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29 January 2016

Eco Church: a tectonic shift in Christian Culture...

Eco Church: a tectonic shift in Christian Culture...

… is what former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, said he saw happening as he presented St Paul's Cathedral with the first ever Eco Church award at a special ceremony on Tuesday night.

Why such a grandiose pronouncement for a small round plaque, made from recycled church pews by a community project in Edinburgh? Very simply, because if there is one thing that the Church has been horrendously slow on understanding and giving any priority to, it is our call to be caring for God's earth.

I found myself in a strange collision of Christian worlds this week. Tuesday night I attended the ceremony at St Paul's Cathedral, at which the presentation of the award marked the launch of A Rocha UK's Eco Church scheme: an award scheme for churches in England and Wales who want to demonstrate that the gospel is good news for God's earth. Then, I hot-footed it up to Nottingham where I spent the next day at a church leaders conference and where I couldn't help noticing the freely-available bottles of water and the subsequent PILES of empty bottles in the bins.

Was this really a good and thoughtful use of the earth's resources?

The Eco Church launch event at St Paul's showed me that a tectonic shift has taken place. The event was packed out (it was fully booked, with a waiting list) and all the main Christian media were there, plus some non-Christian media. Interest in the new scheme has been big and at one point #EcoChurch was even trending on Twitter! Someone commented to me that evening that caring for the environment in the Church has gone mainstream.

And yet, my experience the next day showed me that such tectonic shifts are still needing to take place and we are not there yet. Very simply, we need to see Christian culture get to the place where it is as commonplace for us to be engaged in acts of wider creation care as it is for us to be engaged in acts of community involvement. My understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ demands nothing less.

When I read the Bible I see a God who created this world and loves it. As people, we have been created to love God and love what he has made, both human and other-than-human. Literally, we are earthy-ones ('adam from the 'adamah, the 'earth') and our connection with the whole community of creation is deeper than we sometimes like to admit.

Yes, Jesus died for our sins – I believe that wholeheartedly – but I think he died also that he might reconcile all things to him, as Colossians 1:19-20 tells us. Our final resting place is not going to be on a disembodied heaven somewhere in the blue beyond, but on a renewed earth, in which God dwells, thereby combining heaven and earth.

Wow, that's a big theology! And a big theology of this sort demands nothing less than a tectonic shift in Christian culture: one that wakes up the sleeping giant of the Church and sees us actively engaging in caring for this wonderful world that God has made. So take a look at eco church and get your church involved.

Dr Ruth Valerio is churches and theology director at A Rocha UK, a Christian charity working for the protection and restoration of the natural world.

Image: CC Greg Lacdao

P.s. watch out for the next edition of idea magazine looking at issues around ethical consuming.