AN IMPASSIONED plea for the Church to learn how to mourn the damage caused by climate change was declared the winning talk at the first Theology Slam final at St John’s, Hoxton, in central London, on Thursday evening.
Hannah Malcolm, a project co-ordinator at the God and the Big Bang, an organisation that runs workshops for young people on science and religion, was awarded the prize on Thursday evening for her talk, which explored the theological implications of grieving the destruction of our planet.
The Theology Slam was jointly organised jointly by SCM Press, the Church Times, the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity (LICC), and the Community of St Anselm. The final, in front of a 120-strong audience, was was also streamed live on Facebook.
Ms Malcolm, 26, impressed the judging panel with her short ten-minute presentation, made without notes.
Weaving together liberation theology, the biblical tradition of lament, and the work of contemporary radical green activists, Ms Malcolm delivered a call for Christians to tap into “solastalgia”: a feeling of homesickness when already living at home.
“All of us can experience a form of unnamed melancholy when places we love get destroyed,” she said. “This is solastalgia, and climate chaos will create unavoidable homesickness for all of us.”
Instead of always looking for practical action to take, whether by boosting recycling or cutting out meat, the Church should instead learn how to become “co-mourners with creation”, she suggested.
“I am going to ask you to sit amidst the grief you may already feel about our dying planet and mourn the brilliant beautiful lives, both human and non-human, now extinguished by our violence and greed. They are worthy of your lament.”
Ms Malcolm’s winning talk crowned the end of a six-month search for exciting young theological talent. About 75 people under the age of 30 entered the Theology Slam competition, which was eventually whittled down to a final three who took to the stage on Thursday (News, 22 February).
Before Ms Malcolm, the audience heard from Hannah Barr, 27, a first-year ordinand and Ph.D. student at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford.
She spoke on theology and the #MeToo movement, exploring what the Church could learn from and offer to the social upheaval which followed the exposure of dozens of predatory men.
“#MeToo is a call back to relationality — it was all of us but we never knew,” she said, noting how humans were made in the image of a relational, trinitarian God. Christians should learn how to exercise power with restraint, pouring it out to journey with victims and the powerless in an echo of Christ’s kenosis — or emptying of himself — on the cross.
“We need to be the prophetic voice of healing, of hope, of redemption and sanctification which transcends the hashtag.”
The judges praised her handling of such a sensitive topic and her command of applicable theology.
The other finalist was Sara Prats, 23, a Spanish theology student at the Universities of London and Birmingham. She explored the rise of depression and anxiety among millennials through over-use of social media, and asked whether her generation had gone astray because it had stopped looking for its identity in God.
“God is our homecoming. God is the loving gaze that defines us,” she said. Paraphrasing Blaise Pascal, she said: “Man’s true mirror being lost, anything can become his mirror. . .
“Maybe, just maybe, if we looked up at God instead of down at our mobile,” her generation could rediscover a source of stability, self-esteem and unending, unconditional love, she concluded. She received special praise from the judges for giving such a profound talk in what was her second language.
Stefano CagnoniThe judging panel (l-r): Mark Greene; Dr Eve Poole; the Revd Professor John Swinton; and the Revd Dr Isabelle Hamley
Before announcing the winner, the audience at St John’s also enjoyed two similar talks from two of the judges: the Revd Professor John Swinton, who spoke on disability, and Dr Eve Poole, who tackled consumerism.
Also in the judging panel was Mark Greene, executive director of LICC. The chair, the Revd Dr Isabelle Hamley, chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury, said that the finalists had delivered exceptional talks.
“All three weaved theology, experience and a real challenge to the Church, which I hope will be heard beyond these walls,” she said.
But she and her fellow judges had decided that Ms Malcolm’s reflections of climate change and grief was the outstanding performance on the night.
“It was a wonderful talk, with very clear passion behind what you were saying,” she told the winner. “Your talk invites the Church into an immense challenge of solidarity with creation.”
Ms Malcolm was given a trophy, a collection of theological books worth £200.Her winning script will be published in the Church Times next week.
Watch the entire event and the individual talks at www.churchtimes.co.uk/theology-slam
The talks by the three finalists can be heard on this week’s Church Times Podcast, which is also available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and most other podcast platforms.