Spiritual Change in a Time of Climate Crisis
How can local churches respond to the mounting climate crisis? What might our ecological futures look like? Do we need a change of heart as well as behaviour?
In a short sermon series (July 18, September 5th & October 31st), St Peter’s is exploring Christian responses to the ecological and climate crisis.
The first sermon (July 18th) by Revd Vanessa Elston, pioneer curate at St Anne and All Saints Church in Lambeth, can be read here.
St Peter’s also spoke with Vanessa in early July. You can read the conversation below.
St Peter’s: What inspired your ecological thinking?
Vanessa Elston: A childhood playing unsupervised outside and summers immersed in nature in Devon, Cornwall and Wales. I had a little nature club with friends, and love bird-watching. At school, I had a teacher who talked to us about creation and our connection to nature. Growing up, I started to question why industrialisation and endless economic growth were always seen as an unequivocal good. Before becoming ordained, I worked in permaculture and organic food, so it’s been a journey.
St Peter’s: How does the Bible talk to us about the environment?
Vanessa Elston: God is the creator – that’s the biggie! God has gifted us this wonderful creation, earth, and we need to be in right relation with it. It isn’t simply ‘stuff’ or a resource to plunder. Jesus shows us how connected we are to each other, his teachings are all about being in right relation with everything around us.
St Peter’s: How did we get so disconnected from nature?
Vanessa Elston: It’s been a long journey, going back to the rupture in the Garden of Eden. We started to see ourselves as God, instead of as part of God’s sacred creation. With the onset of modernity, we began to lose our sense of living in harmony with all creation. We started to see ourselves as somehow separate from nature, and above it, and we lost that sense of sacred mystery and humility.
St Peter’s: How has the pandemic changed our outlook?
Vanessa Elston: I think the pandemic is a warning sign that we are seriously out of sync with God’s creation. But there is a huge cultural shift taking place. People are starting to ask: what is a good life? Is a good life really about constantly competing with each other and all the endless consumption? Many of us also want to see a fairer world—our own human happiness depends on it.
St Peter’s: What can the congregation of St Peter’s do to help us realign our relationship with nature?
Vanessa Elston: The journey must start from within, and it is a personal journey for everyone. We’ve all grown up immersed in this materialistic mindset and don’t even realise how much it influences us. One of the first things a church can do is to create space for everyone to explore this area, and to make that interior journey through reading and prayer groups.
We need to learn to live in a way that is more rooted, more connected to the place and land we are in. That means ultimately more locally grown food, more local resources, being more self-reliant. Seeing the bigger picture and how everything is connected is important. Then the deep changes to our global economic models and approach to development will flow from that. We can’t do this all ourselves of course; our leaders have to step up. At the end of the day this is really about human happiness.
St Peter’s: Can you recommend any resources to start our journey?
Vanessa Elston: ‘This?’ by Susan Sayers is a short, simple introduction and a good place to start. Ruth Valerio’s ‘Saying Yes to Life’ is excellent on the Christian perspective and how church around the world are responding. ‘The Earth’s Cries Glory’, by Steven Shakespeare has daily prayers to help us reconnect with nature. Lastly, I’d recommend Pope Francis’s papal cyclical ‘Care for our Common Good’, which focuses on climate change.