community is now on a long and late journey to align our own
environmental practice with the biblical inspiration and mandate to
care for creation. That calling is evident to anyone who
will read scripture with care, prepared to be challenged out of our
materialism and individualism.
The expression of
the wisdom of God, and the love of Jesus Christ for his
world that should flow from a Spirit-filled Church, is a kind of
priesthood. And our own Christlike identification with the
suffering of the world is a kind of priesthood. I believe it
belongs to the whole community of believers.
I don't wish to
stoke controversy, but I would suggest that one of the
handicaps we have faced in the Western Church has been the myth of
the lone hero, or the special individual. It is as communities
change that wider change comes.
I was working as
a curate in a parish on the Wirral, St Mary's, Upton, when
I began A Rocha. I'd been an English teacher, and, with my wife,
Miranda, who had spent some of her childhood in Uganda, I was
trying to prepare to serve the overseas Church by training in a
number of areas that could be useful.
We set up a
field-study centre in Portugal in the early '80s, as a
practical response to several pressing issues - principally habitat
destruction around the Mediterranean, the urgent need for
environmental education in a country where most learning was taking
place in the classroom, and, locally, the protection of the Alvor
Estuary. Now A Rocha is a global Christian movement for nature
conservation active in 20 countries, and with relationships in many
The name means
"the Rock" in Portuguese, and, as the vision spread around
the world, the global family of organisations decided to keep it in
tribute to that first vision from a minority Christian group with
At our best, we
are working out of faith, hope, and love. We share many of
the same aims and goals with the broader conservation movement, and
are grateful for many partnerships, and the expertise and help of
many organisations. But, although we are engaged in many of the
same tasks, we are doing it out of a desire to please the living
God who created all things, and not because we have any certainty
that we can save the world.
are many places that now look different as a result of the work of
I've stepped away
from direct management, and am working primarily in
South-East Asia and North America. I encourage Christian leaders to
put biblical convictions about caring for creation into practice,
and to encourage the secular environmental movement to take
seriously the part that belief plays in a society's environmental
choices. I'm also helping Christian finance and business leaders to
understand the impact that their activities can have on
Church is beginning to get it now - unfortunately, for the
wrong reasons. It's not been helpful that conservation is a very
politicised issue in America. That's been a real problem for
everyone in the world, because it has delayed action.
We're very proud
of our reliance on good science. You can't attribute
climate change to individual weather events like Hurricane Sandy,
even though these have been predicted with more frequency by
climate-change experts. You have to be very careful about what you
met some very discouraged environmental scientists in New York just
a week before Hurricane Sandy. A week later, they were
so-called "electricity refugees" - it was a very poignant
situation. But, then again, because it was North America, there was
huge media attention. Other parts of the world - less fashionable
and suffering far more greatly - just don't have that.
We have a
profound theological conviction that shalom is
possible. The global population is rising, wildlife is
getting squeezed into smaller and smaller areas, economic choices
are becoming harsh - but we have an explicit set of values that
guide our decision-making rather than just a visceral reaction that
thinks in terms of winners and losers.
In Kenya, the
forest where we work was being cut down to provide the money for
school fees. Now it has become the banker for those fees
through a very creative project called ASSETS. Over 400 children
have been able to go to school over the past decade, and the
destruction of this priceless last area of coastal forest has been
halted. In India, a wonderful new method of protecting the crops of
very poor farmers from raiding elephants was pioneered very
successfully. Simply shooting the elephants was no solution, but
ropes soaked in chilli powder and oil did the job. (They don't like
I'm certain that
God intends to speak to us very powerfully through his
creation, and he certainly speaks that way with me. The
fact that high numbers of urban children have now never seen a star
- and have so very little direct experience of God's presence that
way - is a huge loss to them, and to us all.
We have four
married children - formerly all living outside the UK, but
now intentionally gathered back here - and six grandchildren; and
we are back here ourselves to be near them, and to live near
Miranda's mother, near Devizes.
My most important
choice in life was to marry Miranda. My biggest regret was
not doing so earlier.
My father was a
wartime pilot, and my ambition was to follow him. But I
discovered when I went to the RAF for a flying scholarship that I
was colour-blind; so that finished that.
John Stott became
a close friend, and has been a major influence on our
lives. Eugene Peterson, too - but there are many, many others.
books: David Jones, In Parenthesis; Eugene
Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. Plus Kit
Smart, the Hebrew Bible, the plays of Murray Watts, and the books
of my daughter, Jo Swinney.
If I don't like
any of the Bible, that is my problem, and I like it for
disturbing me. But I do prefer Hebrew to Greek, and I particularly
love the Hebrew of the minor prophets who all have "o" in their
President of Regent College, Vancouver, is one of the best
preachers I have been privileged to listen to. But David
Watson and David McInnes both made a huge impact on my own
generation of students at Cambridge in the early '70s.
place is Newport in Pembrokeshire.
sound: birdsong, especially recently arrived migrant
I am most annoyed
by injustice, and my own follies. And negative US
politics, and particularly the special-interest-driven denial of
climate change. Oh yes, and negative Welsh rugby.
I'm happiest with
my family and my friends, and in worship. To be accepted
by the God who made all things in love is an incredible thing.
Miranda and I
begin each day by reading a psalm together and praying for our
family, the A Rocha family, and all kinds of things as
they come to mind. At any one time, someone is in deep trouble of
some kind; so we do pray for them.
There's a song,
isn't there - "In Christ alone, our hope is found": that's
about it, isn't it?
Being locked in a
church would be my nightmare; but if I was, I'd choose to
be with the most senior politician in China. He is the person who
is probably best placed to bring about the changes Christians might
long for. If they could do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with
God, what might happen?
Peter Harris was talking to Terence Handley MacMath. arocha.org