Sunday, June 20, 2010

Forbury Fever

Reading Christian Ecology Link (Churches Together in Reading's Environment Group) again held a stall at Forbury Fever this year. FF is the council's environment day in Forbury Gardens. On previous years it has been held on the Saturday closest to World Environment Day but this year was held later in order to coincide with Reading Water Fest nearby. This seemed to attract more visitors or perhaps it was the addition of a stage in the gardens on which there were various displays of dancing etc. The weather was also much better than last year! At our stall we focussed on climate change and biodiversity. For the latter we had a large 'treasure island' map for people to hunt for wildlife treasure - they would often be told 'no treasure here' due to habitat loss (but everyone was allowed to keep trying until they'd won a fairtrade sweet). We also had a display based on Genesis 1 with observations on species loss and actions we might take to protect those surviving. For climate change we had literature from various development agencies and Operation Noah, campaign cards from Cafod and a display about some of the consequences for people in the developing world. As last year, we also displayed leaflets from Reading Islamic Trustees for the Environment and one of their members joined us for a while on the stall.
My sons considered the highlights of the event were the Heatseekers van (where they got to see the technology that measures homes that are wastefully losing heat) and handling slow worms and moths on the econet stall. I was certainly inspired to promise them we'd set up our own light trap for moths as soon as we have a free evening.

Sir John Houghton

Last Thursday a handful of us from St John's attended Sir John Houghton's lecture on 'Global Warming and Climate Change: A Challenge to Scientists and Christians' at Wargrave church. Their website will soon have details of how to order a recording of the talk. The church was packed. We came away surprised at how upbeat he had been, rejecting the notion that we need to radically change our lifestyles, beyond reducing flying. He was emphatic that we have the technology to respond, we just need the political will. He observed that some people are now talking about the G2 - China and America who need to agree to reduce emissions so that the rest of the world falls in line. He highlighted some of China's efforts to address climate change, assuring us that they are taking it seriously, but quite reasonably expect action from the US. He emphasised our moral duty as humans and Christians to bring good news to the poor by bringing pressure on politicians to act and concluded with the story of Joseph, Pharoah's dream and the careful use of resources to survive climate disaster.

Monday, June 14, 2010


I've just received the following post from Greater Reading Environmental Network. Liz mentioned the film to me at church on Sunday but I'd forgotten to put it on the previous blog entry:

On Tuesday June 15 there will be a screening of H2Oil, a new film highlighting the impact of oil at the Alberta tar sands. The film will be shown at Reading Vue Cinema at 6.30 pm.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A snail in the holy city . . .

This morning Rosemary was distributing Tearfund's latest campaign cards, all of which had been signed before I'd finished clearing up after Exclaimers and helping with coffee duty. In Exclaimers we were looking at the Garden of Eden story, as in last week's service, but carrying that forward to the synoptic Gospel accounts of Jesus's own temptation (a redemptive mirror experience) and to the image of the Tree of Life in Revelation. The Garden of Eden story was the one that they reported back on in the service - perhaps if I'd had visuals for the others it would have helped, also I'd chosen Mark's sparse account of the temptation rather than the details of Matthew and Luke. But for their craft work they made trees out of twigs, modelling clay, paper etc: two said they were making the tree of knowledge while the other two opted for the tree of life. One called it "an 'ever-fruiting' tree instead of just 'evergreen'", and then beside it planted a 'tree of happiness' too. As we sat in church I noticed a snail shell among the drawings of fish in the river of the water of life 'I found it under the chair', my son explained. I naively imagined it was merely the shell, until they were stood at the front with their creations and a head popped out. There was much protesting when I insisted on taking it out to the garden.

Friday, June 11, 2010

RE-Inspired - ducks in Bangladesh

A number of the St John's congregation help out with RE-Inspired - a project in Reading whereby people from local churches go into schools to help teach aspects of the national curriculum on RE. A few months back, with my Reading Christian Ecology Link hat on, I invited one of their co-ordinators to a RCEL meeting to discuss weaving more creation care into the events offered by RE-Inspired. Within weeks they'd received an invitation from Whiteknights Primary School to talk to year 4s on how Christians respond to global issues and so got back in touch with us. The curriculum explanation specifically refers to Christian Aid so I took this as my starting point for talking about climate change.

The session was yesterday and the children were in three groups of twenty. I began with a Christian Aid envelope (which the majority of them recognised) and explained how the organisation is motivated by the great commandment to Love God and to Love our Neighbours as ourselves. Then I showed them a wonderful video from the Christian Aid website in which a batch of ducks was helping a farmer in Bangladesh to cope despite the flooding. I quizzed them about the commentary on the video leading into finding out what they knew about climate change. Following a very simplified explanation of cause and effects I asked if they knew what things they could do to reduce it, and suggested some more. Then I put up a picture of Noah's ark for them to identify and gave a brief version of the story, emphasising Noah's role as a man who listened to God and therefore looked after God's world and suggesting that the dove be seen as a symbol of hope that we can protect people and animals from climate change. They then made paper doves to hang in their rooms and some wrote on them suggestions of actions to limit climate change.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Refugee Week 14-20 June - "In this World"

As part of Refugee Week our church will be hosting a film night in partnership with Newtown Information and Reading Refugee Support Group:

"In this World"
6.30 pm Sunday 13th June
St John and St Stephen's Church, Orts Road

the story of two Afghan refugees in a camp in Peshawar, Pakistan in their attempt to reach their dream of a better life in Europe. It represents the hell experienced by hundreds of thousands of refugees every year.

