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Churches mourn Eco Church founders' deaths

by Michael Ford last modified 06 Nov, 2019 01:44 PM

Churches throughout our Diocese, many of them active Eco Churches have joined with Christians across the country who have been offering prayers and condolences after the tragic deaths of A Rocha leaders.

Churches mourn Eco Church founders' deaths

Peter and Miranda Harris (original photo courtesy Premier News)

A Rocha co-founder Miranda Harris, who lived with her husband Peter in Wiltshire, along with A Rocha International CEO Chris Naylor and his wife Susanna died in the horrific car crash.

Local media reports say that the car they were travelling in collided with another vehicle before plunging off the Swartkops Bridge in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

Miranda's husband Peter survived the accident and remains in hospital in a stable condition.

Back in November 2016, Bishop Nicholas formally launched A Rocha's sponsored Eco Church in this Diocese. Since then many of our churches have recieved Bronze and Silver awards and we became the first Anglican Eco Diocese.

This partnership with A Rocha has meant that those in our many Eco Churches were deeply affected by the news.

Speaking shortly after news of the accident reached the UK, Bishop Nicholas said:

“This is a terrible accident. Peter and Miranda Harris lived and worked to care for God’s creation. Our prayers are with those who have died, including Miranda Harris, and those who are injured, including Peter Harris.”

Peter and Miranda Harris went to Portugal as Crosslinks mission partners in the early 1980s and established a Christian centre in 1983 on the Ria de Alvor – a coastal estuary especially rich in biodiversity but vulnerable to developers. Cruzinha was unique and showed how Christians could care for Creation in a very practical way as an integral part of their faith.

Peter wrote about the early years of Cruzinha in his wonderful book Under the Bright Wings. It remains a classic text. Miranda was the pastoral anchor for their ministry, as they lived in community, raising their family and hosting many short and long-term visitors. They established the guiding principles of A Rocha as five Cs:

1. Christian: Underlying all we do is our biblical faith in the living God, who made the world, loves it and entrusts it to the care of human society.
2. Conservation: We carry out research for the conservation and restoration of the natural world and run environmental education programmes for people of all ages.
3. Community: Through our commitment to God, each other and the wider creation, we aim to develop good relationships both within the A Rocha family and in our local communities.
4. Cross-cultural: We draw on the insights and skills of people from diverse cultures, both locally and around the world.
5. Cooperation: We work in partnership with a wide variety of organisations and individuals who share our concerns for a sustainable world.

As people visited Cruzinha and were inspired to set up similar work in their own countries, the Harrises moved on. First, they established the A Rocha work in France, and then went to lead A Rocha International. This involved helping others set up work around the world, international speaking and writing; relating to wider international conservation and Bekaa Christian organisations; and always the ministry of pastoral care and encouragement of others.

As the work grew, they moved back to the UK, settling in Wiltshire to be near children and grandchildren. Peter continued as the visionary leader, establishing A Rocha as the leading international Christian conservation charity. Miranda continued as the ‘people person’, keeping connection with untold numbers of people who had shown an interest in their work.

Chris and Susanna Naylor met at university in Cambridge and established A Rocha’s work in Lebanon. They first taught in Kuwait, returning because of the Gulf War and in 1995 went to Lebanon, initially to teach in a school in the Bekaa Valley. Committed Christians and keen naturalists and scientists, they pioneered A Rocha Lebanon, developing educational work in the Aammiq Wetland. As the A Rocha project took shape in Aammiq, Chris interacted with landowners, hunters and the Ministry of Environment in Beirut, to protect the Aammiq, through example and education, to change the culture toward caring for the natural world. Chris wrote about their experiences in his book Postcards from the Middle East.

In 2009, The Naylor family moved to the UK and settled near Burford in West Oxfordshire. Chris was appointed as Executive Director for A Rocha International, taking over from Peter Harris and freeing him up to do more speaking and writing. Susanna returned to teaching at Kitebrook Prep School, Kingham Hill School and recently became Head of Science at Christ Church School in Oxford.

The Naylors were active and much-loved members of Burford Parish Church where Susanna had served as Churchwarden and Chris was on the mission committee and had assisted in the children’s ministry.

Many Christians in the environmental and charity sectors have been praying for the A Rocha family in the wake of the news.

Green Anglicans said on Twitter: "Our prayers are with the A Rocha family at this time of loss. We lift up their loved ones and pray for Peter in hospital."

AsiaLink tweeted: "Our deepest condolences go to all at @arochaint following Monday's tragic news. The families and friends of all involved are in our prayers."

The Church of England Environment Programme said it was "so terribly sorry" to hear the news.

"You are in our thoughts," it said on Twitter.

Peter Rowan, national director of OMF UK, said: "Deeply saddened to hear this news. The @OMF_UK community will be praying today for all those affected."

Young Evangelicals for Climate Action said: "We are heartbroken over this news. We are praying for those involved, their family and friends, and the A Rocha family."

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