Imagining Jubilee in Southern Africa

Every year from September 1 to October 4, Christians across the world celebrate the Season of Creation. We spend time together and apart, prayerfully and practically renewing our relationship with our Creator God and all of His good creation. By Sarah Parkinson.

The crises shaking our world this year have reminded us of the urgent need to heal our relationships with each other and the natural world. Fittingly, the theme for Season of Creation this year is “Jubilee for the Earth: New Rhythms, New Hope”. Many in this Renew Our World community have been thinking deeply about the opportunities COVID-19 provides for reshaping the future. 

As Environmental Coordinator for the Anglican Church of Southern Africa and the Green Anglicans, Reverend Dr Rachel Mash is one such person. As a follow up to our chat about the global growth of the Season of Creation movement, we spoke to her about how the church in Southern Africa is celebrating the Season this year and what Jubilee might actually look like if fully realised in her community. 

Southern Africa celebrates the Season of Creation 

Since the first Season of Creation in the Anglican Church of Southern Africa seven years ago, the celebration has grown in the region. In Rachel’s role as Environmental Coordinator, she has seen the movement spread throughout South Africa, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, Angola and Mozambique.

What started as prayers and sermons has also grown over the years to incorporate a huge variety of activities from tree planting to waste clean-ups, civil demonstrations and youth-led environmental campaigns. 

“In the past in Mozambique they’ve had a big beach clean-up,” says Rachel. “And in Eswatini, they had a service and then a clean-up of the rivers.”

This year, some of the celebrations are looking a little bit different. 

“In Mozambique they are going to have a service followed by tree planting. In Eswatini, they’re planning an outdoor service. We have encouraged people to take services outside. It’s a much safer way to start church services as we begin to open up. So we’re really hoping that a lot of people will have their first services outside as they reopen church, and then – once they realise how wonderful it is to be worshipping outside – maybe this will become a regular worship activity! A lot of churches have a garden and you can hold a beautiful service outside, and September is springtime for us.”

This year, there’s also a much bigger focus on reaching people digitally and through social media. 

“The gift of COVID is that everybody’s much more comfortable online than they were before. So I’m hoping that around the world, people will actually take advantage of that to have online services and webinars and things like that. For example, in my hometown of Cape Town we held an online prayer service. We contacted the chaplains and youth leaders of six different denominations to plan this online service, which was quite exciting.”

“These chaplains and youth leaders decided this collaboration shouldn’t just be a one-off thing for Season of Creation, so they’ve formed a movement called Together 4 Creation. During Season of Creation, they’re running two campaigns. One is called Repurpose, a competition on repurposing things made out of plastic. Young people are all going to put their repurposed items up on social media and tag 10 friends to spread the movement. There’s a prize for that. And then, because during COVID we’ve had big problems with food security, we’re also doing a One Garden campaign where people are encouraged to start a home veggie garden.

“The chaplains and youth leaders have also started a joint Facebook page and after Season of Creation, they’re going to continue to do joint events and clean-ups. So I’m very excited.”

Imagining Jubilee

This year we have witnessed global crises on an unprecedented scale. Our current circumstances have reinforced the need for us to evaluate the way humanity functions and our impact upon the whole of God’s created order. The need for Jubilee – just and sustainable systems, and rest for the Earth – has been revealed now more than ever. 

“Jubilee is a very powerful image for this time, for COVID,” reflects Rachel. “It brings together three different issues. The first issue is about rest for the planet. In the initial stages of COVID, we were all experiencing this as we slowed down. We found animals were returning, birds were returning, and there were some beautiful images of all the pollution disappearing in certain places. So it gave us that vision of what could be. I know we’ve messed up now – the world is back to polluting and rushing around, and with the economy in a dive some of the environmental goals may be dropped. But we did get a vision of what happens when the Earth can rest. This issue of rest is for us as Christians as well – keeping our Sabbaths and that rhythm of rest.

The second important issue is around inequality and redistributive justice. When we look at the Jubilee principle in the Bible, the main thing that is emphasised is that no one owns the land, that the Earth belongs to the Lord. And so at the end of 50 years, the land is given back to its original inhabitants. If you look at the current way our world is going, the inequality is just getting worse and worse. The gap between the poorest and the richest is growing. So that Jubilee principle of redistribution points to how we can work for a more fair world.

