Science and Theology: Walking Through Nature

Those of you at the 10am Green Communion service on Sunday (12th February) that celebrated the first anniversary of Eco-Church would have heard Steve mention about the Scientists in Congregations project.

Scientists in Congregations is a grant scheme open to all mainstream Christian churches. The projects are aimed at helping churchgoers engage confidently with science, raising the profile of Christians whose vocation is science-related and changing the debate about science and faith in churches and communities.

Scientists in Congregations is part of Equipping Christian Leadership in an Age of Science, a three-year Durham University project run in partnership with the Church of England.

ecopanel-300x167At TRINITY we are one of only ten churches nationally that have been offered a grant for our project, Science and Theology: Walking Through Nature.
I was invited recently to Lambeth Palace to accept the award on behalf of TRINITY and the Walking Through Nature team. This blog is taken from the presentation I was asked to give.

The Project aims are to take groups from the congregations of TRINITY on a ‘walking church’ series of Ecosystem Service walks, consisting of Science, Theology and Prayer.

These walks will be led by an Ecologist and a minister. At selected stopping points an explanation from the Ecologist as to what benefits are received from this natural or semi-natural place, will be combined with Christian teaching, theological reflection, and prayer by the minister. The congregation will be challenged at each point to reflect on these places theologically and biblically, in dialogue with the Ecologist’s scientific explanations.

There will be Three Walking Church Ecosystem Service Walks, one starting and finishing at each of TRINITY’s three locations in Lewes.  They will be offered at different times to allow a good cross-section of TRINITY’s congregations to experience them.

IMG_4656Resources will be produced to enable similar walks to be carried out across the Chichester Diocese and beyond.

The Walking Through Nature team’s conviction is that there is a current scarcity of reflective dialogue between science and the Christian faith within local congregations, this has serious consequences in relation to ecology – an area that should be of potential shared aims and fertile collaboration if we are to address some of the issues surrounding climate change and environmental degradation.

Poor understanding of ecological systems and their relationships to human activity and wellbeing both globally and locally, is seriously weakening the churches endeavours to observe the biblical mandate of humankind that is “to keep” God’s Creation which is “very good” and which “belongs to the Lord” as well as the commandment “to love your neighbour as yourself”.

Part of the inspiration for this project came from the words of Gus Speth, Dean of Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies

“I used to think the top environmental problems facing the world were global warming, environmental degradation and ecosystem collapse, and that we scientists could fix those problems with enough science.  But I was wrong. The real problem is not those three items, but greed, selfishness, and apathy. And for that we need a spiritual and cultural transformation – and we scientists don’t know how to do that. We need your help.”

However, many congregations are poorly equipped to link Christian understandings of the value of nature, landscape, and the environment with the rapidly rising recognition in the mainstream science and policy sphere of the huge value of the benefits that nature does and can provide.

IMG_4601An understanding of these issues could translate into practical actions which might contribute to reversing the degradation that human societies are bringing to God’s creation, which is our only life support system – and essential for the livelihoods of many, especially those of the poorest.

Christians can benefit from scientists’ help to understand the implications of such environmental degradation for their faith.  Scientists, and local communities, can benefit from the Christian message and example of living in communion, not as consumers.

The walks will be designed to rapidly deepen and broaden multi-faceted understandings of the wonder of nature and what it does for us all as individuals, congregations, communities, parishes and local (as well as national and global) economies.  This will aim to build the foundations for mission, to be a starting point to inspire congregations to work within their communities to change how we value God’s creation and reflect this in practical action. It will open a dialogue about the ecosystem, give an understanding of the environment and how this may be compatible and helpful to theological approaches to creation care – linking Science with Theology and Scientists with Congregations.

The walks will take place during the Spring and Summer of this year and if anybody thinks they would like to take part, please do get in touch.

More information about our project and some of the other projects awarded grants can be found on the following websites

https://www.churchofengland.org/media-centre/news/2017/02/second-wave-of-scientists-in-congregations-grants-unveiled.aspx

http://community.dur.ac.uk/christianleadership.science/second-wave-of-scientists-in-congregations-grants-unveiled/