SEVERAL HUNDRED people took the long trek west of Hobart to the Styx Valley, an area of primal forest featuring majestic gum trees that were old when Captain Cook sailed up Australia’s eastern coast and for several years the focal point in the forestry debate in Tasmania.
Those making this journey included church goers, forest workers and conservationists. They gathered in the midst of the forest and forestry activity to worship, to lament, to pray for the forest, for animals and people and to commit to share in Earth’s healing and to be more responsible in our use of forest resources.
As a Christian I felt led to be part of the planning and leadership group for this forest liturgy and continue to see such involvement in conservation as part of my calling to ministry.
I believe that our environment is one of the crucial issues facing humanity in the 21st century and that Christians have a unique contribution to make to this discussion and even more so, are called as followers of Christ to that area of ministry.
Ecotheology is a relatively new word referring to the discipline broadly concerned with the intersection of faith and ecology.
This idea is not new. The Hebrew and Christian scriptures are full of passages concerned with this.
Throughout the history of the Christian church there have been those such as the ancient Celtic saints, St Francis of Assisi and Hildegard of Bingen for whom nature formed a crucial aspect of their faith.
The Bible clearly stating that the world is God’s creation, is loved by God and that the saving activity of Jesus embraces all creation.
However, Christians have largely regarded the non-human world as either the neutral and incidental stage for the drama of the God/human relationship, or a burden to be exploited and escaped from.
The Bible teaches that humans are part of a balanced web of creation united in Christ and given dominion over Earth.
But the dominion we are called to is the dominion exercised by Christ; sacrificial servanthood.
We are called to share with all creation in the worship of God and to be open to God revealed and made present to us through nature.
Earth has a strong place within our prayer and worship and with our skills and tools in this area the church has much to offer those active in conservation to enable expression of the spiritual aspects of their engagement and to sustain people in action.
More than just being good members of the Earth community, as followers of Christ we are called to share in the work of caring for and healing Earth; to be involved in environmentalism through practical action and political engagement.
We are creatures called forth from Earth and we are disciples of Christ called to care for Earth.
Rev Paul Chalson is a Uniting Church minister in Tasmania and is completing doctoral studies in ecology and worship.
Photo : Rev Paul Chalson relaxing on the summit of Mt Anne, Tasmania. Photo by Grant Finlay