The third issue is coming together as one people, one planet. We were also reminded of this recently with the 50th Jubilee anniversary of the first moon landing, when humans first set eyes on the Earth from space. Before taking off from Earth, up until then everybody only had a sense of separate countries. Then for the first time, we saw the beautiful blue Earth rising and we saw this planet and realised we’re all one. We are all children of the Earth. We’re not supposed to be South Africans or Australians or Americans. We’re actually supposed to be children of the Earth. Whatever befalls the Earth befalls the children of the Earth. I think COVID has reinforced that sense of being one planet and the realisation that what I do affects people on the other side of the planet as well.”

Casting a hope-filled vision for Southern Africa

This year more than ever, we are longing for the moral imagination that accompanies the Jubilee as we consider how to rebuild post-pandemic. We, the global church, have an incredible opportunity to cast a prophetic vision of an earth restored and renewed. So what might this tangibly look like in Southern Africa?

“For starters,” says Rachel, “what we would see is a fairer and more healthy food system. At the moment, food is grown far away, brought into a central distribution place, packaged in vast amounts of plastic, and then transported to the supermarkets where we go to buy it. So it’s been out of the earth for days, we’ve pumped fossil fuels to deliver it and we’re eating food which is old and covered in plastic. So we would see a massive reclaiming of the earth and everybody saying, “Even if it’s just a tyre on my back step, I can plant something. I can use that little bit of ground.” We also have to stop wasting food – currently one third of food produced in South Africa ends up in landfill.

“There would be a rejection of this status we have with junk food, which is killing our planet and killing our bodies. It might be different in the States and Europe, but here junk food is quite a status thing because people don’t have so much income. So when you begin to earn, then you move from homegrown food to junk food. So we would see that narrative changing and people – both rural and professional – embracing homegrown food, providing much more healthy and localised food security.

“There would also be an upswell in support for the most vulnerable. One of the positives of COVID was that we had a massive amount of localised community action because people were so worried about the homeless. They were so worried about the hungry. So that vision for a more fair and just society where everybody has access to decent homes, food, health and sanitation would continue. 

“There would be safe transport. That’s another big thing in terms of healing the Earth. We have a lot of single use cars and our public transport system is unsafe and very dysfunctional. So a safe, healthy, green public transport system would actually revolutionize people’s lives. 

“Overall, I think one would see a greener South Africa. One would see more healthy food security. One would see everybody having enough food, everybody having a place to live and to sleep, everybody having decent work. We’re the highest inequality country in the world. The richer people are able to live those amazing lifestyles because we are abusing our workers. So redistribution would ensure just wages for all – not minimum wages – but living wages. Everybody should be earning enough to be able to live in a decent accommodation.

“I am hopeful of this vision for the future – for the future of food, housing, jobs and transport. I think we have to be hopeful. I mean, by definition we are people of hope. As Christians, we have to be people of hope. That is the very important role of Christians within the environmental movement. 

“It’s quite easy to burn out within the environmental movement. People have been active for decades and we just see climate change getting worse and worse. And we have a COP every year but nothing seems to change. And we elect these politicians who take the world in a worse direction. So it’s easy to lose hope and a lot of environmentalists do. 

“Therefore, as Christian environmentalists, it’s very important for us to recognise that we have our hope somewhere else. We have our hope in God who created this Earth. We have our hope in God who sent his Son to save this Earth. We have our hope in the Spirit who renews the face of this Earth. And we do believe in a new creation here on this planet. We’re not waiting for another Planet B. We are part of the new creation and the recreation of this planet. 

“What also gives me hope is that there are so many small initiatives. There are so many people just doing small, good things and if we can bring together all of them, if we can connect these small movements, really, we become an unstoppable wave.

“Sometimes you look at the news environmentally and you’re like, “Can all our small attempts to make a difference really change things?” But then you have to just go back to your faith again and say, “We serve the Creator God. It’s in the hands of the Creator God. It’s not in my hands. My hands are called to do my small part, but the future is in the hands of the Creator God and He has promised us that He will renew the face of the Earth.””

Yes and amen!  

We in the Renew Our World community dare to imagine a world where there is no extreme poverty, where everyone has access to healthy food, safe water, adequate housing, decent jobs, good health care and sanitation facilities. Where compassion, equality, justice and sustainability are essential threads woven into the fabric of all societies. With our God, that world is possible. If this vision is something you want to be part of, come join our Renew Our World community

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