Address delivered by Frances Hiller at St Mark with St
Margaret Church, Plumstead Common on 14 May 2000.
the earth lightly,
use the earth gently,
nourish the life of the world in our care:
gift of great wonder,
ours to surrender,
trust for the children tomorrow will bear.
earth is not ours to do with as we will. The message of this
New Zealand hymn is unequivocal. It can be applied globally
or locally, to the world or to Plumstead. It expresses concern
for the future of our world. It emphasises our responsibility
as stewards of our environment, which we hold in trust for tomorrow
for those who will follow.
people these days are turning away from Christianity, looking
instead towards spiritualities that teach a reverence for creation
that the Christian West seems to have lost. They are searching
for alternatives to what they see as the exploitative injunction
set out in the Bible in the Book of Genesis. In chapter 1, verse
28, God instructs humankind to 'fill the earth and subdue it;
to have dominion over every living thing that moves upon it.'
For too long this injunction has been interpreted by some as
a licence for humans to do what they like with the earth, with
there are strands within our Christian heritage that affirm
an incarnation faith that honours created matter. The Celtic
and Franciscan traditions have an approach to God and to God's
creation that is holistic rather than dualistic. It is an approach
that honours created matter, taking account of the interdependency
of the constituent parts of creation. Francis of Assisi, writing
in the 12th century, uses language and thought which contain
no trace of a need to dominate or transform nature. Instead
he expands the Christian call to love God and the neighbour
to include all creation. He does this in a way that heals the
split between God, humanity and nature that is found in so much
of Christian literature before and since.
man is an Island' says John Donne. We are beginning to be more
aware that we are all part of humanity-we are individuals, but
we are inseparably linked; we are unique, but wholly inter-dependent.
And we are not linked only with each other as human beings,
but with the whole of creation of which we are a part. What
Francis knew instinctively, scientific research has confirmed-the
importance of bio-diversity, the knowledge that we are merely
a strand in the web of life, as we read in a passage attributed
to Chief Seattle back in 1854:
earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth. Man
did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it.
Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.
are at last beginning to realise the dangers the earth faces
from greed and exploitation. We are all beginning to be aware
that capitalism does not contain all the answers. It is increasingly
clear that there has to be a debate about its future. Whatever
goods it delivers, it fails a substantial number of people.
The greed and lust for power of the few is the cause of the
poverty and powerlessness of the many, and of the desecration
and destruction of the earth's resources.
why has it taken so long for humanity to come to the realisation
that we are part of the created order, the created order which
is longing and struggling for completeness and redemption (Romans
8.18-25)? We are not individuals living in isolation. What we
have, we hold in trust for others, whether it is our parks and
open spaces or the world's resources. We have a responsibility
both for those we share the earth with now and those who will
come after us. This is why we cannot separate environment issues
from justice issues.
same values can be applied both globally and locally. As a community
of people living in and around Plumstead, working together to
improve the quality of life of all members of the community,
you will discover that the boundary between environment issues
and justice issues at times becomes blurred.
was born in 1953 in a prefab on Winn's Common, and I lived there
for the first five years of my life. In those post-war days
of rationing, gardens on the common were full of vegetables,
chickens and even the odd goat. When the prefabs were demolished
and the land returned to grass, we moved to the new estate across
the main road, but returned to the Common to play.
we grew up, my siblings and I explored every inch of that expanse.
It was from a tree on the Common, overlooking King's Highway,
that I fell at the age of 11, and was in St Nicholas Hospital
for a week. My brother and I had been throwing acorns at the
roofs of passing buses. The Common continued to figure in my
life in quite a big way. I walked across Plumstead Common each
weekday on my way to school and twice on Sundays to come to
church. As a teenager I roamed endlessly, pondering the meaning
of life, and as a Cub Scout leader I played rounders on summer
evenings. On a warm Sunday evening after Evensong there was
sometimes cricket with the Youth Club followed by a drink at
the Prince Albert, overflowing onto the Common as still happens
back in this way, I can see that growing up in Plumstead, with
its open spaces and parks, helped to make me the person that
I am today. I see this process being repeated in my children
as they grow up in Plumstead. We are shaped by our environment.
Plumstead Common Environment Group is working to help create
somewhere where it is good to live and good to grow up. This
is especially true of its attention to the detail of things
which can easily be dismissed as unimportant, reporting broken
street lights and abandoned cars, litter control, clearing up
broken glass, and fighting the endless battle against graffiti.
Its members also work continuously to enhance both the beauty
and the natural abundance of our open spaces and the wildlife
we have, we hold in trust for others, whether we're talking
about Plumstead Common or the resources of the earth. Our open
spaces are enormously important. They help to civilise us. We
all benefit from them. Children who are cooped up in flats with
no gardens need the space. The Common provides a focal point
for community events like the Make Merry. We are all stewards
of the environment, which shapes us, and will shape our children.
global terms, as a human community, how we use the earth's resources
represents a choice either for life or death. In local terms,
the way we care for our environment can improve the quality
of life for everyone in our community, both now and in the future.
Both in the world and in Plumstead the Christian choice must
always be for life, life in all its fullness.