Sunday 5 September 2010

Do we need a Green Charter?

This piece appeared in the September 2010 View from the Pew column which I write for Newslink, the diocesan magazine for Limerick & Killaloe.

What wonderful creatures honey-bees are!
One of the most popular stands at the Nenagh Show this year was the Beekeeping Association’s, where I watched bees at work through glass inside a sealed hive – what single-minded industry! We all love honey of course, and the finest candles are always made from beeswax, but even more important is the service bees give the rest of creation by pollinating flowers. I am concerned not to have seen a single honey-bee in my garden this year – not one - and I think their absence may account for the bad set on the broadbeans. I think I shall take a beekeeping course this winter, and set up a hive in the garden.

Wild bee colonies have been killed off, beekeepers tell us, by the Varroa mite, an alien species inadvertently introduced by human beings from overseas. This is just one of many ways in which human actions are damaging biodiversity – in other words, unravelling the wonderful web of life which God has created on this planet. God chooses to continuously create new life through the mechanism of evolution. Bees have evolved in an intricate three cornered dance of life with flowering plants and animals including ourselves. In this dance, plants provide pollen and nectar to sustain bees; bees in return pollinate the flowers so that they can produce fruit and seeds; these in turn sustain animals, which in wonderfully ingenious ways distribute seeds to start new generations of plants.

We thwart God’s purposes at our peril
God’s purpose in creating bees, I think, is that they should be good bees, playing their part in the dance to sustain the web of life, alongside all the other creatures he has created. In much the same way God created us to be good human beings. We are not bees, of course - we are made in God’s image, as souls with consciences. We are able to reflect on what is right and wrong, to plan for the future, in a sense to be co-creators of it with God. But with this privilege also comes our human susceptibility to those spiritual diseases which we call sin - spiritual diseases like greed and selfishness - which all too often lead us to damage God’s creation in a way other species do not, as well as hurting our fellow human beings. Jesus tells us that the path to eternal life is to love God and our neighbour too – how can we possibly love God if we do not also cherish and protect His creation?

The scarcity of honey-bees should shock us out of complacency. We thwart God’s purpose if we do not cherish and protect not only bees but all of God’s creation. Yet that is what we are doing, through our greedy over-exploitation of the worlds resources – particularly those of us in the rich industrialised world. Human beings cannot flourish while disrupting the web of life.

Our Christian obligation is surely to live as good human beings should, showing our love for God’s creation by caring for it, at the same time as we show love for our neighbours by seeking justice.

Towards a Green Charter
Because I feel this so strongly, I was delighted to see Les Bertram’s report elsewhere on a presentation given by Rev Elaine Murray to our Diocesan Synod about Cashel & Ossory’s ‘Green Charter’. Their prophetic work in this area inspired General Synod this year to ask the Church in Society Committee to propose a ‘Code of Environmental Good Practice’ to General Synod in 2011. All too often the business of synods is tedious and boring, and does not register with ordinary parishioners in the pews. But this is different – it reaches to the heart of our Christian calling, I think.

I feel it is important for people in this diocese to have a way to make their views known to inform the deliberations in General Synod. If you want to do so, email them to me at, and I will undertake to forward combined comments to the Committee for their consideration.

Acting in parishes now
But we need not and should not wait for the long drawn out formal synod process before taking action at parish level. Here are a few ideas:
  • Prayer is at the heart of our parish life. We might make a point of always including prayers for creation in formal intercessions, if we don’t already do so.
  • The Select Vestry might commission a group to carry out an audit of the parish’s carbon footprint and seek ways to reduce it. You will probably find that as well as reducing emissions you can save money on energy too, which should please the Treasurer!
  • Rural churches and graveyards are often a haven for wildlife - you might look for ways to protect and encourage this diversity of life. How about leaving part of the grass long to allow wildflowers to bloom, and asking a local beekeeper to place a hive there?
  • The Church of Ireland is a member of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, which every year produces resources for use in ‘Creation Time’ (1st September to 4th October). This year the theme is ‘Creation flourishing, a time for celebration and care’ and you can download the materials from You might weave these resources into your services, or join with other local churches in an ecumenical celebration.
  • You might consider finding a facilitator to run a short parish course on climate change or environmental awareness. I led the Omega Climate Change course over 6 nights as a successful Lenten programme last year, and could be persuaded to do so again.

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