Religion meets ecology in festival to save the planet: The Green Party began its annual conference yesterday, but David Nicholson-Lord looks at a spiritual crusade for the environment

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The Independent Online
WHERE politics has failed to save the planet, religion is taking over. A Christian priest last night launched Britain's first festival of 'green' spirituality by examining how greenery can help 'save us from the ecological and social crisis that threatens life itself'.

Robert Van de Weyer, founder of the non-denominational Little Gidding community, Cambridge economist and restorer of old buildings, was the first speaker in a month-long festival that stretches from Newcastle upon Tyne to Cornwall and encompasses beliefs as diverse as druidism, deep ecology and Islam.

At St Michael's, Bishop's Cleeve, Gloucestershire, they are holding a pet blessing service; at nearby Painswick they are embracing - or 'clypping' - the church; and on Bodmin Moor they will harvest joy (and blackberries).

The Centre for Creation Spirituality at St James's Church in Piccadilly, London, where the festival began, says it is evidence of the 'huge growth of interest in spirituality and its relationship to the environment'. It is also a sign that nature-lovers are coming out of the closet.

The failure of the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro last June is one reason. But different faiths are also recognising shared attitudes to the environment. The Worldwide Fund for Nature, for example, has recently published a series of studies on the links between ecology and religion.

In Leicester next week, Faith in Nature, described as the most comprehensive multi-faith environmental project undertaken, will include worshippers from the Baha'i, Christian, Hare Krishna, Hindu, Jain, Jewish and Sikh communities.

Green spirituality has a long history - arguably back to the Ice Age - but the medieval church stigmatised nature-worship as paganism and the post-Reformation church emphasised dominion over nature. However, the work of figures such as Matthew Fox, the Dominican priest on the verge of expulsion from the Roman Catholic church, has helped to rekindle belief in nature mysticism.

The Christianity on view in the festival thus ranges from workshops on the concept of viriditas - greening power - espoused by the 12th-century mystic Hildegard of Bingen, to John Selwyn Gummer, the Minister of Agriculture, speaking at Gloucester Cathedral on 23 September, who is expected to endorse a more orthodox view of creation.

The greening of Christianity has been condemned as heathenism by evangelicals. But Francis Miller, of the Centre for Creation Sprituality, says that unlike fundamentalism, which views Jesus as unique, green Christianity offers a view of the divinity within nature which can be shared with other faiths.

CCS, St James's Church, 197 Piccadilly, London W1V 9LF.

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