Care of the environment as mission

The Rt Revd Dr Richard Cheetham

The Rt Revd Dr Richard Cheetham, ECLAS Co-Director for Global Engagement and former Bishop of Kingston, reflects on ECLAS’s online Climate Cathedral exhibition.

I was very pleased indeed that the Gaia exhibition was in Southwark Cathedral in October 2022. It coincided with the time of my farewell service after 20 fascinating years as Bishop of Kingston in the Diocese of Southwark. Just a couple of weeks earlier I was privileged to speak at the Gaia launch event. The vast slowly spinning globe suspended high in the nave of the Cathedral was a powerful reminder that the Church is here to serve the amazing world which God has created. Southwark is a vibrant and diverse diocese and, in many ways, is a microcosm of the wider world with people from many different places and cultures. So, the big, global issues such as our care of the environment and climate change were always present. This was powerfully reinforced by the presence of the Gaia exhibition in the Cathedral.

I was the lead bishop on the environment in the Diocese, as well as serving on the Church of England’s Environment Working Group. I always saw this as a key part of my ministry as a bishop. The proper understanding and care of the environment is one of the five Anglican ‘marks of mission’ which try to express the key aims of the worldwide Anglican Church, which in turn reflect our understanding of the world and cosmos in the light of Christian faith.

For me, a vital understanding of Christian faith is that God’s creative and redemptive love embraces not only humankind, but all life and creation. There are plenty of passages in the Bible which point to this cosmic view of God’s love. For example, in Colossians chapter one, we read that in Christ all things in heaven and on earth were created, and that through Christ, God was reconciling all things whether on earth or in heaven. Often we can reduce our view of life and Christian faith to a deeply anthropocentric one in which the only thing that matters is humankind. The Christian faith does indeed say that humankind matters profoundly, but it also has a much wider embrace for God’s love.

I was a teenager at the time of the first moon landing in 1969. The images of earth taken from space made a powerful impression. Here was our ‘island home’ in the midst of the cosmos, on which all life was dependent. The need to live in a sustainable and just way was very clear. Since then the global population has not far off trebled and most people are much more aware of the massive loss of biodiversity and the major impact of human activity on climate change. This affects everyone and all life on earth and is one of the biggest issues of our time. It really does matter how we respond and engage in every part of the planet.

This virtual tour of the Gaia exhibition in Southwark Cathedral gives a superb resource to help us understand the issues and help us reflect on how we should be responding and living. There are insights and contributions from scientists and theologians from several different contexts and cultures. They are both informative and challenging. A global challenge needs a global perspective in which many voices and views engage with one another in a constructive and challenging way to promote a response which is both well informed scientifically, and theologically and spiritually rooted in a deep vision of God’s love for all creation. The ‘Equipping Christian Leadership in an Age of Science’ project is firmly committed to developing this global outlook for science-engaged theology.

I am sure this Gaia virtual tour with all the varied scientific and theological contributions from many perspectives will be an inspirational tool to help us all respond well to this most pressing issue of our time.

To view ECLAS Climate Cathedral, please click here.



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