Report from Way of Life Workshop, 30th January 2016, London

All attendees are invited to add their comments on the day – there is a comments box at the end of this post

About 33 of us met at St Aloysius Church, near Euston station in central London to revisit and to add to the progress made at the Ringsfield retreat in Summer 2015.


Chris Walton our chaplain opened the day, encouraging us to explore the vision for a dispersed community looking at how we can support and be companions to each other. To affirm this intent, we sang ‘to be a pilgrim’, noticing just how relevant it is today and seeing ourselves as green proclaimers of the 21st century.

George Dow welcomed those who were not at Ringsfield last summer and said he hoped by the end of the day we would have a clearer concept of being a ‘companion’ and the four disciplines of the Way of Life. We then shared in groups of two or three what had brought us here today and our experience of other Christian Ways or Rules of life.


Deborah Tomkins introduced us to the four disciplines.  The first being daily prayer and devotion and whole earth discipleship and our connection to Jesus through the metaphor of the vine.  Roots of vines can go down up to six metres and we think of Jesus of being ‘earthed’ and ourselves connected to the branches of the vine and thus connected to Jesus. Through prayer we strengthen our connecton.
Living gently on the earth, Deborah, who is passionate about growing food in her raised beds, reminded us that in the UK we import 50% of our food, ten years ago it was 40% and many are disconnected from the earth and it’s seasons. Children may not know where milk and eggs come from. Without nature we are lost, it is a spiritual necessity to be rooted and earthed. Inthe last 40 years 50% of species have become extinct. To balance this unlike the animal kingdom we have the gift of imagination to look forward and look back and to imagine another way – we need to harness this
wooden carving of two peoplePublic action can sound a bit scary , it could be because we have been denigrated or bruised. Perhaps we  should be calling it public witness (a sense of consensus here).
There are lots of things we can do, be it through a one to one conversation or writing a letter to a CEO. You can’t underestimate what people don’t know.
We are tasked to encourage each other, Deborah used a beautiful wooden carving of two people to demonstrate  – caring, listening, empathy, encouragement…  We must not on the other hand allow ourselves to think a bit of recycling can offset a holiday flight, it can we quite easy to spiral down, there is a need for being constantly alert and aware.

The discplines were then looked at in greater detail.

Deidre Munro led us in the discipline of daily prayer and devotion – using the Green Christian monthly Prayer Guide which is available to indiviuals: on the website, through a monthly or daily email, be post.  We had three sessions during the day each using a different day’s prayer from the guide, to which we individually listened, reflected and responded.  There is power in our all following the same prayer at the same time.

Bike Ride Promo 003Euan McPhee shared his practical experiences of living gently on the earth, beginning with two slides, one of elegant modern tall city buildings alongside a picture of a landfill which is essential to support the former.  The message being that we should not imagine the city buildings without the need for the landfill.  Those who are simplifying their life have made the connect between the two.  Euan introduced us to the ‘Lilypad List’ of starting points for a simpler life: Frugallers, Declutterers, Greens, Spiritual Seekers, Retreaters, Patients (after an illness), Downshifters.  For more on this you may be interested in the book by Marian Van Eyk McCain (2004)
Living Simply can be difficult 

  • It’s ofen complicated, choices need consideration, not everyone wants to go the same way or distance in living gently. Information needed to make the correct choice is not always there.
  • Rarely easy – swimming against consumerism is tiring, many actions seem antisocial.
  • Takes time and effort – researching options – reducing consumption can be time consuming.
  • Never ending quest, technology changes so criteria change, ones own families change, we live in a dynamic and evolving world.

Living Simply can also be  **@@!!!!

  • Immensely rewarding – living more lightly – deeper sense of solidarity with the world’s poor – releases money which can be given away – relief from stress of consumerism.
  • Reduces the amount of stuff – declutters which means less clearing up, storing, insuring.
  • Increases opportunity to just be, creating time to wonder at the earth, more time for enjoying the outdoors,  more time for prayer and meditation.
  • All about continuing the pilgrim journey – the process is fascinating, the journey is ever changing.

