Dr Gavin Merrifield led the Scientists in Congregations award project Wonder Days at Holy Trinity and Christchurch, Stalybridge. Here he discusses the impact it had on the church and the wider community.
Science is one of the strongest influences on our society and collective culture today. It can create much public good and can help inspire people to look up and beyond the day-to-day happenings around them. These are all things that we in the Church should be seeking to actively encourage and support.
But, unless we are scientists ourselves, how can we get involved with this? How can we encourage science and shape its future direction? And what does that look like when the Church – and religion more broadly – is often perceived as being in opposition to it?
At Believing Science we think that the best way to this is to do some science – get stuck in! Science is not just a bunch of facts and figures to be learnt. Rather, it is a way of thinking about things, of considering them but most of all of doing. Science is hands-on as well as brains-on and arguably should also be hearts-on. The excitement of doing science is as important as the practical outputs of it.
With the support of ECLAS we began an ongoing project called Wonder Days, aiming to put local churches at the heart of bringing good science to their communities, to inspire and to excite them. Host churches transformed themselves into family-focused science centres for the day. They provided a range of exciting experiments and workshops which covered everything from the small world of molecules and chemistry through to the largest with voyages through the cosmos in planetariums bought to the churches for the day. We worked specifically with churches in parts of the country that normally do not get access to this kind of event and opportunity.
These days were put on by a wonderful mix of external science communicators and scientists and by lots of enthusiastic volunteers from local churches and Christian organisations. Most of these volunteers were not scientists themselves, but were people who love their communities and could see the potential of how learning about science could help transform them for the better.
Each event saw hundreds of visitors attend. Our surveys of visitors showed that most were not from a church background. But they came to the Wonder Day and so came into a church building and met with actual Christians (many for the first time) who happened to be all buzzing about science. Quite the powerful and positive message to go home with!
The events themselves also carried a powerful message into the host churches as well. Science can be a sensitive topic in many churches and we often feel reluctant to discuss it. Wonder Days are a way of gently bringing those conversations to the fore and enthusing people that science belongs to the Church as much as it does anybody else. Preparing for and running these events allowed many conversations around science and its place in the Church and theology to develop. We hosted the press, bishops (including an Archbishop!) and local politicians, all of whom also got to see science and religion working side by side for the common good.
And for those in our churches who were already working or interested in the sciences it was a great opportunity to say that the Church values what you do, that we can support you and that you have something to contribute to us as well. Scientists belong in the Church as much as anyone else and we need to create more opportunities for them to be scientists there.
By becoming a positive voice for seeing science and faith working together we have been able to tap into other opportunities for science-religion conversations. We have hosted discussions with local schools and church youth groups, ran after-school drop-in events and even hosted a science-faith play at one church. Once you get going the opportunities God can bless us with through talking about science appear endless!
If any of this has interested or sparked some excitement in you, then get in touch for a conversation about hosting events in your own church. Believing Science has many plans for the future – more Wonder Days are just one of them – and we’d love to work with you about all of these and see what we can do together!
To watch a short video about Believing Science, click here.
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Scientists in Congregations strand video
An overview of our Scientists in Congregations work.