The Rector of St Anne’s Scottish Episcopal and Methodist Church in Dunbar, Scotland, the Revd Diana Hall, writes about an artistic cross made from used milk bottles.
For the last six weeks, visitors to St Anne’s Church in Dunbar, in coastal south-east Scotland, have encountered a piece of installation art. It appeared from an anonymous source just as Lent began, and shortly after an article in our church magazine enquired whether anyone was minded to gather to talk about our responsibility for the environment and what it means for us as followers of Jesus, and to plan to act in response.
The work is a cross. Around two metres tall. It is made entirely of empty, used, plastic milk bottles. At its foot are bunched a pile of used plastic carrier bags. An explanatory blurb placed alongside entitles it “Man’s Desecration”, and reminding us that the same human brokenness that resulted in Jesus’ crucifixion is at the root of our negligence as stewards of God’s creation.
Responses to this visual statement about 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, both locally and globally.
In the wider community here, and perhaps especially among younger people, environmental awareness is strong. Our local heritage probably helps; 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, and his legacy is remembered. But changing lifestyle habits such as recycling and seeking alternatives to plastic seem often to come harder for those who are more advanced in years. And too often Christians, both young and old, in this corner of the world at least, do not always stand out as pioneers and champions of creation-care.
What a two metre tall milk bottle cross has done for our small community this Lent is to make a visible, tangible connection between the responsibility of stewarding the environment, and the reflection of our brokenness and Christ’s work on that first Good Friday. And just as the cross of Christ becomes the symbol of all that is possible in the light of resurrection, so too has our plastic cross begun to catalyse actions by which Jesus’ followers might become be pioneers of a better way of stewarding creation for future generations.
The Revd Diana Hall Tweets as @Pausingplace.