So often the church is criticised – often with very real justification – for being obsessed with internal affairs. So, as I began this blog from York by saying, Synod concluded this five years of our life with a day looking wider, more globally. The subject was climate change and what our response to what is clearly happening is going to be. The principal question was how our policy with regard to climate change would influence the investments that we make as a church.
The day fell into three distinct parts – bible study, then policy, then the application of that policy with regard to the investmnent policy of the church.
For the past few years we have been meeting for study in small groups and the membership of those groups has always been the same. This has meant that we have been able to get to know a variety of people from across the Church of England. Our task this morning was to look at two texts – from Genesis 1 in which of humankind it says
God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’ (Genesis 1.28)
What do those words ‘subdue’ and ‘dominion’ actually mean to us? Do they give us carte blanche to do what we want to the earth or do they imply something that involves more of a sense of care rather than power?
The second text was from St Paul’s Letter to the Romans
We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now. (Romans 8.22)
What does that mean to us – the poetry and the reality of what Paul is saying to us?
Out of these two texts we had a very good discussion and especially about the way that we each respond personally to the challenge and whether – and we talked honestly about this – the issues were a real priority for us. For some people global, climate issues seem to be foremost – for others it is issues of poverty or injustice that seem to demand their attention. Maybe, the truth is – and this came out in the debates later in the day – there shouldn’t be a separation in these things, they are interwoven with the poorest suffering the effects of climate change the most, already.
I was thinking however about St Francis. His ‘Canticle of the Sun’ expresses the depth of the relationship that he had with every aspect of creation, an intimate, familial relationship. He could feel the groaning of creation, as he could feel the groaning of his sisters and brothers.
Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and You give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendour!
Of You, Most High, he bears the likeness.
Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
in the heavens You have made them bright, precious and beautiful.
Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
and clouds and storms, and all the weather,
through which You give Your creatures sustenance.
Developing something of that relationship, embracing something of that theology, must be important for the church and that is, of course, where Pope Francis begins in his encyclical ‘Laudato si’ – ‘Be praised’ – which his holy namesake uses throughout his Canticle. We have to develop a love affair with the earth, a love affair with creation, which of course those who have had the privilege to see the earth from space are drawn into. The astronaut Roan Garan, reflecting in his time in space and looking at the earth, said in an interview
I think it’s very difficult not to be moved when you look at our planet from space. You see how beautiful it is, how fragile it is. You really get this feeling of, we’ve been given an incredible gift.
It is that passion for the earth that we have to capture as people who believe in the Creator God.
The debates that followed raised many of these issues. But I was especially pleased when Duncan Dormer reminded us that ‘We must hear the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor’ and when the Bishop of Salisbury concluded our first debate by saying, ‘Economic justice and climate justice must go together.’
The debate in the morning and the one on investments in the afternoon were almost unanimously supported by the Synod. But what Elaine Storkey said in the morning is the real challenge to us ‘We have the resources and the theology but have we the will?’
It goes back to yesterday – words are not enough, we need action. The challenge to me is, what can I do?
I leave Synod with that call to action, a call to prayer and fasting for justice – economic justice and climate justice. But as the Bishop of Chelmsford said to us (and I paraphrase), ‘Stop praying for something unless you are prepared to be part of the solution.’
Synod has been prorogued – it is no more. Five years have passed. I need to reflect on what we have done – but we have ended well.
for all your goodness in creation
we praise you.
May I play my part
in caring for your good gift.