Personal Reflections on a Pray and Fast Day

Wednesday April 1st 2015 in the Ribble Valley, Lancashire began with the customary pre-dawn wake-up nuzzle from Merlin my border collie – “go back to sleep, its too early, and I can’t have breakfast until I have had a fasting blood test taken at 9 o’clock. That’s four hours to occupy – oh, hold on a mo- it’s first of the month – Pray and Fast for the Climate. Let’s get up and get out then.”

Once the Merlin had suitably breakfasted  – he isn’t part of the P&F regime – we were out into the wind and the rain along our usual walk across the fields and down to the heavily swollen river that had, for the fourth year running, obliterated a mid-stream island that had been the nesting site of a pair of swans. A woof and a bark with a mouth full of stick, and he’s off chasing crows flying high, and then a small herd of four roe deer are disturbed in their grazing – similarly unconstrained by a P&F discipline.

I notice these things every morning, but maybe awareness of my unusually empty stomach is a prompt to deeper reflections.

I was thinking about the absolutely bold, stark and clear statement of prayer and hope just issued by the environmentally-sensitive Bishops of the worldwide Anglican communion, who have recently had the precious opportunity to learn from each other of the impacts of climate change in their own localities. There really is no getting away from the reality of climate change and the urgency to do something about it. Where are the prophets today? Well, thank God for Operation Noah, Christian Aid, Tearfund, CAFOD and the other para church organisations who have ‘got it’! And pray God that those with responsibility in my own local, regional and national church structures may have the humility to listen to the prophets and step out in faith against the fixation on incessant economic growth at all cost which seems to be the general drift of the world as we know it.

Hold on, what’s that in the water-logged scrub of a usually empty field? Merlin gets very excited – proper play-time – until Dad gets him back on the lead. Spoilsport. After all, a border collie is supposed to round up sheep – yes – but not a lame ewe with two very new-born lambs that have somehow wandered away from the flock three fields and almost a mile away. Well, do something, Dad – you look like you are dressed for shepherding duties – torn Barbour, woolly hat, fingerless mitts, sturdy wellies and that walking stick which you topped with an old sheep’s horn you found on a walk months ago.

With Merlin suitably secured, the wannabe shepherd approaches the ewe and her lambs. Surely its going to be an easy job getting them up the very steep slope away from the river bank and across the fields to relative safety. Well the ewe doesn’t see it that way and stamps her feet angrily. The lambs are gathered up and carried halfway up the field and the ewe follows, struggling with her lameness. The ewe, once re-connected with her twins heads straight off back down the hill. The shepherd cannot force an unwilling sheep away from what it considers safety. And this was one of those shepherds scripture warns us about – not a proper one. I wanted to do the best for the sheep – but hadn’t prepared a pen where I could have put the lambs to let mum join them. The dangers of what we know may not be dangerous compared to the risks of the unknown. So the hireling leaves them – in any case time is marching on and there is an appointment with the phlebotomist to be kept.

Twelve hours later, it is exceedingly windy and the rain is pouring down causing surface water streaming off the fields and down the roads. How is my ewe and her lambs? No time to do anything for her now. I don’t really want to go out, but an ecumenical colleague from the Diocesan Environment Group is co-presenting an educational evening on the major local issue of environmental concern: fracking. He’s done this before and it is good to support him in the nearby city. Numbers are small in the Catholic social centre, but amongst them are people from beyond the established church communities. So it is wonderful that representatives from Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth are willing to share an evening hearing about how essential Catholic concerns for justice for all, are inseparable from environmental stewardship. The evening ends with prayer – fitting for a day of Prayer and Fasting for the Climate. Forgot – shouldn’t really have had that biscuit with the tea……

Chris Halliwell, Vice Chair of Operation Noah