Green Christian's "Re-imagining the Promised Land", an Online Festival from 23-25 October celebrated and explored the power of imagination.
Combining poetry and debate, as well as stories of political activism and practical action, Green Christian's free Online Festival ranged widely, whilst focussing throughout on bringing faith, hope and expert insight to bear on the sober declaration of Bishop James Jones in his introductory talk:
"What we are now doing to the earth .... is nothing short of the Earthing of Hell ... By living in the self-centred way that we are, we are gradually turning the Earth to waste. We are polluting the atmosphere, poisoning the rivers and the oceans, contaminating the land; we are earthing Hell."
Imaginative projects, alongside political engagement, the work of groups such as Extinction Rebellion and Christian Climate Action, and deep spiritual commitment, modelling the change we want to see, was a strong theme from all speakers.
Environmentalist and Green Business guru, Sir Jonathon Porritt, stressed the need for political engagement and protest:
"All the solutions we need to address today's climate emergency already exist. But we are close to passing 'the point of no return'. What's lacking is political will — and the solution to that is also in our own hands."
His co-panellist Cleo Lake, (Green Councillor, former Lord Mayor of Bristol) spoke passionately of how climate justice was social justice, and of the need for a radical change in society. Barrister Melanie Nazareth, from Christian Climate Action, described the importance of holding government to account, pointing out their continuing support for fossil fuel companies was clearly incompatible with their aim of net zero carbon by 2050. Radical changes are needed; different lifestyles would emerge, ways of living that could be seen as different, or even better, than what we have now.
On Saturday morning, Revd Dr Frances Ward, former Dean of St Edmundsbury Cathedral, shared with us how Christian spiritualities of "unknowing" can set us free to commit radically to this present moment, and to find the Promised Land in the here and now.
Later on Saturday, Bridget MacKenzie, the founder of Climate Museum UK, (https://climatemuseumuk.org ) also talked about the importance of allowing people space to think and imagine how life could be better and different, particularly children and young families who will inhabit a very different future.
And co-presenting with her, Rob Hopkins, of the Transition Town movement (https://transitionnetwork.org ), emphasised the importance of spaces and places, practices and pacts, to enable imaginative thought:
"Imagination is central to empathy, to creating better lives, to envisioning and then enacting a future. If there was ever a time when we needed that ability, it is now." Rob Hopkins (www.RobHopkins.net)
Yet imagination needs nurturing and for many, the space to imagine is a luxury, lost in the busyness and stress of modern life. So, a recurrent theme throughout the Festival was the need to speak out to our politicians — and Christians have a big part to play in this — to support Universal Basic Income, for example, and to support the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill. (https://www.ceebill.uk/campaign)
Prof Rebecca Willis ( https://www.rebeccawillis.co.uk/), expert lead of Climate Assembly UK, said individual actions to green our lives were important, but without political engagement, and protest, change would not happen fast enough. This was echoed by Rachel Mander, the Faith Communities engagement officer of Hope for the Future www.hftf.org.uk ; she advocated developing positive relationships with your MP by doing research into their interests and striking up positive relationships. Green Christian member Geoff Stratford described how his commitment to engage politically on climate change led to him getting involved in local politics, setting up the Lincoln Climate Commission and drafting City of Lincoln's 'Climate and Environment Emergency Declaration' City as well. Rail engineer and Green Christian member Jenny Cooke spoke of the need to develop a sustainable transport network — and was inundated of course with questions about HS2, and the price of rail fares.
Later on Saturday the Festival provided poetry and comment from ecopoets Caleb Parkin (https://couldbethemoon.co.uk/ ) and Carrie Etter ( https://www.bathspa.ac.uk/our-people/carrie-etter/ ), and on Sunday participants were inspired by a profound reflection from Professor Sir Ghillean Prance, the world renowned ethnobotanist and expert on the Amazonian rainforest, former Director of Kew Gardens, and Green Christian patron.
A sharing of comments and lively debate often took place in the chat. With openness and engagement encouraged, sharing of ideas and enthusiasms flourished. This blossomed fully in the final session when participants were given two minutes to speak 'centre screen' about projects they had initiated or were taking part in.
Throughout, the festival, hearts and souls were encouraged and uplifted by sensitive worship and prayer. Musicians from Resound ( http://www.resoundworship.org ) provided beautiful songs, alongside meditations from Green Christian chaplains and others.
The festival was a first for Green Christian and sets a benchmark for future festivals. New people joined us, current members took part from around the UK and favourable comments have been pouring in on social media. Most sessions were recorded and are available on Green Christian's website and YouTube channel.
"This Festival has been an exciting new venture for Green Christian. Three months in the planning, it came together beautifully, with over 200 attendees and world-class speakers. We are thrilled that our mission and ministry was able to reach so many." Deborah Tomkins, Green Christian Co-Chair.
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