As a priest and a practising GP working in an area known as ‘Science Vale UK’ applying for a Scientists in Congregations grant was an important step for Rev Dr Jonathan Mobey. The benefice of Harwell and Chilton in Oxford Diocese where he is Rector – made up of two parishes – includes the Harwell Campus, an international centre of excellence for science, home to the Rutherford Appleton Laboratories, the European Space Agency and 200 science orientated companies. The funding allowed organisers to stage public lectures on science and faith in the Harwell Campus, with talks from prominent scientists and attended by hundreds of people. The church also ran a family science club and a fortnightly discussion group. “We really needed to take the initiative and encourage Christians who are working in science and technology but also to reach out in a wider role to debunk the myth that science and faith are incompatible,” he said. “We have also raised awareness of the fact that there are prominent scientists both past and present who are Christians and I hope that we have increased the confidence of those who work in science and technology.”
St John’s Lindow in Wilmslow, Cheshire, received funding for public lectures on science and faith, a geological field trip to the Peak District and a series of talks followed by question and answer sessions held in a local coffee shop as well as a diocesan wide conference on science and faith. The project was organised by Vicar Rev Simon Gales and congregation member Manchester University Professor of Materials Science, David Watts, and churchwarden Dr Althea Wilkinson, who works at Jodrell Bank Observatory. Rev Simon Gales, a qualified chartered engineer who worked in the nuclear industry before training for ordination said: "Hopefully this has helped those who are scientists in the congregation to integrate their faith and their science and working life but has also helped those who are not from a scientific background to have confidence that the Christian faith is compatible with science."
Rev Dr Tim Bull, a former computer scientist and Director of Ministry for St Albans Diocese, launched the ‘Take your Vicar to the Lab’ project two years ago with Rev Prof Nick Goulding, Professor of Pharmacology and Medical Education at Queen Mary University of London.
More than 30 clergy and Readers have visited laboratories and academic facilities including the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire, the Genome Centre and Genomic England in London and Barts Hospital and the School of Pharmacy at University College London with more visits planned for later this year. The project has inspired more activities including a church summer holiday programme. St Albans Cathedral is also planning a conference on Artificial Intelligence next year. Nearly 100 clergy and Readers have attended conferences to hear talks on areas including computing, medical ethics and technology.
"We have raised the profile of science and faith in local congregations and churches. So much of our world is affected by science and technology, medicine, genetics and Artificial Intelligence. We do need church leaders who are confident in talking about these things", he said.
Scientists in Congregations supported 'OMG Science! Unlocking a World of Wonder', a conference for York secondary schools on science. The event, run by young people at St Andrew’s Church Bishopthorpe and the Archbishop of York’s Youth Trust, attracted more than 100 young people and is due to be repeated next month in Leeds.
The project was partly inspired after a congregation member of St Andrew’s, a grandmother, spoke of how she was struggling to respond to her grandchildren telling her that science had ‘disproved religion’. "OMG Science! showed how science and faith both excite curiosity, both being about discovering what is real. It also encouraged young people to consider a potential career in science as a Christian vocation,” said Rev Malcolm Macnaughton, who helped bid for the scheme.
Applications for a new round of grants are being invited with a deadline of January 7 next year. More details here.