Aidan’s Lectures in 2023 explore some of the past, present and future of the Church’s relationship to these issues and why it has often been viewed as trailing behind the secular world.
Lecture 1 – How did we get here?
The Western Church has only relatively recently woken up to the reality of Climate Change and the Environment Damage that human beings have wrought in our world. So why has the Church been so blind (or at least agnostic) to what for many in the secular world has been glaring obvious for three-quarters of a century?
Redemption in the writings of Augustine and Anselm is primarily Ethical. Humanity has been viewed as distinct from the natural world and Christianity and Salvation largely concerned with Personal and Social existence. The Western tradition has relatively little to say about the destiny of the universe, though there are a few honourable exceptions, such as St Francis of Assisi.
The Eastern Church, on the other hand has had a different relationship with the natural world. It has seen Redemption as concerned also with the Physical or Natural world. In both Greek and Syrian writing humanity is at the heart of the natural world. Patristic writing sees Salvation more holistically as Personal and Cosmic, Social and Universal. Perhaps we have much to learn from this more holistic approach to faith and worship.
The first lecture explores this historical background to help us to answer the question: “How did we get here”.
Lecture 2: Where are we now?
In 1999, the European Christian Environmental Network (ECEN) urged churches to adopt a “Time for Creation” stretching from 1st September to the feast of St Francis on 4th October. and this was endorsed by the European Ecumenical Assembly in Sibiu, Romania, in 2007, which recommended that the period ‘be dedicated to prayer for the protection of Creation and the promotion of sustainable lifestyles that reverse our contribution to climate change.’ The following year, the World Council of Churches (WCC) invited churches to observe “Time for Creation” through prayer and action.
From that time on, Christians worldwide have progressively embraced the season as part of their annual calendar. Since 2008 Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI) has compiled a programme of resources to encourage and assist churches to observe Creation Time. In summer 2020, just in time for COP26 in Glasgow, the Scottish Episcopal Church joined this movement, introducing Liturgical material for this Season.
This second lecture explores where the Church is at the present time in relation to the Environmental Crisis and the extent to which the approaches of Christian Churches differ from or reflect those of other commercial and community organisations.
Lecture 3 – Not Zero?
At it’s 2020 General Synod in December, the Scottish Episcopal Church started talking about environmental issues and committed to working towards Net Zero carbon emissions by 2030. A Church in Society Technical Committee then produced guidance for Synod in 2021 to set the direction for practical action and established a committee to take this work forward.
Many organisations and indeed governments have set targets for Net Zero, but does this represent an appropriate and sufficient response to the urgency of the issue? When we start to look for solutions to environmental issues, it is very easy to adopt too narrow a focus and attempt to reduce the environmental impact of one isolated factor, and in the process increase the impact of another.
This third lecture explores this question and we may well find ourselves outside a Church door in Wittenberg in the company of Martin Luther. That may of course raise the question as to whether or not the Church needs a New Reformation in relation to Environmental Justice.
Lecture 4 – Where do we go from here?
Responding to the climate crisis and the injustice inherent in both its causes and effects, it is much easier to make on one or two minor lifestyle changes, and thereby feel better about it all, than to engage with the real problem. The former is simply a mechanism to ‘greenwash’ our consciences, likely to have little or no effect and may actually do a great deal of harm. What is actually needed is repentance, a turning away from excessive consumption and back to God. Rowan Williams put it very simply when he wrote:
“we need to regain a sense that our relationship to the earth is about ‘communion not consumption’”.
Christians have a responsibility not only to take action to contribute less to the problem, but to be prophetic voices in the world. In the words of Walter Brueggemann they have a threefold prophetic task:
“The prophetic tasks of the Church are to tell the truth in a society that lives in illusion, grieve in a society that practices denial, and express hope in a society that lives in despair.”
What is needed is nothing short of salvation, and not just a narrow salvation of self, but a salvation of humanity and the whole of God’s Creation.
This is the subject of our final lecture.