Uniting Church’s Forest Protection Pilgrimage brings support to forest defenders

Uniting Church’s Forest Protection Pilgrimage brings support to forest defenders

From 25-28 August the Uniting Church’s Forest Advocacy Ministry joined with others on Gumbaynggirr Country for a pilgrimage in threatened forest ecosystems of the Mid North Coast.

The aims of the weekend were to support “forest friends” groups who are defending forests from logging, listen to and yarn with Gumbaynggirr traditional owners, increase awareness among Christians of the importance of achieving maximum protection of koala habitat, and reflect on contextual ministry.

The gathering started with yarning with Gumbaynggirr man Dean Kelly, CEO of Yurruungga Aboriginal Corporation, and was followed by a series of visits to threatened forests.

Mr Kelly, whose family have always inhabited the Bellinger Valley, talked with the group about his hopes for the valley, with the blessing of his Elders and his connection to his Ancestors, and shared in invitation to join in a journey of connection and love: working together, growing in belonging, healing Country. 

At Newry Forest, where harvesting is temporarily suspended due to a legal action brought by Gumbaynggirr Elder Uncle Micklo Jarrett, those gathered heard from the Forest Ecology Alliance and Friends of Newry about the efforts of citizen scientists and other concerned community members to stop the logging.

John Pile, who played a key role in the establishment of Bongil Bongil National Park in the 1990s, led the group on a “koala walk” through the Park and the adjacent Pine Creek Forest, parts of which are planned for logging later in the year. Members from the Forest Advocacy Ministry, Friends of Pine Creek, Friends of Conglomerate, the Knitting Nannas and the Forest Ecology Alliance discussed koala behaviour and habitat needs. This was followed by a quiet pilgrimage further into the forest. 

At Tuckers Nob, in a recently clear-felled and sprayed area of steeply sloping plantation that was home to koalas and other threatened species including frogs, Tuckers Nob and Orara East neighbours shared their experiences of living next door to industrial logging. They were distressed and angry about the destruction of the forests, the impacts of clearing on neighbours, and dealings with the NSW Forestry Corporation. 

The Rev. Dr Jason John noted the efforts of local residents to halt native forest logging, through political processes, community engagement, and direct action. He commented, “All are needed for these forests, because these forests are for us all. We write the future of these forests- every bough and every tree. Every bird in every hollow. We all determine their tomorrow.”

The Uniting Church affirms that God’s creation is good in and of itself, as well as in sustaining human life. In a 1991 statement on the Rights of Nature and the Rights of Future Generations, the Uniting Church Assembly asserted that: “No creature is indifferent in the eyes of God. Each has its dignity and thereby also its right to existence.”

Former Moderator the Rev. Niall Reid said, “Mature forests are critical habitat. Birds and animals rely on tree hollows. Koalas require several different species of tree for food and forage in a specific, limited area.

“Simply planting more trees does not ameliorate the loss incurred by logging. Next to nothing is spared in the clear felling of the forests, old growth or plantation, and a barren landscape is all that is left, denuded of vegetation and responsible for the mass deaths of animals.

“The forests are sacred, created by God and, even if there is need to harvest some resources from them, should be treated with respect and awe.”

The Sunday morning saw a time of spiritual connection to forests and waterways at Gleniffer Church and Never Never Creek. In this interfaith gathering, Mr Reid reflected on the upcoming Season of Creation theme “let justice and peace flow”. Muslim Coffs Harbour student Rataj Abdullah, organiser of the Coffs Youth Climate Alliance, shared her poetry. The event concluded with a blessing, by Bellingen Uniting Church pastor Jessi Levy, of a portable toilet which is to be made available to forest vigil camps as a Uniting Church contribution. 

For churches who follow the themes on a three-year cycle for the Season of Creation, 2023 celebrated the Spirit in Creation. The Spirit, also Wind or Breath, breathes life into creation, suffers with creation and renews creation: Forests (1 September), Land (8 September), Outback (15 September), and Rivers (24 September).

“The God who made the world and all that is in it [the world that is beloved by God, John 3:16] … is the One who gives everyone life, breath – everything … the One in whom we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:24-28)

Preaching on Forest Sunday, Dr Miriam Pepper, Forest Advocacy Ministry Committee secretary, said, “It is no accident that the Spirit series starts with forests. Forests are arks of biological diversity and are critical to maintaining the Earth’s life support systems. They regulate the climate, store carbon, prevent erosion, lessen flooding, and preserve water quality. They are also the lungs of the earth. Their outbreath is our inbreath, their inbreath our outbreath.

“We, the church, understand ourselves to be the Body of Christ. We celebrate, give thanks, for this at the Eucharist – receiving, being and becoming Christ’s body. Theologian Sally McFague talks about the cosmos as the Body of God – all bodies as embodying the divine. All bodies as part of an ethical concern, gathered up in the liberating love of God for justice, healing and wholeness.”

The forest protection pilgrimage closed with Forest Advocacy Ministry participants joining an overnight Friends of Kalang Headwaters vigil at Oakes Forest, where logging of precious river headwaters is imminent.  

For more information about the Forest Advocacy Ministry, visit Uniting Earth Web’s site here.

Miriam Pepper


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