Last week (17 – 19 September), I attended the conference “Reconciling a Wounded Planet” at Coventry Cathedral. Within a short blog post I can’t do justice to all that was covered at the conference so these are a few short reflections as an overview. Dr Martin Hodson (JRI Operations Manager) has also provided a compilation on Storify of tweets sent during the conference. There is a report from the Anglican Communion News Service which includes a video of Rev Margot Hodson explaining the theme of the conference.
As we met there were reminders all around us of the origin of the ministry of reconciliation that has developed at Coventry Cathedral, both starkly through the ruins of the original cathedral which was destroyed by bombing in 1940, and also by the many symbols of reconciliation around the present cathedral building. During the first session on Friday we joined in saying the Coventry Litany of Reconciliation.
Many of us participated in Morning and Evening Prayer during the conference. The Readings, Psalms and Collects directed our thoughts to the themes of creation and reconciliation.
For those who arrived for Thursday evening there was a showing of the film “Scarred Lands and Wounded Lives” at which Alice and Lincoln Day, the makers of the film, were present. The film provided a visual presentation of the impacts of war on people and the environment. In addition to the effects during conflict it also portrayed the legacy of ongoing harm after the conflict and the environmental impact of preparations for war through the production and stockpiling of weapons. Although many of us could recall seeing much of the footage on the news in the past, having it all brought together in a single film significantly increased the impact. The film was followed by a panel discussion during which the perceptive remarks of a senior military chaplain on the panel gave us much to think about. We were also very conscious of the refugee/migrant crisis in Eastern Europe that dominated the news throughout the conference and were reminded during the panel discussion that drought in Syria had been identified as a contributor to the unrest which led eventually to the civil war and the displacement of a large proportion of the population.
The conference picked up on the theme of an earlier conference “Ecology and Christian Responsibility” organized by the Community of the Cross of Nails in Sewannee, Tennessee 40 years ago. Towards the end of the conference we were privileged to hear the reflections of Canon Kenyon Wright on how the challenges identified at that conference had developed in the intervening period up to the present.
The underpinning theological theme for the conference was drawn from Colossians 1: 15-20. This was introduced by Rev Margot Hodson in a homily on Friday morning and expounded at greater length by Professor Richard Bauckham on Saturday morning. Professor Bauckham explored the parallel themes of creation and reconciliation in the passage, how they were both centred on Christ and particularly how the scope of reconciliation through Christ (verse 20) encompasses the whole of creation.
The keynote address was given by Professor Sir Ghillean Prance who reminded us of some of the major environmental problems we faced:
Loss of soil and water;
Degradation of rivers & oceans;
However he also shared with us some examples from his personal experience of stories of hope eg:
Fisheries conservation in Lyme Bay;
The work of Climate Stewards in tree planting in Ghana;
A Rocha’s conservation work in the Algarve;
The closing address was given by Bishop James Jones who stressed that Creation Care was a gospel imperative. However to take the whole church along with us we would need to draw out what the gospels say as well as the Old Testament and Epistles. He reminded us that Jesus referred to himself as “Son of Man” – child of the earth – linking Adam (man) with adamah (earth). He suggested 7 facets for inclusion in a rule of life for the earthing of heaven: Praise – Prayer – Personal Life – Parochial Life – Partnership – Politics – Planet.
In addition to these plenary sessions we also had considerable opportunity for discussion in smaller groups. On Friday there were 6 parallel streams. I had chosen the stream on community engagement facilitated by Andy Lester of A Rocha. We heard stories of encouragement – three examples of how individual initiatives were making a real difference locally. Two of these (“Incredible Edible” and “The Rubbish Diet”) were being effectively replicated elsewhere. After a summary from Andy we then discussed the issues and questions that had emerged. When the groups gave feedback in the subsequent plenary session chaired by Professor Sam Berry it was a real encouragement to hear of the breadth of activities that are happening around the country. One aspect that had been identified in several of the groups was the need to find fresh ways of “telling the story”.
On Saturday the groups were randomly rearranged to start thinking about how to address the issues identified by the discussion streams. The output from these discussion groups was written up on postcards and posted up towards the back of the cathedral nave. A quick perusal indicated that again many useful ideas and suggestions had emerged. It will be exciting to see how these are taken forward.
The importance of the imminent COP21 climate change talks in Paris in December was mentioned several times during the conference by various speakers. Representatives of the “Pilgrimage to Paris” led a discussion, and on Friday evening we had the opportunity to watch Riding Lights perform “Baked Alaska” which was commissioned by Lichfield Diocese through Christian Aid and Operation Noah to raise awareness and challenge people in the run up to the talks. It was certainly one of the most directly challenging Riding Lights performances I have seen. If you live in the UK there is almost certainly a performance somewhere near you during the next few weeks so I will not say more about the play here to avoid reducing its impact on those of you who are able to see it.
In addition to the formal activities of the conference there were of course ample opportunities for networking over mealtimes, at the various stalls provided by the main christian environmental and aid organisations and in regional and special interest groups. We certainly had many useful conversations at the JRI stall.
The first full day of the conference coincided with the launch of Martin & Margot Hodson’s latest book “A Christian Guide to Environmental Issues” and JRI held a book signing at our information stand. I started to read the book on the train journey home so perhaps I will write more about it in a few weeks.
All of us who participated in the conference owe many thanks to the organising team, to those who presented and facilitated sessions and to Coventry Cathedral for hosting the conference. It has given us much to reflect on but has also provided examples to encourage and motivate us to go back to our communities to engage in working out the message of reconciliation in all its aspects.
Peter Lornie – JRI Blog Editor
Peter Lornie is a physicist by training and is now semi-retired after a career in industry. He is Secretary of a Baptist church in Essex and is a JRI Associate.