Three essential steps for living simply can be explored at www.globalstewards.org/sustainable-lifestyle.htm

Barbara Echlin led a first session on Public Action (or is it Public Witness? – suggesting it comes from deep within). Small groups of 5 or 6 considered different ways in which they had been publicly involved in creation, how else could this be done, what is and what is not acceptable?

After a LOAF lunch of delicious food Chris Walton led an interesting exploration as to how we would best like to communicate with fellow companions given our geograohic separateness.  By sitting in two long lines and one line moving along one space we had well over one hundred unique 1-1 conversations.
Here are a few ideas mentioned in no particular order: individual emails, email list, telephone, meet with a few interested people, letters, twice yearly meetings with a theme, Facebook, Whats App, Skype, conference calls, face to face meetings, have a Google map with all our our locations on it.

Barbara Echlin continued exploring public action, with particular reference to George Marshall’s latest book “Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change” (review in Independent) which begs the question what do we respond to? She explained the acronym PAIN from George’s book.
We respond to something if it is:

  • Personal – if it involves friends enemies, defectors, and things caused by us humans.
  • Abrupt – if it happens suddenly, we tend to ignore slow moving threats.
  • Immoral – if it is indecent, impious, repulsive or disgusting.
  • Now – if it is now, we are reluctant to look into the future.

Climate change doesn’t fit into these triggers so how can we turn things around? Barbara showed some interesting images:
so not the polar bear stranded on ice, but two firefighters struggling to qwell a forest fire – we focus on the danger the firefighters are in;
positive images of children with solar panels;
someone in Africa using a solar cooker.

Then in small groups we explored stories of talking about climate change,selecting one story from each group, trying to see a method we could use.

  • A group of farmers who were also bellringers started talking about changing weather patterns, the conversation then progressed onto climate change  – going with the flow and tweeking the direction
  • A group complained about the lack of rubbish collection from a curbside for 17 years before anything happenned – patience
  • A pentecostal housegroup put the blame of the flooding two years ago on the government’s legalisation of gay marriage – we must start from where people are
  • On a first visit to Norway finding hydro electric power for green energy, returning several years later to find the hydro electric plant no longer in operation because there was no longer any snow, the hilltops were brown – specific evidence of change
  • Euan McPhee’s bike ride from Truro to Paris for COP21 – need to be personal, but must be transformational not transactional

George Dow then continued with the theme of George Marshall’s book published last autumn, which resulted in George M giving several talks in the US.  The talk given to Google in New York is particularly recommended and can be watched on you tube.  The first 40-45minutes is best.

George Dow picked up on the issue of empathy with the place people are coming from and homed in on a diagolgue with Joel Hunter, the pastor of an evangelical church with 10,000 members who really gets climate change. Joel leads a church which believes in something that is uncertain and it’s members make sacrifices in order to do this.  Out of this he pulled four ideas:

  • sharing a community of belief – we need to recognise people’s initial doubts
  • there is a need to witness – ie telling stories (cf the parables of Jesus)
  • the concept of epiphany – ie people can suddenly ‘get it’
  • forgiveness when people come on board – ie let them know they simply start from square one, what has gone before doesn’t count ny longer

George Marshall also asks us to mourn the losses and value what remains.

The day had given us all much to ponder and evaluate in our  own lives,  some of this people were able to articulate in a closing act of contemplation and offering  led by Paul Bodenham, Chair of Green Christian.
Paul read from Philipians 2, 6 – 9 and then used a device by Joanna Macy of a mat on the floor with a cross at its cente, on the four corners were: a wooden stick – to grip onto symbolising anger; an empty bowl – to show a sense of emptiness, going through a dry patch; dry leaves -symbolising sorrow for what is lost; stones – symbolising fear and feeling constricted. Individuals were invited to step forward and choose on of the four objects and to speak one sentence, to which the response was ‘we hear you’. After this in pairs we annointed each other with oil.

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