The Christian in the created world
When Baptist minister Simon Bartlett couldn't find a suitable online course exploring a Christian response to creation care, he created one himself - and it was so well received a new series of sessions begin in September. He explains more
Two years ago I became a Baptist minister. The church I’m minister of is Rosebery Park Baptist Church in Boscombe, Bournemouth. We’re just a kilometre from the sea. The family is very happy about that!
Soon after I started at the church I joined ‘Churches Together in Boscombe.’ In one meeting we talked about things we might do together; I suggested we run a course on ‘creation care’.
Before becoming a minister my wife and I had lived and worked in Azerbaijan. We set up and ran a training business there so I had some experience of running courses. And in the last ten or so years we were in Azerbaijan I’d become very interested in the environment.
In the early 2000s some friends took out a subscription for us to Time magazine. Even at that time it was running lots of articles that related to the environment. I started to get interested. Perhaps prompted by what I‘d been reading I had the idea of writing a novel. I didn’t get very far with it at the time. But in 2009 we got into difficulties with the local police and we were forced to reduce our involvement with a local Azerbaijani fellowship. At about the same time our two children went off to boarding school in India. I had more free time and my wife encouraged me to return to the novel. Initially I had the idea of setting the novel against the backdrop of global warming. But as I worked on it, protecting the world from impending environmental crisis became a central theme.
As I researched the novel, I started to understand the science of global warming. But I also paid much more attention to what the Bible taught about the environment than I had ever done before. I took to marking passages with an environmental theme with a green highlighter. Now, I put little green triangles next to them! The fact that God has given humankind a responsibility to care for the created world was a given. No surprise there.
But something was a surprise. There were occasions when God had acted destructively in the environment. And not just once or twice. There were lots of instances when God did this. God communicated through acting in the environment. So, what does that imply about the world’s present environmental woes? Are they simply a problem to be solved? Or are they a communication to be heard and responded to?
There were other areas I started to think about too. Care for creation must imply care for our human bodies but few Christian writers on ‘creation care’ say anything about that.
So that was the background to my suggestion to the Churches Together in Boscombe Meeting to run a course on ‘creation care’. The group thought it was a good idea. But a week later, we went into lockdown. Thoughts about the course went out of the window.
Over the following months many of us started to use video-conferencing for the first time. My thoughts returned to the course. We couldn’t run a conventional course but we could run an online course. But we would still need a course. I searched but I couldn’t find one I was satisfied with. At that point I decided to create one myself.
We had two groups, a morning group and an evening group, running in parallel. Because we were online people could join from other countries. We had people join from the USA, Romania and the UAE. Outside speakers took some of the lessons – David Hilborn, principal of Moorlands College; Dave Gregory, who heads the Baptist Union Environment Network; and Steve Finamore, principal of Bristol Baptist College. Otherwise, I led the sessions.
At the end of the course the feedback was very positive. Three people who took the course are willing to lead groups in the coming period so we are now preparing to run new courses starting in late September.
If you think you might be interested in joining a course you can find out more at creationcourse.org. I hope you’ll check it out.
Simon Bartlett is minister of Rosebery Park Baptist Church in Boscombe