A reflection by by Marian Pallister
A ‘gathering’ in Oban, that west coast gateway to the isles, is usually tartan clad and rich in pipes and Gaelic. But one Saturday in September, an Argyll Gathering of a different kind took place at Glencruitten House high in the hills above Oban, hosted by Eco Congregation Scotland.
The vision of the organisers and the delegates was for ‘a Scotland that cares for creation now and forever’.
Eco Congregation Scotland is an independent charity working with all denominations. The Gathering aimed to encourage parishes in Northern Argyll to work for change.
These aims echo Pope Francis’s well-received encyclical Laudato Si’, the 2015 document (http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html ) about care for our common home. It reminds us that we are stewards of this earth and that our interconnectedness means our actions impact on our neighbours.
And our neighbours, of course, live in an Africa beset by more and more frequent droughts, in a Bangladesh more victim than ever of catastrophic landslips and floods, and in a Perth or an Appleby where rescue by boat is becoming a regular feature of life as the Tay and the Eden sweep through homes.
Where I live in Mid Argyll, we can no longer grow the crops common 50 years ago because the land has become too wet. Climate change is as responsible for the lack of barley and potatoes in Argyll as it is for the starving child in Ethiopia.
And Eco Congregation Scotland wants us to do something about it.
For Catholics, this is not a new message. In 1971 Pope Paul VI said ‘Due to an ill-considered exploitation of nature, humanity runs the risk of destroying it and becoming in turn a victim of this degradation.’ The UN at the time was talking about an ecological disaster. Without moral and social progress, Pope Paul VI said, industrial and scientific advances would ‘definitively turn against man’.
Fast forward to Saint John Paul II’s first encyclical warning that we seemed to see the natural environment as something to use and abuse. Now Pope Francis wants a dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet, reminding us that ‘… the urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change’.
The Eco Congregation movement has perhaps gained a false image of being about the greening of church buildings – little more than swapping oil-fired central heating that in many ways cost the earth for air-to-air heat pumps that make congregations more comfortable and contribute to saving the planet.
But while it is good to tick the eco-friendly church box, that is far from the true aims of the charity. It wants us all to green up.
Frances Rayner of SCIAF and John Seenan of Justice and Peace Scotland, both now on the board of the charity, would agree that for a parish to register as an Eco congregation is a good first influential move.
But Adrian Shaw from the Church of Scotland took delegates beyond the church buildings, reminding us of the momentum gained at the CoP21 conference in Paris and the hope provided by the Scottish Climate Change Act. We can’t leave it to governments - we must all act in a responsible and generous way to bring about the changes that can cut our carbon footprint.
I took SCIAF’s ‘Caring for our common home’
booklet to the Gathering. It’s a document that aims to help us ‘bring Laudato Si’ to life in our parish’. It’s a starting place, as is filling in a SCIAF campaign postcard to make sure the national and international legislation on climate change makes progress. Justice and Peace Scotland liaises with Stop Climate Chaos Scotland
. The people of North Argyll are planning their own changes: it’s time for us all to act.