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Navigator Judith Allinson of Christian Ecology Link reports on the

London Churches Conference on the Environment: November 1998

This is a personal view of the conference. When people write the history of how the institutional church slowly wakes up to its reponsibility for caring for the natural world which God created, then I am sure this day will have a place. If you who are reading this actually attended the conference I would be very happy to receive comments.

Southwark Nov 98 Environment conference

The London Churches Conference on the Environment was held on Saturday 28th November 1998 in beautiful Southwark Cathedral, at the south bank of the River Thames, near London Bridge. Live simply banner displayed by John Miller. The church was well lit inside and the light coloured stone made graceful arches up to the ceiling. On the central pillars were colourful cloth banners on creation themes (organised by CEL member John Miller) with texts such as "Live simply that others may simply live". In the two side aisles there were colourful stalls set up by a variety of groups. In the seats in the centre sat us 200 people who had come to the conference. (including I discovered, at least twenty nine members of Christian Ecology Link (CEL).. it was good to meet members I had not met before). Near the door periodically a London plane leaf would swirl in and loop the loop before settling on the floor.. a reminder that it was autumn and a welcome token visitor from the living natural world.

The Bishop of London, Rt Rev Richard Chartres, in his magenta gown with his robust dynamic character chaired the meeting and said how pleased he was to see the colourful stalls down the aisles. The church was being used as it would have been used in Mediaeval times. We in the stalls - 200 people from the two London diocese plus a scattering of people from further afield waited expectantly.

The first speaker was David Bellamy. He had much to say in his speech (which was written so that it could be sent/give to the participants afterwards.) David Bellamy and Judith Allinson look at CEL's Biodiversity leafletHe spoke of the importance of caring for the environment. He showed his interest that all the major religions had care for the environment somewhere in their texts, and gave some examples from the New Testament, the Koran and the Old Testament. He talked of "The new holy cow of Sustainable Development ...." as "yet another scheme for the rich to get their hands on what little is left of the natural world and the traditional farmlands of the countries they would develop to their own ends." He would rather have a biodiverse sustainable future. He suggested churches could be centres of organic distribution. He had a dream.. that all church land could go organic.

Bishop Hugh Montefiore gave the most fiery, best delivered speech.. May be he has had more practice speaking in echoey cathedrals than the other two speakers. Here are some facts he quoted (I don't know his sources):
    "While talking about food, let's remember that all energy released comes from the sun. Four tenths of this is used in producing food, fibre, timber and other resources for mankind. All the millions of species of animals and plants have to live on the remaining six tenths. And world population is growing..."
    "30% of all UK energy is used in houses." e.g. heating, air conditioning,
   "The average m.p.g. for new cars in the UK is 36.7 . . . . 55m.pg. is quite feasible for new cars - if customers demand it. See that you do. "
    "In the UK paper consumption actually increased by 10% between 1990 and 1993." Because the BSE Inquiry has produced so much paper - over 1000 lever-arch files of original reports plus duplicates - engineers have had to strengthen the floor of Hercules House where the files are stored.

Prof Graham Ashworth gave a speech in the afternoon. He stressed how there are at least 50,000 congregations in Britain and it should be these 50,000 churches that should be leading the way in showing how to Care for God's world. He told people of the Eco Congregation scheme that would start next year

I had come down to London from Settle to put up the CEL display. Many people were pleased to take copies of the variety of leaflets we had brought. But there were many other stands too.

Robert Vint of REEP (Religious Education and Environment Project) had a table displaying the brand new book, hot from the press the previous day which he has edited, on religious education and the environment .. aimed at school (RE) teachers with worksheets to photocopy for teaching., £14.99.

A Rocha had a display of some of their nature conservation activities. The John Ray Initiative had a stand. The London Conservation Unit had a stand, and Southwark Agenda21 and Traidcraft and several other groups had stands.

Andrew Pearson (left) with his Grove  book MAKING CREATION VISIBLE

There were twenty different workshops held in both the morning and the afternoon sessions. Rev Andrew Pearson of Leeds ran a workshop on Worship. How I wish I could have attended all of them.. I was occupied with the CEL stand in the morning. In the afternoon I attended the workshop given by Rev David Bookless on Christian Responsibility for Wildlife. It wasn't really a workshop in the sense of being an occasion for discussion and a way to get to know people. Rather it was a minitalk with a mini-slideshow appended, in more intimate conditions, and a maxi-plug for A Rocha. However he gave a very good talk on a biblical approach to creation and has a structure for this talk so he can pull together ideas in the bible into five categories .. and so get through his talk in a very short time. (Rather than just quoting random texts in the bible referring to the natural world). Having typed in his name in the Events Section of the CEL Web site, I was pleased to meet him in person. Margaret Barker, David Bellamy, Debbie Jones, Graham Ashworth

At 3pm we had a Guest panel of four people: David Bellamy, Graham Ashworth, Debbie Jones (former Editor of the Catholic Herald) and Margaret Barker (President of the Society for Old Testament Study). The panel was chaired by Chris Brice, one of the organisers of the conference, and he read out question collected from the conference participants. Prof David Goode of the London Ecology Unit asked something to the effect of "Will the churches be advising the New Lord Mayor of London once appointed, e.g. on conservation matters?" Someone asked about the church and the Millennium Dome,

Chris Brice told everyone about the London Churches Environment Audit.. a method of doing an audit.. a sample page was included in our conference folder. If you would like a copy of this do e-mail him.

I close with a point the Bishop of London made at the beginning: We are like the first class passengers in the Titanic who sat listening to the Palm Court Orchestra whilst the rest of the ship was beginning to sink… We really do need to wake up and hurry.

Southwark Conf on Environment.  Bishop Hugh Montefiore is about to speak

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