Rachel is the Environmental Coordinator for the Anglican Church of Southern Africa which includes South Africa, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, Angola and Mozambique. She also coordinates the Green Anglicans movement, is secretary to the Anglican Communion Environmental Network and sits on the steering group for the Season of Creation.
When Rachel first heard about Season of Creation, she was deeply struck by the important focus on the spiritual and theological underpinnings of environmental action.
“Something about Season of Creation really hit me,” shares Rachel. “Often you find people in churches start with the actions rather than starting with spirituality. So you end up with a church where they've got a lovely recycling bin or they've done something nice to their garden, but they're preaching exactly the same. I really feel that we've got to start with what people are preaching and praying about, and then the actions will follow. So I quite liked the whole Season of Creation idea.”
Creation-centred collaboration drives the movementAfter a team of people successfully created and delivered liturgical materials for the first Season of Creation in the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, these prayers and sermons were officially authorised by the Church’s Provincial Synod for wider use. Spurred on by this positive response, Rachel made contact with the Global Catholic Climate Movement and the World Council of Churches. The Lutheran World Federation and other partner organisations also came on board.
“We've been working together since then, and this is now about the fourth year we are promoting the Season of Creation,” says Rachel excitedly. “We realised it was also really important that we get more of the evangelical church voice as part of this movement. So we made contact with A Rocha and Lausanne and are really delighted to have had brilliant input from people like Dave Bookless and Ed Brown. This is a really important thing that we can collaborate on and I'm really excited about the possibility of people coming together.”
The history of the Season of Creation has deep roots in Orthodox traditions, which demonstrate beautiful expressions of creation-centred Christianity even to this day.
“The Coptic Church in Ethiopia, for example, has sacred forests,” shares Rachel. “Around each church, you'll see little pockets of ancient trees. People believe that you should actually pray in the shrove of trees as you come to church and that's part of their worship.”
Considering the great split between Eastern Orthodox and Western Roman Catholic Churches in the 11th Century, this modern day embrace of the Season of Creation may also be helping to bridge these long-held divides.
“I feel like, because Season of Creation initially came from the Orthodox Church, as well as uniting all of our Western denominations, it's in some way beginning to unite the Eastern Church and the Western Church as well,” says Rachel. “We come together as one world, one planet, one faith, and we've really experienced a lot of blessing in this. Somehow the differences seem to fall away when you realise what threat our big planet is under.”
Rachel has also seen growing collaboration between different organisations within the Season of Creation movement, generously sharing resources and ideas.
“I work with Angola and Mozambique, and we're always struggling for materials that are Portuguese-based,” says Rachel. “So it was really exciting to get involved with Renew Our World Brazil - their Season of Creation materials are fantastic!
“A couple of years ago, the Lusitanian Church in Portugal embraced the Season of Creation. They produced materials in Portuguese and we were able to share that with Angola and Mozambique - and Brazil. Now we're getting materials from Brazil and sending them to Portugal! So it's actually really nice to see the cross-fertilisation.”
What’s also been encouraging to see is the willingness of different groups to sacrifice their individual identity in order for this creation care movement to grow.
“I was very struck last year by the image of a river,” shares Rachel. “When you've got lots of little rivers flowing, each one has its own name. So I know the name of each little river, but each one is too small to really make any difference. It can't really change things. It definitely can't move mountains. But when those smaller rivers come together and flow into a major river like the Amazon or the Ganges, that river can then really change things. It can begin to wear away rock. It can begin to move mountains. It can have a huge power, but those smaller rivers need to be willing to lose their names - we no longer remember the names of the little rivers because they ended as the bigger river.
“I think one of the mistakes we make in the environmental movement and as churches is that we want to hold onto our river. We’ll say, “Oh, this is a Green Anglicans project!” And, “I need to make sure that I get the credit for it!” And that kills things. But what I'm seeing with the Season of Creation is we're all coming together into this river. As a Season of Creation river, we're all bringing our little bit and we're saying, "It's not about my river. What can I contribute to this river?" That's why it's got the power because people and organisations have been willing to lose their names and to flow into the big river.”
The world embraces the Season of CreationFrom the clergy to the youth, more and more churches across the world have been embracing this growing ecumenical movement. Initially, the focus was on recruiting key influencers who would be able to share the message of creation care to the masses.
“The first couple of years were about getting the important religious leaders on board,” says Rachel. “So we had messages from the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope. The initial focus was to reach the clergy and try and get them to preach about creation every Sunday of the Season. That's really happening now.”
While some institutions have been slower in officially adopting the Season of Creation, it is creeping further across the globe, with the top bishops of the Episcopal and Lutheran Churches in America preparing meditations for this year.
“I also have a colleague from Canada who was a lone voice crying in the wilderness for a long time. He was very passionate about Season of Creation, but said nobody else was interested. He just faithfully modelled it and prepared his four talks and his music every year. Eventually he brought it to his Synod and they agreed that the Anglican Church of Canada would adopt it! This year there's loads of stuff all over their website and it's really getting into those churches!
“So I think the message from that is just to be what you feel God is calling you to be in your small corner. You can model the change and then slowly, slowly, slowly, bigger change begins. More and more, we begin to feel like we're part of a movement.”
In 2020, the focus is on engaging young people in practical environmental campaigns.
“Now the clergy is preaching on creation, the second focus is what we do during the week. That's where we want to get young people planting trees, being activists and campaigning. So this year we tried to be a bit more intentional about getting young voices on board. The Opening Service on the 1st of September was a youth one, and on the 25th of September for World Day of Climate Action, we're going to have a Youth Webinar with voices from around the globe and different denominations who are involved in activism.”
This movement of younger Christians celebrating the Season of Creation is certainly gaining traction.
“I remember speaking to a young person about Season of Creation,” shares Rachel, “And they were like, "Oh, did we not always have Season of Creation?" It was funny because it's still quite recent, but things become tradition quite fast in churches. That moment was really encouraging because it felt like Season of Creation was getting into the DNA of the church. It was exciting because it felt sort of like we have a season of Christmas when we talk about the birth of Jesus, we have a season of Pentecost when we talk about the Holy Spirit and we have a season of creation when we talk about God, the Creator. I mean, why wouldn't we?!”
Looking forward with prayerA key hope for the Season of Creation is that the theology of creation care continues to settle ever deeper into the hearts of Christians across the world.
“We have to continue to change the DNA of the church,” asserts Rachel. “I distinctly remember another young person saying, “We used to go to church and now we are church.” I think that's very profound. We're moving from being spectators going to church to actually feeling like we are church. We’re part of a movement. We belong. We've got things we can do.
“We can't just change little actions here or there. We've got to really help people understand that we worship God, we serve our neighbours and we care for creation - those are the things that we're called to do.
“And so my prayers for this Season of Creation and for the future are that on a local basis - in small towns and villages and cities around the globe - people would really be preaching and praying about what the Bible tells us about creation. For instance, there are 722 verses in the Bible that talk about water. Why then do we not protect water?
“This Season of Creation, I also pray that the message of creation care is particularly going out to evangelical Christians. And my greatest prayer is this: that in hundreds of thousands of places around the globe, if people can, they will open their Bibles during the Season of Creation, look at what God is telling us through the Scriptures, preach about it, pray about it, and catch the call to care for creation.”
We’re certainly praying these prayers, too.
Keen to hear what churches in Southern Africa are doing to celebrate the 2020 Season of Creation? Or what a justice-filled vision of Jubilee might actually look like? Keep your eyes peeled for our next blog post!