It is a great privilege to become the chair of JRI, an organisation that I have been aware of for many years and with whom I have been serving as a board member for a couple of years now. Over the twenty years of JRI’s work, there have been many significant people striving to engage the church in this country and beyond with the issue of climate change and the impact of our lifestyles and society upon the natural world. Not least of these of course was Prof Sir John Houghton, JRI’s founder.
Unlike many associated with JRI through the years, I did not know Sir John well, although I am well acquainted with the inspiring work he did to raise the issue of climate change around the world. He was Chief Executive of the Met Office when I arrived there in the mid-1980s, after a doctorate in thunderstorms at Imperial College. I joined what was to become a few years later The Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research in which Sir John was instrumental in founding. My own work was around how we predict clouds and rainfall in climate models. I also came to know of his faith through the Met Office Christian Fellowship, especially when he spoke about a small book he had written on science and faith – “Does God Play Dice”. I still have a copy and took it with me when, as Baptist Union President, I visited the Met Office to speak to the Christian Fellowship about science and faith 30 years after Sir John’s talk.
After over 15 years working in climate and numerical weather prediction, I began to train as a Baptist minister at Regents Park College in Oxford and have served Baptist churches in Milton Keynes and currently as team leader at Croxley Green Baptist Church in South West Hertfordshire on the edge of the London green belt. Yet, issues of climate and the environment have not been left behind. At my interview exploring my calling, I was asked “how has working for the Met Office prepared you for ministry? For nothing is lost in God’s economy”. In the path I have shared with God over these past 20 years I have found this to be true. Part of my ministry has been to speak on climate change and the environment to church and community groups as well as schools and theological colleges.
In JRI we have people with rich and varied backgrounds in diverse fields of environmental and climate science and theology. We share Sir John’s passion to inform and educate Christians as to God’s care and concern for creation. To inspire them and wider society to work towards a more sustainable relationship between humankind and the environment based upon a Christian view of creation and humanity.
JRI continues to work out this vision. In partnership with A Rocha UK through the Christian Rural and Environmental Studies (CRES) course which has an increasing worldwide reach. Regular blogs on the JRI website also extend influence into the wider Christian and environmental community drawing upon the expertise of our members and associates. Later this year, we are looking to engage with institutions that train future church leaders, hoping to increase their engagement with environmental issues as part of their programmes. Preparing future leaders for a world where climate change and the environment will be increasing issues that we all must be aware of and respond to.
As a board, we recently (via the wonder of Zoom) met for a strategy day, asking what might God have for us in the future? Vision arises as a community comes together to drawing from its experience and expertise and reflecting upon the landscape that it travels through. Christian vision arises as we bring these to God in prayer, discerning what part God would have us play in sharing in God’s invitation to care for creation.
Even through the COVID crisis, stories about environmental issues and climate circulate in the media, with talk of growing back better and in more sustainable ways. Local churches are showing an increasing interest in the environment, evidenced by the interest in our partner A Rocha UK’s Eco Church scheme. With the scientific and theological expertise of our members and associates, we are well placed to support and encourage this awareness. We hope to enlarge our speaker network, increasing the profile of JRI within the life of the local church. There are opportunities too for engagement with children, young people, and the Millennial generation who are showing a Pentecost passion for a different, more sustainable future.
As was said on the day of Pentecost, “Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young people will see visions, your older people will dream dreams” (Acts 2v17). Twenty years on from a conference held in the founding days of JRI, we are beginning to look towards an organising a substantial conference in 2022. Celebrating the legacy of Sir John, certainly. But not just looking back. Different generations of JRI sharing together, looking ahead as to how we might influence the church and the nations in this critical decade for building a better future for the future generations and for the Earth. I hope that through JRI we will all join in playing our part in making this vision and dream a reality.
Rev Dr Dave Gregory is Ministry Team Leader at Croxley Green Church, a former President of the Baptist Union, and co-ordinator of Messy Church Does Science. He is the new Chair of JRI.