Hello everyone, and bienvenu au France (welcome to France) for this week’s video.
Behind me is the picturesque village of St. Pardoux La Riviere in the Perigord region of France. I’m recording this week from my parent’s balcony. They have lived here for the last 15 years and this is the first time we’ve seen them in two years due to COVID. We are about 5 miles from one of the French sections of the Camino de Compostela. In the medieval period, this was a major route for pilgrims making their way to the shrine of St. James at Santiago de Compostela in Spain. In the last few years there has been a renewed interest in pilgrimage. Not just the Camino here and in Spain, but in Britain as well. In our own diocese, there are routes along the Golden Valley, the St. Thomas Way from Swansea to our own Cathedral, which has been a pilgrimage destination for centuries.
Psalm 84 describes as blessed, those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. Our spiritual journey finds easy parallels in the ups and downs of the walking pilgrim. Psalm 84 reflects on the transforming power of adversity as well as the joys of worship which can lift us into a consciously felt presence of God.
A few weeks ago, I prayed for a group of pilgrims setting off on a journey across the country to the COP26 conference in Glasgow. They were carrying a ginkgo tree with them as a symbol of hope in the enduring power of God’s creation. These trees have been around since the days of the dinosaurs. Pilgrimages often have a place of hope as their destination. For medieval pilgrims, it was the place of repose of a saint, whose intercessions were regarded as especially efficacious. Many of the current generation of pilgrims are not necessarily driven by Christian faith, but the destination is nonetheless a place of hope. COP26 is without doubt one of the most significant international gatherings of the last few years. Commitments made (or not made) here will determine whether or not we can avoid the worst effects of global warming.
The fifth of the Anglican five marks of mission is to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth. The second command to humanity in Genesis 1: 28 is to be good stewards of the earth. Levitical commands about agriculture talk about the importance of fallow periods for the land as part of a rhythm of rest and work. This particular mark of mission finds an easy resonance with our culture in this time of ecological crisis. Living as we do in this beautiful part of the world, with so many involved in farming, we know how important it is to work with the grain of nature rather than against it. It is a proper part of our individual discipleship that we tread lightly, minimising our personal environmental impact as best we can. Some may say these actions don’t make much difference, but cumulatively they do. For example, if everyone only boiled enough water in their kettles for the need of the moment, we could close two power stations!
It is understandable where we live in a country that largely dismisses Christian faith, that we emphasise a mark of mission that finds an easy resonance with our contemporaries. It is right, good and faithful that we are part of such a campaign. However, simple political activism isn’t going to be quite enough. If climate change efforts are to be truly effective it will require a change of the heart. As I sat in the queue to get off the ferry to come over here, I was struck by the proportion of vehicles that were SUVs. These are apparently the most popular type of new cars. Unfortunately, this growth, in the short term at least, will more than cancel out the gains in carbon emissions from electric cars. Buying these things is about individual choice and there are some good reasons one might need to buy one and others which definitely aren’t.
It's here that, unpopular though they may be, we mustn’t forget the first two marks of mission: to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom and to teach, baptise and nurture new believers. If behaviour is to change, hearts need to change to facilitate it. There is a call to safeguard the earth and play our part in environmental stewardship. It is part of our discipleship. But there is an equally (some might argue more) important call to live and proclaim the gospel in such a way that individuals come to living faith in Christ. Political campaigning will only take you so far. Much that makes life miserable in our lives has nothing to do with law and regulation, and a lot to do with the way we treat each other, the decisions we make and the inner character that motivates those decisions. That is the province of the Gospel, the transformation of society one life at a time.
I shall certainly be praying for a good outcome to COP 26, and I encourage you to do the same. But I shall also be praying for people to come to living faith in Christ. Changed hearts lead to changed behaviour which leads to a world that bit by bit looks like the kingdom of God.