You always take a risk with the weather at the New Wine summer conference. About 10,000 of us gather for a week of worship and teaching on a borrowed agricultural showground, most of us sleeping under canvas and at the mercy of the elements...
...and merciful the elements usually are. For the last few years we’ve needed to bring sun cream and a gazebo for our church community to enjoy some shade together.
So this year was a shock. The conference started just days after July’s record-breaking heatwave, but shortly after we got our tent pitched it started to rain. An innocent-looking puddle in the centre of our church’s camping ‘village’ started getting ideas. As the evening wore on it commandeered our gazebo as its base camp and sent out raiding parties towards our tents. The rain fell relentlessly all night and by morning our kitchen was under water.
Our brilliant church community swung into action and within a couple of hours all the waterlogged tents had been moved – cheerfully – to higher ground. Then we began pondering the meaning of it all.
‘Whatever God is trying to teach us,’ said my neighbour, ‘can we hurry up and learn it so the sun can come out?’
I watched another tent being carried past by six people trudging through the mud. Our dishevelled camp looked like a tent city for refugees. Climate refugees.
‘I think I know what he’s trying to teach us,’ I said, with a dull thud in the pit of my stomach.
Because here we are, thousands of mostly middle-class Christians in a first-world country, standing in the squelchy shoes of climate refugees.
Real refugees do not have comfortable homes to return to. And climate refugees aren’t refugees because their country has massively over-consumed, but because countries like ours did. We are climate sinners. Why would God not rain on us?
Before we worshipped the next morning, a leader on the platform prayed for the weather to clear up so we wouldn’t be ‘distracted’. But what if the weather was not a distraction, but a call to repentance?
That conviction grew as the week went on. The climate crisis is the biggest threat to humanity that we know of. It has already cost people their homes, livelihoods and lives.
Where is our compassion for victims of a stricken climate? Where is the Church’s voice in the national and international call to urgent action? When it comes to climate victims, first-world Christians are complicit - we bought into the unsustainable systems and lifestyles that are harming creation. Should we not be on our knees in the mud, repenting like Daniel on behalf of our nation?
The Bible points to Jesus returning to renew all things, and invites us to be Kingdom-builders on earth today. With this in mind, there is every point in caring for creation (which ‘groans’ – can you hear it?). All the more reason for church leadership, nationally and locally, to speak up.
I have heaps of gratitude and respect for New Wine – it has played a huge part in my own spiritual journey and every year it equips thousands of ordinary Christians and their church leaders to bring change to their communities, spiritually and practically; and by taking climate seriously, it could set the spiritual tone by leading us in prayers of repentance and change.
And here’s one last reason why the UK church needs to wake up, repent, and change direction: young people. I’ve seen the passion of a Friday climate school strike first hand and it’s awe-inspiring. If the church has nothing to say about climate, why should a youngster pay it any attention at all? We should be the counter-cultural leaders of a climate movement, inspiring young people to follow.
Have mercy on us Lord Jesus. Wake up your church – start with me. Open our eyes to the mess we’ve created and lead us to repent. Open our ears and our hearts to the groaning of creation and the distress of our brothers and sisters. Move us to embrace change in our lifestyles, helping us to put what’s right before what’s convenient. And give us a voice and leadership in this nation to act radically on climate. Amen.