For the first time since 2019, the CRES Residential was able to go ahead at Cuddesdon. With people being able to gather together again, it is perhaps no surprise that the theme of community seemed to run through the two days, as we reflected, prayed, ate, walked, and talked together.
The Friday afternoon field trip was to the Earth Trust, an Oxfordshire-based environmental learning charity. We started the trip inside their new ‘Earth Lab’ building, a sustainably built learning centre. Environmental Education Manager, Stuart Ritchie, outlined his role before handing over to Paul Hill, Head of Environmental Land Management, who oversees the management of the Trust’s farming operations and countryside estate. We were given an introduction to some of the Trust’s current projects including wetland habitat creation and the Farm Step Programme which is targeted at people currently locked out of farming by the price and availability of land, or lack of skills. This was followed by a walk around some of the land the Trust manages. Over the course of the walk, we covered a whole range of topics including community engagement, the challenges of managing sites of archaeological importance, and the impact of the summer’s high temperatures on soil and crops. It was a fascinating afternoon that helped us to better understand the complexities and dilemmas involved with sustainable land management, accompanied by a refreshing willingness to talk about what has been learned from failures as well as successes and a desire to share that learning as widely as possible.
Across the two days, we had five student presentations, two by video enabling overseas students to share their projects with us. On Friday evening we heard about how Cistercian monastic communities managed water and reflected on what we might learn from them as well as the ways in which we think about water from water as a blessing to water as a commodity. The second presentation on Friday came from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and we learned about deforestation and the destruction of wildlife habitats, alongside creation care projects aimed at engaging local communities through growing food and drawing on indigenous forms of spirituality. Saturday saw the remaining three presentations. The first explored the question of whether the Church of England’s net zero by 2030 target is achievable using the Diocese of Guildford as a case study. Questions raised included how do we share best practice and how can we increase engagement with online tools to record energy efficiency in order to better understand the current picture. Next, we turned to veganism and whether it is the answer to the climate crisis. The talk took a holistic look at the issues and the need to look at the global picture in terms of food justice. More locally, the connection between food and communities through churches, schools, farms, gardens, and allotments was brought out. The final presentation came from North West Argentina and shared a project which gathered a community’s perspectives on wildlife in a deforested region, using their collective memory to determine whether numbers of different species had declined, increased or stayed the same since deforestation. All in all, five rich and varied presentations reflected the wide range of interests across the CRES community.
An important part of the residential is the chance to worship together in the chapel. We shared a short reflective service on Friday evening led by Mavis Crispin, who used Psalm 104 alongside words and images inspired by a recent trip to Cornwall. There was also a simple, traditional morning service led by Greg Forster, after which we left the chapel to a sky full of house martins swooping around the eaves of the Cuddesdon buildings. Before lunch on Saturday, Margot Hodson showed us the forest church in the grounds with its outdoor altar and seating around a fire pit. It’s designed as an accessible outdoor worship space and has been used by other community groups including Oxford Forest Church.
There were also chances to reflect on the past, present, and future of CRES. We were pleased to be joined by founders, John Neal and John Whitehead. Philip Wagstaff gave a short appreciation and Martin Hodson presented them both with a small gift. As the number of CRES graduates grows, we reflected on how we might build on the sense of CRES as a community, something that was clearly present across the two days.
We have now had 54 CRES graduates in total. That is 49 certificates (18 with distinction) and 5 diplomas (1 distinction). Five graduates are from outside the UK (Netherlands, South Korea, Spain, Argentina, DR Congo). The first graduates were in 2005, so we have had 18 cohorts so far. The average is now exactly 3 graduates a year! But the number per year is increasing (5 in each of last two years and looks at least that for next year). Well done to all our graduates!