Lent “is one of the most counter-cultural festivals we have, where abstinence stands against consumerism,” according to the Anglican vicar from Sussex who presents the BBC's 'How to live a simple life'. Speaking at a day conference in London on Saturday, organised by Christian Ecology Link (CEL), Peter Owen Jones felt that church festivals such as Lent could better “synchronise our lives with the life of the planet” and be used to raise awareness of the greatest issue of our times – human destruction of Earth’s life systems. He said he supported moves towards vegetarianism, which means living more lightly on the planet, and indeed grows his own vegetables. He founded the Arbory Trust, the first Christian charity to offer woodland burial.
Owen Jones told an ecumenical audience of 150 people from around Britain that CEL is “a community living out of deep ecological respect” and “I admire each and every one of you”. He described CEL as being a seed for almost 30 years, but the time had come to “truly grow and bear fruit”.
CEL’s current chair, Catholic Paul Bodenham, called for more people to become CEL members. He said that CEL - with around 900 members - is a movement which has “a sense that the Christian gospel has something important to say about the state of the world” and this “has not really been articulated by the churches”.
It was appropriate that behind the speakers in St John’s Anglican church, opposite Waterloo Station, were two huge murals which contextualised the concern Jesus had for the vulnerable and his close relationship with the natural world. One mural depicted the parable of the Good Samaritan but it was set on Waterloo Bridge. The second was Jesus walking by a river, but rather than the River Jordan it was the River Thames with modern day passers by engaging with him and feeding birds.
In the view of Owen Jones, Britain’s churches have offered no more than an “inaudible whisper” against the destruction of the natural world. He felt rich creation-centred theology material is available “but it has not reached the pews or the bishops”. “We need to jump the fence we have built between ourselves and the natural world,” he urged. He was critical of the “ruthless anthropocentrism” of the churches and of “the damaging and outmoded model of authority”, making it difficult to “put new wine into old wineskins”.
He criticised Christians thinking of themselves as stewards of the natural world. “Placing ourselves above the natural world is madness” he said, “and it is in communion with our brothers and sisters in the natural world that we will realise a dazzling future”.
During question time, a CEL member from the floor suggested that the ‘tree of life’ might be a better representation of the Christian faith than the image of a dead Christ on the cross, provoking spirited discussion.
The CEL day also explored green economics, led by Tim Cooper, a former Chair of CEL and Professor of Sustainable Design and Consumption at Nottingham Trent University. He felt that Christian ethics challenge the assumptions of traditional economics that more is better, and that existing market structures are adequate to dealing with environmental problems and social injustices. At grassroots level, he pushed for more initiatives such as Fairtrade churches and Christian alternatives to consumerism at Christmas. CAFOD ran a stall at the day, introducing its new parish eco-congregation scheme which will be launched in May, and Columban Justice and Peace displayed its resources, such as a DVD ‘Stations of the Rainforest’ and a booklet of Christian environmental assemblies for primary schools.
More details available at: www.christian-ecology.org.uk The website also has an extensive diary of Christian environmental events during Lent.
See a DVD presentation of ‘Stations of the Rainforest’ on the Columban Missionaries website www.columbans.co.uk
‘Our Earth, Our Home – Green Assemblies for Key Stage 1-2 available from www.kevinmayhew.com.