Inspired by Young people, Derek Estill, Moderator of the United Reformed Church General Assembly, encourages care for God’s environment, and finds optimism amid the challenges of this spring
As we work our way through Lent, building up to Easter and then Pentecost, our hearts and minds can begin to feel release from the dark, very wet days of winter. This year, it is also particularly difficult to see beyond the devastation caused by floods in so many parts of our country, with houses and businesses destroyed. It is difficult also to see beyond our concerns about the spread of the coronavirus. However, we must not forget that spring is coming, and the official first day of Spring, 21 March, will soon be here. Having said that, climate change continues to make itself felt and we are reminded of the mess we are making of God’s wonderful planet, earth. It is therefore most important to make sure our hearts and minds are focused on embracing, valuing and nurturing all that God has given us.
Lots of our churches are doing their best to work out what they need to do to become an Eco Church. This is not just to do with the buildings. Church is us – the people of the congregation, as well as others that use our buildings and those we reach out to. The church I am a member of has recently done an audit using the A Rocha charity’s questionnaire (download link), to find out how we measure up for the various awards that can be achieved (bronze, silver and gold). The process of doing the questionnaire has meant looking at the whole situation within ourselves, as well as out and about in the community in which our churches are set, and thinking about our relationships with the local neighbourhood and the world.
Clearly, how we love and care for God’s creation is reflected in the way we worship, our social occasions and the various activities we arrange, take part in and promote. These are interconnected and important in raising awareness of the effect we have on all our surroundings, whether that is bricks and mortar or people and other things that make up our home here on planet earth. For me, all this is summed up in that wonderfully simple but universally applicable commandment given to us by Jesus to love one another in everything we say and do in our lives.
Churches across the country are increasingly connecting the dots and seeing the bigger picture that emerges. Young people, with their energy and enthusiasm, want to get to grips with big issues to make changes. It is a privilege, a challenge and a revelation to recognise this and join in.
Easter is symbolised in many different ways but principally points to new life – life that is so full of energy and promise, overcoming difficulties. Such life can put paid to the lack of care and attention we human beings fall foul of, by being unaware of the consequences of what we do and say.
The energy and enthusiasm that comes from young people seems to me God-given. We all have a responsibility and a duty to embrace it. The eco movement can and does help us see what we must do to nurture and encourage such optimism for all of God’s creation, in all its diversity. The pictures below show projects I am aware of that have done just that. The young people pictured come from various backgrounds and faiths, or no faith, but all care and want to make a difference to how we relate to each other and to the world around us.
Many of our congregations are actively engaging with these thoughts and opportunities which is great. Very often, this work reaches out to those who are not church members and therefore helps to build connections and understanding, leading on to friendships and the opportunity to live out that simple, powerful and all-embracing commandment I referred to earlier.
I am involved in Interfaith work and have recently taken part in a United Reformed Church and Baptist interfaith group that looked at taking first steps towards meeting neighbours who may be following different faiths or none. We swapped stories, looked at common experiences and talked about what could help us connect while standing firmly and confidently in our own faith and building up good relationships with others from different ones or none.
There is much to celebrate, to connect with and to build on for the future which helps us to share our Christian values in confident and positive ways with integrity, gentleness and love. Let us share based on and energised by the example that the life of Jesus gave, and constantly gives, to us all.
New life and new ways of living, love for all on God’s earth and caring for and enjoying God’s wonderful creation should be at the centre of our lives and the motivating force we experience as springtime bursts forth. I pray therefore that as we move through Lent, we take the time to think about all these things, then, at Easter and Pentecost, put these thoughts into action by celebrating the baptism, death and resurrection of Jesus, and the new life he promises in all its abundance. Jesus changes hearts and minds and is freely available for us all.
Derek Estill, March 2020