Posted by: rogermitchell | November 25, 2019

Climate Change and Assembly

My friend David Benjamin Blower is one of the most awake and insightful people I know. The latest piece from his Soil Journal [ ] is so relevant that I asked if I could include it as a guest blog here. Please reflect and comment:


Last week I spoke to the climate scientist Kevin Anderson. I asked him about the balance between making changes in our personal lives and calling for change from power. He responded by saying that the two are connected. He said top down and bottom up power are two sides of the same coin in the bigger vision. And he went on to describe the thready and echoey world that connects the two. 

The changes most of us can make in our lives are hardly significant in terms of carbon emissions, but, he said, we have to open up space for local dialogue. All the studies show that those conversations go nowhere if those having them aren’t practicing what they’re talking about. Everyone knows, if you’re not doing it you don’t really care.

Crucially, he said, dialogue about change must happen across social boundaries. Different groups and cultures need to find their way into the same room to talk and listen and imagine: the old with the young, the privileged with the powerless, the religious and the not-religious, this religion and that one. These are rare scenarios. We need gatherings. We need assemblies.

A few days earlier, I’d been hosting a conversation near Hastings about the ekklesia. This greek word means assembly or gathering. From about 600BC there was a regular ekklesia in Athens. Male citizens would gather to discuss and vote on matters of the city. The first century messianics adopted the term for their own gatherings, but they radicalised it: here the ekklesia was opened up to include women, slaves, immigrants, religious difference… everyone. And they kept the practice of all eating round the same table a meal of rememberence for a murdered peasant messiah. This was a way of recognising the seeds of hope, not among the powerful, but among the oppressed.

Their ekklesia was a diverse assembly, gathered around the suffering of the world, in order to reimagine a different kind of future.

In the New Testament the word ekklesia is translated church. I don’t think this is quite the right word. The etymology of church goes back to the greek Kyriakon, which means House of the Lord. So while ekklesia is civic, kyriakon is religious. While ekklesia is the language of dialogue where the collective understanding of the people is expressed through the voice and participation of all, kyriakon is the language of temple, where the way is expressed through its priesthood, to the people. Ekklesia is a sort of pop-up flash-mob phenomenon, made up of people who gather and then disperse. Kyriakon is an unmoving object, a house, a building. Crucially, kyriakon is a place, but ekklesia is a space.

I’m oddly enthusiastic about churches, temples and religion, actually. Ekklesia might even happen in such places. But these two ideas are not quite the same thing. Today we need the ekklesia, like never before: diverse assemblies, gathered around the suffering of the world, in order to reimagine a different kind of future.

I’ll resist making a lot of defensive clarifications (as we always want to when prodding religious language). You can email me if you want them. I also want to hear about the unexpected places you’ve encountered these kinds of ekklesia spaces.



  1. Roger,
    You provide such stimulating thought. I doubt you will remember me but I read you book on Europe five times. I do not connect with Martin S. Any more but a friend of his who helps me in my walking.
    I have pondered long on globalisation. And its impact. But each day I discover new things. My husband encourages me to mix with people who think differently to my self. So I value your thinking differently.
    I have also come to learn to work with what is there, the present system we are in, and sometimes within the system miracles happen.

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