Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Christian Ecology Link annual conference

Jerry and Sue Barr have sent me this report of the CEL Conference on Transition Towns last Saturday:

"An inspiring conference on Saturday 7th November brought like minded Christians together from across the country at St Mary's Church in Ottery St Mary, Devon. Appropriately, most travelled by train: we were met at Exeter St David’s and bussed to the venue in the Parish church, a beautiful but chilly mediaeval building with ambitions to go carbon neutral in the near future - a challenge indeed!

Our first speaker was Ben Brangwyn, a co-founder of the Transition Town movement and a Devon Hi-Tec businessman. He is not a churchgoer but confessed to having been inspired by what he heard from the faith community at the recent climate change conference in Southwark Cathedral: “This is not what I have been used to hearing from the church”. He went on to make reference to the recent report by the NGO ‘Global Witness’ on the impending global energy supply shock and the inevitable increase in energy poverty that will follow. “Government just hasn’t got it,” and “continues to live in the fantasy land of everlasting porridge,” in the face of the twin challenges of peak oil (and the lack of an energy descent action plan) and climate change. Ben used as an example the fragility of the supermarket stock and supply system and the potential impact on unprepared local communities. By contrast Transition Towns are working together to increase resilience in the face of current fossil fuel dependency and build communities for the future. He suggested that people of faith are in a position to shift the usual “green gloom and doom” scenario from crisis to opportunity by “taking the shiny paper off where we are now” and working together to make a difference. “To do it alone is too little, to wait on Government will be too late”. We heard more of the initiatives developing in Transition Totnes through re-skilling, joint purchase of solar and PV panels, the establishing of a local energy company and even garden and pig sharing!

The Rev. Prof. Tim Gorringe followed with a theological reflection on the Transition movement and the rethinking of what it is to be God’s people. He referred to the ‘Transition Handbook’ as “being so unbelievably positive and not about frightening people into change”. The church is constantly in the process of change and the church’s role in Transition is prophetic with all of humanity being called to share in the shaping of God’s world.

The Ottery St Mary team shared their experiences in setting up ‘Sustainable Ottery’ over a period of two years: they have recently held their big launch event. In place are a number of working groups embracing a range of activities from local energy production to job generation, including a “grow it, cook it, eat it” programme. The churches have been central to ‘Sustainable Ottery’ and the conference workshop venues were at Methodist, URC and Salvation Army premises.

A question and answer session chaired by Brother Samuel, a Franciscan from nearby Hilfield Friary, reflected the frustration of many of those present in attempting to get their local church involved in Transition. There were interesting responses including the suggestion that the church needs "to transition" itself and is challenged to engage more with the wider community. Among the panel members was Martyn Goss, the Environmental Officer for the Exeter Diocese. His workshop on engaging the church with the Transition movement was particularly helpful and encouraging.

The day ended with inspiring worship in St Mary's before delegates were bussed to the station to journey back to all corners of the UK full of carrot cake, hope and enthusiasm."

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