Throughout the week there will be events celebrating the contribution refugees have made to life in Reading including an exhibition of photographs at Reading Central Library and a Cultural Evening at South Street - for more info see

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Environment Sunday

Today we marked Environment Sunday with a service celebrating biodiversity. The service began with an explanation of biodiversity. The theme was chosen because this is the UN International Year of Biodiversity – a crucial issue at a time when it is estimated that every six hours another species of plant, animal or micro-organism becomes extinct.

The first part of Adam and Eve’s story was read out from a beautifully illustrated children’s book by Jane Ray: The Garden of Eden. There followed reference to the valuable role of our own gardens in preserving biodiversity as well as bringing us closer to God. The congregation divided into groups to look at exhibits borrowed from Reading Museum – each was a case containing an animal that lives in an oak tree, ranging from squirrels and a jay to a stag beetle and many moths. The groups were invited to think about where their specimen belonged in the web of biodiversity and what it might reflect about its Creator.

At the confession the taking of forbidden fruit was compared with taking too much of the earth’s fruits today. Finally it was remembered that God has a habit of choosing those seemingly least fitted for God’s tasks, giving us hope that despite past form we humans can care for our planet: a meditation on Psalm 104 concluded with references to recent conservation successes. Meanwhile many of the children present had been fashioning wonderful creatures out of ‘magic maize’.

Only when I wrote out that summary did I realise I'd perhaps tried to cram a little too much in! The 'stuffed animals' caused concern among some of the adults, although they were happy to have moth boxes. The feedback afterwards was great as several had taken the accompanying museum notes to their groups and wanted to share some of the amazing facts they'd learnt. The children all sat around the storyteller as she read from Jane Ray's book (and images appeared on the screens for the adults), but otherwise most were very industriously colouring and making their own dragonflies, moths etc (I assume from the number of stag beetles that they were listening in with at least half an ear to the rest of the service), but we'd brought them right into the middle of the half circle in which we worship, beside the worship leader to make them feel more part of the service.

In case anyone would like to adapt prayers we used I'm copying the confession and intercessions at the foot of this post.

After coffee seventeen of the congregation set off on a gentle and sociable cycle ride concluding with a picnic beside the canal. A similar number joined them in shared cars for the picnic. I couldn't make this myself, hence the photo above is only of the departure, but apparently it was a 'really happy time' with two or three participants who hadn't cycled in years now considering more cycling. Below are a couple of photos taken after the service: people had a chance to look at the objects not shared in their group and these are a very small sample of the children's creativity.

Creator God we have not tended your garden as we should

We have let the rainforests be burnt down

We have used oil so fast that we are overheating our planet

Your poorest people and many of your creatures are suffering and will suffer more because we choose what is easy, what seems cheap, what we are told is fashionable

For all this we are sorry

Help us to find ways to live lightly

Teach us to look after your world


Creator God, we give thanks for your beautiful world. We thank you for the red kites flying in our skies where they did not fly thirty years ago. We thank you for the otters that have returned to the Thames and for the small blue butterflies returning to Warwickshire.

We lift up to you the wildlife trusts, Kew Gardens, the Natural History Museum and all those here and abroad who are working to protect the biodiversity of your planet, grant them inspiration, courage and strength.

We ask you to guide the leaders of our nation and of the world in all their responsibilities.

We lift into your loving arms all those who are weary and heavy laden – all those who need to feel the wind in their hair and the grass beneath their feet – lead them beside still waters metaphorical and real, we pray.

Exploring Genesis 1 and 'dominion'

Over the past few weeks Exclaimers have been continuing to look at Genesis 1, considering issues such as protecting fish stocks or encouraging birds to the garden as we looked at the appropriate section as well as picking up on related Biblical stories such as Jonah or God valuing even the birds. The last session I did was the creation of mankind. I hadn't expected to find discussing 'dominion' so difficult. Of course we talked about responsibility and Christ's model of lordship but the translation we were using had the words 'rule over' and I found it hard not to see that as a dangerous position. Last night I was leading a homegroup at Greyfriars church, having been asked to come to talk about eco-theology and eco-congregation. I included the Genesis 1 passage I'd been struggling with but didn't mention my own response. I was struck by one of the group who said that, for the first time, he'd suddenly noticed how positive that section was because he was used always to thinking of human beings wrecking the planet yet here was the message that God believed we were up to the job of looking after His creation.