Conference calls for reconnection with God’s creation

21 May 2015

By The Record

Peramangk/Kaurna elder Ivan-Tiwu Copley welcoming the conference delegates to a site sacred in the Mt Barker region. PHOTO: Supplied
Peramangk/Kaurna elder Ivan-Tiwu Copley welcoming the conference delegates to a site sacred in the Mt Barker region. PHOTO: Supplied

The fundamental premise behind a conference recently held in South Australia was to explore how spiritually disconnected the Church and society had become from God’s creation and to look at ways to bridge this divide, said Perth participant Nigel Hayward.

Mr Hayward, the Perth-based representative for Catholic Earthcare Australia, attended the conference on 10-13 March at the Serafino Winery in McLaren Vale, along with approximately 120 other academic, religious and social service delegates from across the country.

Speaking around the theme Rediscovering the spiritual in God’s creation, the conference gathered together a team of leading local and international experts in the fields of ethics, ecology and theology to share and discuss ways forward to bridging the growing gap between the spiritual and material understanding of the world.

Mr Hayward said that speakers, such as Indigenous leader, Ivan–Tiwu Copley and Catholic eco-theologian, Fr Denis Edwards, highlighted the detrimental effects caused by such disconnection.

“As modern people, we tend to view ourselves as being separate from the land in which we live,” Mr Hayward said.

“And a lot of this conference explored how this has come about in the Christian tradition through separation or dualism of spirit and matter.”

Director of the Graeme Clark Institute in Adelaide and one of the organisers of the Serafino event, Rev Dr Graham Buxton said that the purpose of the conference was to attract interest from a wide range of different, yet complementary, disciplines.

This is why, he said, clergy, liturgists, theologians, scientists, philosophers, as well as international experts from the United Kingdom, the United States of America and South Africa, had been invited.

“The uniqueness of the conference was its focus on ecology and spirituality in all domains of creation,” he said.

“There was also an orientation towards practical outcomes relating to the care and celebration of creation within faith communities.”

The culmination of the three-day event was the Serafino Declaration which, Rev Buxton said, was crafted from the perspectives and challenges arising from the keynote addresses and shared discussions.

“This document is both an invitation and a challenge,” he said: “an invitation to consider deeply the insights raised during the conference, and a challenge to respond within our own particular contexts.”

Mr Hayward believed the Declaration was an attempt to capture the diversity of perspectives of the participants involved and to incorporate the rich diversity of theological perspectives raised.

One of the challenges proposed by the conference was to “overcome thought patterns that have trapped us in the past”, and Mr Hayward believes that this is one of the key elements the Catholic Church can draw from the Declaration, especially in light of the Papal encyclical on the environment, which is expected to be released in June this year.

Pope Francis’ manifesto, which will be the first papal teaching devoted entirely to the environment, is expected to call for stronger environmental protection, including limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

Mr Hayward is hoping this forthcoming encyclical will be an extension of Pope John Paul II’s 2001 call to “ecological conversion”, and that the Church and broader society will embrace the concepts and understanding being raised.

Mr Hayward said he understood why the Church needed to be inwardly focused at times but believed that this could potentially distract Her from appreciating the beauty of God’s creation.

“That, for me, is the message of both the Serafino Declaration and the message Pope Francis is calling us to adopt,” he reflected.