From tiny seeds in the dark…


A couple of weeks back I spent a Saturday afternoon with forty other people of all ages in the beauty of Wytham Woods. It was the first gathering of the Oxford Forest Church group, and we’d come together to explore nature and connect with God.

On that clear crisp afternoon we spent time both together and alone, with space to be and to breathe in the woods. Amongst the fallen leaves we reflected on the coming darkness of advent. Our surroundings gave us much to reflect on. From the way the leaves were being shed so that the tree can survive the winter; to the way those same leaves provide essential nourishment, protection and darkness for the tiny seeds from the tree to find life in the spring.

Research has started to attribute certain health and behavioural issues, at least in part, to a growing absence of time in nature. John Muir, the Scottish-born American naturalist, is credited with saying, “I’d rather be in the mountains thinking of God, than in church thinking about the mountains.” And for many of us time outside enjoying nature is good for our souls, as well as our minds and bodies. Wonder and awe are important sources of our spiritual growth, and such transcendent moments, when we feel deeply connected to something bigger than ourselves, often occur in nature. This nature connection can also have a positive impact on wider environmental issues – after all we don’t protect what we don’t care about, and you don’t tend to care about what you’ve never experienced.

That afternoon in the woods was a chance for us to mindfully engage with nature and prepare for the darkest part of the year, and the busyness of the pre-Christmas rush. It was food for the journey, engaging us spiritually in fresh ways. Of course none of this is new or restricted to the concept of Forest Church – it draws on much older traditions when sacred places and practices were outside, and it is just one expression of perhaps a wider thirst for a deeper connection with nature and something bigger than ourselves.* But it could be part of what we need to be physically, mentally and spiritually healthy – as well as respond well to the signs of our times.

As we embraced the falling darkness in the woods at Wytham we reflected on what we wanted to take into this time of advent. Like the tiny seeds beneath the fallen leaves all around us, it might be little and fragile – but making space to participate with nature this advent may be just what we need for mind, body and soul, and enable us to hear the familiar story in a fresh way.

This article first appeared in The Oxford Mail

* Nor, for that matter, is it restricted to Oxford – groups are springing up all over the country – see

For more information about Forest Church and groups in the Diocese of Oxford see

Environment and Hope – latest edition of Anvil Journal

Revd. Margot Hodson tells us about the Environment and Hope project…

Serious issues about the environment seem to be in the news on a regular basis. This combined with the lack of progress on international climate change negotiations, have led many people with environmental concerns to lose hope.

Three years ago Margot Hodson and Ruth Valerio met up and realised that their hope was also running a little thin. As speakers, their hope had become less proximate and more eschatological. In other words it had changed from “we can fix it” to “it will all work out OK in the end”. Thus began the “Environment and Hope” project. They first gathered a small group of theologians, scientists and activists in Oxford in October 2011 to thrash out some ideas.

In May 2012, they held a much larger meeting called “Communicating Hope” at High Leigh Conference Centre, with 60 people, many of whom are involved in communicating the news about climate change and other environmental problems to Christian audiences. The keynote speakers included theologian Richard Bauckham, and Andy Atkins, the Executive Director of Friends of the Earth. We then needed to publish all this material, and it was Richard Bauckham who suggested that it could go into a special issue of Anvil, the theological journal.

The “Environment and Hope” volume was published online on 5th September 2013, around three years after Ruth and Margot Hodson began the process. All the papers are open access and are FREE to download at the journal website:

Anvil (Volume 29, Issue 1, September 2013, pp. 1–129) contains the following articles:

  • Margot R. Hodson: Editorial: Discovering a Robust Hope for Life on a Fragile Planet.
  • Martin J. Hodson: Losing Hope? The Environmental Crisis Today.
  • John Weaver: Exploring Hope. Richard Bauckham: Ecological Hope in Crisis?
  • Archbishop Thabo Makgoba: Hope and the Environment: A Perspective from the
  • Majority World.
  • Andy Atkins: Communicating Hope in the Real World.
  • Bishop Geoff Davies: Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI).

Revd. Margot Hodson is author of Cherishing the Earth and Vicar of the benefice of Haddenham

Plough Wednesday – 15th Jan 2014


January 15th 2014 10am – 4pm at SADDLEBACK FARM SHOP – BERKSHIRE

An opportunity to join with others in the Diocese of Oxford to learn about rural and agricultural issues.

Organized by the Diocesan Rural Team. Details below:

Time for Creation: Climate Change Report

Written by Maranda St John Nicolle – CCOW

 Last week, after a final round of negotiations, Working Group I of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the “Summary for Policy Makers” of its report on the scienctific basis for climate change (full summary; headline statements).

The report is clear and concise:

  • “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.”
  • “Human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident from the increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, positive radiative forcing, observed warming, and understanding of the climate system.”
  • “Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reductions in snow and ice, in global mean sea level rise, and in changes in some climate extremes. This evidence for human influence has grown since AR4 [the last report, published in 2007]. It is extremely likely [= 95 to 100%] that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.
  • Looking to the future, the report offers four emissions scenarios, representing possible concentrations of carbon dioxide by 2100. Current concentrations breached 400 ppm in 2013, up roughly 80 ppm in 55 years. The most optimistic scenario, which would require significant cuts in emissions, places 2100 concentrations at 421 ppm. The remaining scenarios place it at 538 ppm, 670 ppm, and 936 ppm by the year 2100. 

