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Immersive exhibition centring on London cathedral prompts thinking about climate change during the season of Advent

Updated: 10:30pm (AEDT)
Norwich, UK

Advent is a time of new beginnings and Christians in the UK and around the world are being challenged to focus on climate change via a new immersive exhibition known as the ‘Climate Cathedral‘.  

UK London Gaia at Southwark Cathedral

‘Gaia’ at Southwark Cathedral, London. PICTURE: Courtesy of ECLAS

Exhibition curator, Rev Prof Charlotte Sleigh, explained that “during the season of Advent, the church traditionally enters a period of spiritual waiting for the birth of the promised Saviour”.  

“As each passing year brings more savage climate disasters in its wake, Christians are becoming increasingly aware they are also waiting for the promised redemption of creation itself.’  

‘Climate Cathedral’ centres on the immense beauty of Luke Jerram’s monumental sculpture, Gaia, set within the architectural splendour of London’s Southwark Cathedral. Visitors are encourage to discover links between climate change and theology by using 360 degree interactive technology.  As the visitors scroll around Gaia, three zones come into play highlighting science, theology and different voices of climate change experience and activism from Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria and Zambia.  

The initiative, which is available online for anyone around the world to view, is the work of researchers from ECLAS, an international organisation linking academics, scientists and theologians designed to provide Christian leadership within an age of science.   

Sleigh told Sight that the topic of climate of climate change is “rarely addressed” in churches.

“If it’s mentioned at all, it’s usually in the context of ethical choices. But the topic is so much bigger than that. What about young people who are often overwhelmed by the anxiety and fear connected to the change? Does the Bible have relevant content to this topic? Is this the ‘end times’ and, if so, does that mandate Christians to give up on the issue? Should our worship and liturgy change to reflect a greater engagement with the natural world?

“We wanted to create something that would support church leaders and – by filtering down – ordinary Christians in thinking about the topic. In a recent conference organised by ECLAS, church leaders from around the world reiterated their need for resources that would help them and those in their care to integrate scientific knowledge with Christian teaching.”

Gaia, which sits at the centre of the project and offers an immersive experience at the intersection of science and spirituality, has been exhibited widely around the UK.

Chalotte Sleigh

Rev Prof Charlotte Sleigh, curator of ‘Climate Cathedral’. PICTURE: Courtesy of ECLAS

“Seeing Gaia in a Christian space, we realised that it was a brilliant opportunity to take that experience and make it available worldwide as it makes our spiritual teaching relevant, allowing people to explore our place within it,” said Sleigh. “By exploring the hot spots in the exhibition, visitors can discover how much the Bible can tell us about nature and our relationship with the Earth. Issues of the last days and revelations are arising, people are concerned because the consequences are so terrifying. The video of Katharine Hayhoe speaks powerfully about how the Bible stresses compassion and taking care of the Earth.’

Interviews with participants from African countries show how the problems of climate change are already here, as well as potential solutions that draw on local knowledge. One example juxtaposes big companies’ focus on  using pesticides and growing intensive crops with how growing indigenous crops is proving more successful. Other examples include Rachie Ross discussing how climate is a missional issue and Rev Dr Hannah Malcolm on ‘Responding Spiritually to Climate Change’.

“There needs to be greater encouragement of connections between churches in different areas,” said Sleigh. “I would love to see churches twinning between global north and global south to create greater understanding. It has so much powerful potential out ther.”

By bringing science and faith together in this resource, ECLAS researchers believe they can increase engagement in a wholistic way, highlighting new perspectives, greater understanding and compassion for both action and reflection. 



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