I was privileged to present an Eco-Congregation Award to Central Baptist Church of Norwich in England on Jan. 24.
This may well have been one of the last such awards to be made, as two days later Eco Church was launched at St Paul’s Cathedral.
Eco Church has been developed by A Rocha UK, a Christian charity working for the protection and restoration of the natural world, together with Tearfund and Christian Aid, with the support of the Church of England and the Methodist Church.
The Baptist Union of Great Britain (BUGB) and the United Reformed Church have also been enthusiastic supporters of Eco-Congregation.
Representing the John Ray Initiative, an educational charity focused on connecting environment, science and Christianity, and the BUGB, I was part of a packed audience in the crypt of St Paul’s with representatives of churches and various environmental organizations.
Those gathered heard addresses from Ruth Valerio (Churches and Theology director of A Rocha UK), Martin Pett (who spoke about the development of an eco-congregation at Trinity Church in Lewes) and Rowan Williams (the former Archbishop of Canterbury) who gave the keynote address, with prayers led by representatives from Tearfund and Christian Aid.
Nigel Hopper, the churches and resources manager of A Rocha UK, explained that Eco Church had been two years in the making, replacing Eco-Congregation, the award system for churches that has been running for 15 years.
During that time, more than 300 Eco-Congregation Awards have been made to churches from all denominations.
The system has played a significant part in helping many churches, like Central Baptist Church in Norwich, to a fuller biblical understanding of the importance of caring for God’s Earth, and in inspiring them to take practical action to this end, as part of our Christian discipleship in the mission of Christ in and for the world.
Eco Church offers a unique, free of charge, online survey for churches to gauge their contribution to environmental care.
The survey covers buildings and land, worship and teaching, the lifestyles of the congregation, and their concern for the local and global environment. Online resources are offered to address the issues raised by the survey.
Williams encouraged those who might think that global environmental issues are too big for churches to tackle in observing that there has been a “tectonic shift” in the minds of Christians. Progress is being made through individual churches and through Christian organizations in the developing world.
He stressed that society still expects the church to provide a moral consensus, trusted to do the right thing, and as such the church is an “effective community lever.” But this must be more than talk.
We must show what can be done by acting and so shift the moral consensus with regard to the care of the environment.
Williams challenged all Christians to see this as a justice issue: for the world’s poor and disadvantaged and for the generations who come after us.
He pointed out that our words “economy” and “ecology” both have their root in the Greek word for household.
Stewardship is a covenantal concern in caring for God’s world and being ecologically responsible is a justice issue.
God is faithful in his covenant with creation. God keeps his promises. The church is here to express, embody and communicate God’s faithfulness and God’s promises.
Scripture always points us back to the God who saw creation as good, who promised “never again” to destroy creation and who is the ultimate land owner; the Old Testament celebration of Jubilee (Leviticus 25) reminds us that the Earth is the Lord’s.
There are two kinds of hope: proximate and ultimate. Proximate hope is temporal. It is uncertain, incomplete, open to failure and looks to something beyond the present. Ultimate hope is God’s Kingdom come, guaranteed, complete, beyond imagination, continuity and discontinuity. Such hope is a fact of the future.
We know we live in a time of unprecedented environmental need; our call is to continue to take action as part of our worship of a creating, sustaining and saving God. The good news is that many churches like Norwich Central Baptist Church are now waking up to this call.
May this continue and become a focus of our discipleship and mission.
More information about Eco Church is available here.
John Weaver is the chairman of the John Ray Initiative (JRI), an educational charity focused on connecting environment, science and Christianity in the United Kingdom. He was principal of South Wales Baptist College until his retirement in 2011 and served as the president of the Baptist Union of Great Britain in 2008-09. A version of this article first appeared in the Baptist Times – the online newspaper of BUGB. It is used with permission. His writings also appear on the JRI blog.