One Earth, Many Faiths was the first Diocesan Interfaith Eco Conference, held in the research centre at Christ Church Oxford on Saturday 21 January.
Around 40 attendees of different faiths joined the conference including those from the Christian, Sikh, Jew, and Muslim communities, for a day of creative workshops and speeches from local faith leaders, the Bishop of Reading, Imam Monawar Hussein, Rabbi Judith Rosen-Berry and Dr Arvinder Singh.
The conference was a joint project, chaired by the Revd Dr Canon Charlotte Bannister-Parker and the Revd Dr Paul Smith, with the Oxford Diocesan Committee for Interfaith Relations and the Hope4Creation Foundation. The Archdeacon of Oxford and Interim Sub-Dean of Christ Church, the Ven Jonathan Chaffey, introduced the event and shared the environmental commitments of the cathedral and college.
Bishop Olivia, the Bishop of Reading, delivered a keynote speech. Speaking about the Christian response to the current environmental crisis and state of play, Bishop Olivia said:
“We’re here as complex social creatures. We are citizens; we are consumers making choices, we are parents and grandparents of the generations which will inherit this challenge. And we are people of faith. And the environmental challenges which affect us, all of them, are at heart spiritual issues.
“In the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, we read of a call to live in balance with God’s creation, in a way which protects the natural world. We are acutely aware that the profound disruption of the world’s ecosystems, pollution, environmental degradation, species loss, viral pandemic, and so on are not the way that God intends for us to be and for God’s world to be. We have a responsibility to work to restore the balance between people and nature.”
Representatives from other faiths spoke about the environment, nature, and creation from the different faith perspectives and led a group session exploring scriptural reasoning and sacred texts – Imam Monawar Hussein, Founder of the Oxford Foundation, Rabbi Judith Rosen-Berry, Member of the Oxford Three Faiths Encounter, and Dr Arvinder Singh, Director of the Wellbeing Centre, Ashoka University.
Hannah Mann, Environment Programme Manager for the Diocese of Oxford, shared an overview of the work of the diocese on working towards net zero and tackling the climate crises, and offered advice on how others can act to create change for the environment.
Attendees had the opportunity to take part in creative workshops on poetry, art and technology, walking, and wellbeing during the day. Ester De Waal, an esteemed writer and scholar in Celtic spirituality, led a ‘walking with attentiveness’ session in Christ Church Meadow, and David Sparrow from Art Beyond Belief, led an art session using triptych art techniques.
One attendee said he had witnessed “an amazing show of humanity, with people of several different faiths openly discussing sacred works from each faith and how they each relate to the care for our creation”.
The Revd Charlotte Bannistser-Parker, Founder of Hope4Creation, closed the conference with a reminder of the 10 Spiritual Principles for Climate Repentance from the Elijah Interfaith Institute and encouragement to keep the issues of the day first and foremost in people’s minds as we seek to care for our environment and creation in a better way.
There are plans for the conference and workshops to be rolled out at other locations across the diocese in the coming months. If you are interested in hosting an event in your deanery, please contact the Environment Team.