Under all but the first of the emissions scenarios, “Global surface temperature change for the end of the 21st century is likely to exceed 1.5°C relative to 1850 to 1900”; it is likely to exceed 2°C for the two highest emissions scenarios and more likely than not to exceed 2°C for the second lowest. Warming will continue beyond 2100 under all scenarios except the lowest.
  • Sea level rises of between .25m and .63m (about 1 to 2.4 feet) over and beyond the level from 1986 – 2005 are predicted by the end of the century (the worst-case emissions scenario would offer a higher rise), and seas will further acidify. Heat will also affect ocean circulation.
  • “Extreme precipitation events over most of the mid-latitude land masses and over wet tropical regions will very likely become more intense and more frequent by the end of this century, as global mean surface temperature increases.”
  • “Cumulative emissions of CO2 largely determine global mean surface warming by the late 21st century and beyond”  To have a 66% certainty of limiting the warming caused by manmade CO2 emission to less than 2 degrees centigrade, we need to limit the cumulative manmade emissions to between about 0 and 1000 trillion tonnes of carbon (or 800 trillion tonnes to account for other non-CO2 forcings). We had already emitted roughly 531 trillions tonnes by 2011. Assuming no change in our trajectory of emissions, we would have used up our “carbon budget” within two to three decades. (see this post for a good explanation)

There are no surprises in the general gist of the message: global warming and changes in the climate system are real; humans are the dominant cause of recent warming; and we have a choice – we can either limit our emissions or keep the earth on a trajectory towards ever more dangerous impacts. The level of certainty about human influence is greater than in past reports, though. And the emphasis on the total amount of CO2 emissions as the vital factor is also new to an IPCC report, as is the presentation of a “carbon budget.” (It is not however, “new” generally – see the work of Myles Allen here, here, and here)

How as Christians can we respond to this report? CCOW will have more on actions in their forthcoming weekly emails. But in terms of prayer, please pray:

  • in thanksgiving for the God-given intellectual gifts that have enabled scientists to understand the natural world and our impacts on it. Give thanks for the many scientists involved in writing and reviewing the IPCC report and for the truly global reach of their research.
  • in thanksgiving for the clarity of the report’s warning. Pray that more and more people will be prepared to engage with the scientific evidence
  • for all those who have already been affected by changes in climate systems
  • that the report may foster genuine and productive discussion among individuals, businesses and governments on mitigation (reducing risks by means such as reducing emissions) and adaptation (managing the impacts of climate change)
  • that this discussion will be informed by godly values and will aim to work out ways of j living within the capacities of creation that will be joyful, sustainable and equitable. At present the risk is that those who have contributed least to emissions will be left to deal relatively unaided with the worst of the impacts. Pray for climate justice.
  • that discussion will lead to action and to genuine change at all levels. Give thanks for recent moves in the US to reduce coal plant pollution.
  • that comfortable Christians in both wealthy and less wealthy countries will take the challenges of global warming as an inspiration to greater faithfulness in living the Gospel. Pray that:
  • we will live our lives in ways that express thanksgiving for God’s gifts and are determined by love of God and neighbour.
  • we will call for equitable frameworks that ensure that all people have enough to live with dignity
  • we will learn contentment and challenge the prevalent materialism that leads to overconsumption and to exploitation of both people and planet.

Further Reading: The excellent Guardian blog of  the report’s release and responses to it, CAFOD/CARITAS responses; What does the IPCC report mean for businesses and investors? (Guardian); Reporting from “Dot Earth” blog  with a focus on gaps between science and policy (New York Times),  Le Monde (which suggests IPCC may be too conservative), Wall Street Journal (good summary, and significant as the paper has been historically fairly cautious), Times of India, Nature.

Written by Maranda St John Nicolle – CCOW

A Rocha UK Regional Event – 9th Nov

A Rocha are running a special regional event at the Village Centre, Chinnor, Oxfordshire, on Saturday, 9th November 2013, starting at 11.30am.

George Lings, the Church Army’s Director of Research will be joining them for the day, as well as Ruth Valerio. They will be leading inspiring meditations around the theme, ‘The Sacred Spaces that People Occupy.’

Places are limited please book by contacting A Rocha Office Manager, Maria Masih, on 0208 574 5935 or email

CEL Weekend Retreat – 18-20 October 2013


Experiencing the sacred through connection with the natural world at Ringsfield EcoCentre, Ringsfield Hall, Beccles, Suffolk NR34 8JR

For details see: enquiries about the Retreat please ring Chris Walton – 07881 941 296 or email


Earthing Faith Gathering – 10 Oct 2013


The Autumn 2013 Earthing Faith gathering will take place in Milton Keynes with a focus on food and sustainability. The gathering will link locally, reflecting on a theology of food, and focus globally by exploring diocesan link projects in South Africa and discussing the impact of the Enough Food for Everyone If campaign, as well as hearing from World Vision on environmental footprint issues.

There will be an opportunity to connect with the MK Justice and Peace Network, MK Christian Environment Group, the Well at Willen and World Vision, as well as buy fruit, veg and plants produced on the MK Christian Foundation Urb Farm project.

Guest speakers will include:

  • Rev Liz Baker from the Well at Willen
  • David Frost from World Vision
  • Maranda St John Nicolle Diocesan World Development Officer

Time: 7.30-9.30pm, Thursday 10 October 2013

Venue:Christ the Vine Community Church, Jonathans, Coffee Hall, Milton Keynes, MK6 5EG

Poster: contact us for printed versions or download here

Register your intention to join us by completing the form below: