Monday, May 4, 2009

Operation Noah Service

This Sunday we had our 'Environment Sunday' a month early. The theme was Operation Noah. I'd ordered their church pack, which includes quite a lot of lovely liturgical resources. The aim of our service was to move beyond the focus on shrinking our own carbon footprints, which we've tended to have in earlier services, and emphasise the importance of more pressure on government.

We began with the Creation song, God Said. Then we gathered all the children at the front to sit down so that I could read to them the first few pages of Nicola Davies's Ice Bear. This was a present to my youngest on his recent third birthday. It's a wonderful 'story', beautifully illustrated, in which every word is true. The combination of amazing facts and poetic language seemed a wonderful introduction. I ended with the line 'Nothing stops polar bear'. Then I gave every child a bag (old party bags and Riverford fruit bags actually) in which there was an animal mask and some crayons. Finding suitable masks to download and print out for this was probably the most time consuming part of preparing for the service. While they went back to their seats to to start colouring in, I addressed the adults:

Nothing stops polar bear? Nothing except us. By the end of Matthew's fifteenth summer many scientists believe there will be no summer sea ice at the Arctic ice cap. To remove an ice cap is a very dramatic thing to do to our planet.

It was only a few weeks ago that I learnt that – it was at a conference Jan organised at the warehouse. The speaker was Ian James – a professor of meteorology and the diocesan environment adviser. There is now more carbon dioxide in our atmosphere than there has ever been in human history. To quote Professor James ‘there is not the slightest doubt that this is the direct result of human activity: the burning of fossil fuels.’ Every year we are emitting the equivalent of a million years of photosynthesis into the atmosphere. He also said that despite all the talk of reducing emissions they are still accelerating. I won’t give you the whole scientific info as I’m sure most of you are very familiar with it. He concluded by saying ‘climate change is real, it’s happening now. At the moment it is relatively slight but there is no sign of it slowing down. By the time the problems are large and serious it will be irreversible’.
Of course, for many individuals in the poorest countries the problems are already large and serious – according to the UN, climate change is now a major reason for the number of displaced persons and refugees. Either their land can no longer feed them or stressed resources are leading to conflicts. And on top of all the human suffering – can I ask how often you think scientists believe another of God’s creatures or plants becomes extinct – one a month, one a week – any suggestions?
It’s one every six hours – that’s something like 1,000 times the natural average. 25% of all mammals are considered at risk of extinction – not just the polar bears. Both Old and New Testaments tell us that we look to God’s Creation to understand God – but we are erasing God’s fingerprints around us. How should Christian’s respond? We’re going to look at Christian Ecology Link’s suggestion on this, but first we’ll have another song,

(Most of that information came either from Ian James's talk at the Greening Faiths conference recorded earlier in this blog, A Rocha's Hope for Planet Earth presentation or Christian Aid's Countdown to Copenhagen DVD).

We then sang I the Lord of Sea and Sky.

Then the children with their masks were encouraged into a side room as Jeremy began a slightly edited reading of the Noah story. Pete was being the voice of God, cunningly hidden with his microphone so most people couldn't work out where he was. Steve mimed Noah's part and at the appropriate juncture young people and children began bringing in large cardboard pieces (constructed by Jeremy's daughters at home) which he assembled as the ark. Then the children came in again with their masks down, not quite two by two, to sit around the ark, and more toy animals went into the ark itself.

I stepped back in to link this story to the next part: skipping over the historical and theological complexities of the story, I focussed on the thought, to quote Operation Noah's website, that in a time of climate crisis Noah was a just man, a man who walked with God, who acted on the knowledge God gave him and protected Creation by those actions.

The first step to walking with God must be prayer, so we had five minutes to pray as people wished. Hamish played music, on the screens were some photos my son James took last summer (when he was four), there were post it notes for people to stick prayers to the ark and paper and crayons in the gallery.

We concluded this time of prayer by singing When I needed a neighbour.

Then I asked everyone 'who are our neighbours' - we had a variety of responses, from next door neighbours to all people. I then mentioned Ian James's argument (and my own at a previous service) that it is time to understand all created life as our neighbours because we are all interdependent.

The second question 'in a time of climate crisis, how do we love our neighbours' produced the succinct response 'watch our carbon footprints'. This was my cue to say:

In changing our own lifestyles we begin to reduce the problem and to restore the integrity of our relationship with our Creator God. But we need to spread that change – we need to tell our neighbours and our colleagues and we need to make our government take radical action. The industrial revolution began here in Britain – appropriately last year our government instituted the world’s first legally binding long term framework to tackle climate change, but we have to build on this and we can. More than a quarter of the world’s CO2 emissions come from our power supplies. That’s why this church has changed its electricity supplier to Ecotricity. Operation Noah want us to petition the government to take a lead at the climate summit in Copenhagen this December. As a first step we need global power station emissions cut by a third by 2020. The government say they don’t have enough of a mandate from the people to take the environmental actions needed – we have to take that excuse away. So, as a start, we have some origami arks to make with a petition on them for Gordon Brown.

Eveyone had been given the A4 sheet from Operation Noah's website as they came in. Instructions for folding appeared on the screens. The folding process took a good deal longer than I'd expected but people were helping each other. Part way through I realised that if people wanted to add a personal message this needed to be done before the Ark was complete, but I don't think this mattered.

Photographs were taken: unfortunately I'd failed to arrange for someone with a decent camera to attend so the picture up the top was the best I could manage. Half the children were mysteriously absent from it too. Notices were read, including encouragement to write our pledges for reducing our carbon footprint onto a poster for Reading Borough Council in preparation for their environment day: Forbury Fever on 6 June. We were also encouraged to sign Fairtrade Foundation postcards to Baronness Ashton, the new EU trade commissioner, asking for fairer relations with Africa, Asia and Latin America.

We concluded with the Rainbow prayer used at the launch of Operation Noah:
Creator God, how deep are your designs!
You made a living earth, cloud, rain and wind,
And charged us with their care.
We confess that the way we live today
is changing the climate,
the seas and the balance of life
dispossessing the poor and future generations.
Build our lives into an Ark for all creation,
and, as you promised Noah never to repeat the Flood,
so make us heralds of a new rainbow covenant:
choosing life for all that is at risk –
for creation,
for neighbours near and far,
for our children and ourselves.

This was followed by Sent by the Lord am I and a blessing.

Over coffee we showed the Christian Aid Countdown to Copenhagen DVD. I had to leave early but there was then a meal - these are meant to be free, but donations are encouraged to cover costs and any extra after costs goes to a charity so this week's will be for Operation Noah. I took 36 signed arks away with me but since not all were finished I hope to collect a few more before they're posted off.

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