For much of Lent visitors to St Anne’s encountered a piece of installation art. Made by the husband of someone in the congregation, it was inspired by an article in the church magazine at the start of Lent, enquiring whether anyone would like to get together to talk about our responsibility for the environment, what it means for us as followers of Jesus, and what we could do about it (As it turns out, plastic reduction has been on the minds of lots of Christians this year. The Plastic-Less Lent group on Facebook, dedicated to the topic, had over 2500 members by the time Easter came).
The work is a cross, a bit taller than me (I’m about 5’6”), made entirely of empty plastic milk bottles. At its foot are bunched a pile of used plastic carrier bags. An explanatory note announces “Man’s Desecration”, and reflects on the fact the same human brokenness that resulted in Jesus’ crucifixion is the root of our negligence as stewards of God’s creation.
Reactions to this meditation on the plastics crisis have been profound. Shortly after it arrived people began to stop and look at it. They asked where it had come from. They began to talk to one another about topics that hadn’t previously made it onto the congregation’s coffee-time agenda. Initially I heard brainstorming about how people might begin to reduce their consumption of single-use plastic. Soon discussions become more nuanced, ranging from conversations about the relative environmental merits of the production, transport and recycling of glass and plastic bottles’ on the one hand; and about the current indispensability of some plastics in medical care, for example, on the other. People are changing their purchasing and recycling habits and are asking what we can do to act together to help raise awareness and be participants in a movement that goes beyond the walls of the Church to unite the whole community in addressing a problem that affects us all, locally and globally.
In the wider community here, and perhaps especially among younger people, environmental awareness is strong. Our local heritage probably helps – after all Dunbar was the birthplace of John Muir, the Scottish-American naturalist and environmental philosopher who came to be known as the Father of America’s National Parks. But changing lifestyle habits comes hard, and too often those who claim to be people of faith don’t stand out as pioneers and champions of creation care.
What a life sized milk bottle cross did in our small community this Lent seems to have been to bring something we fret about peripherally to s apace more “front and central”, and to make a visible, tangible connection between the responsibility of stewarding the environment and the reflection of our brokenness and Christ’s redeeming work. Just as the cross of Christ becomes the symbol of all that is possible in the light of resurrection, our plastic cross has helped catalyse action. And if you’ve seen this film, you’ll surely agree that we need it.