Image: Members of Avenue St Andrew’s URC at a climate march in November 2021. Photo credit Bernie Collins.
Avenue St Andrew’s United Reformed Church in Southampton achieved a Bronze Eco Church Award in January 2023. Their church has a history of caring for creation, achieving their first Eco-Congregation award (the scheme that pre-dates Eco Church. Eco Church began in England and Wales in 2016) in 2011! They shared some of their journey with us below:
We have had an active concern about climate change for many years, encouraged by a few keen and knowledgeable individuals. There have been some particular milestones along the way:
in 2011 we became an Eco Congregation;
in 2019 we installed solar panels
in 2020/21 we ran the Dorset Green Living Course online during lockdown, where we had time to study in-depth and grow in our understanding.
From this, we formed a Green Living Group, which has provided the impetus for our Eco Church journey.
Some of our recent journey:
In the United Reformed Church, decision-making power rests in the Church Meeting. In 2021 our Church Meeting adopted a Climate Emergency Declaration and action plan, as part of which we have a large banner on the main road outside the church saying ‘Act now on climate’. An identical banner hangs outside St Edmund’s Church further down the road. Our Green Living Group is a joint one with the Roman Catholic City Centre Parish, who also engage with Eco Church.
Our church has agreed on a detailed action plan for 2023, available here.
The ‘church’ part of our building is large, has a high roof, is over 100 years old, and is grade two listed.
We measure our energy use with an online monitor for electricity (linked with our solar panels), and weekly reports on gas consumption. Our current target is 50% reduction in the year running from September 2022 to September 2023. We were in the Big Switch scheme, but this stopped with the collapse of energy companies in early 2022. Calculating our carbon footprint is an action point for the coming months. We have reservations about offsetting. We will consider it when we have calculated our carbon footprint. We would favour funds to help indigenous communities in tropical rainforests to use their forest sustainably.
Our main area of land is a gated courtyard much used and loved by the children and adults with our family support work. For safeguarding reasons, others cannot have access to the courtyard for those three days a week. We are growing runner beans and other vegetables to interest (and help feed) the children and their parents. One child was fascinated by the ladybirds feeding on the blackfly on the beans. We have plans to plant more insect-friendly and drought-resistant plants this year.
Recycling has taken off in a big way at our church, with collection points for specific items and an information board for local schemes. But we are aware that there is a lot we still cannot recycle. This year we are focussing on looking more deeply at how and where our recycling is used, and on compiling a booklet of other collection points for different items in our communities, as well as on emphasising the principles of ‘reduce and re-use’ too. Clothes and other pre-loved items are exchanged both in our drop-in for refugees and people seeking asylum and in our family support work.
Reducing our transport footprint is a challenge. We are a ‘gathered congregation’, some travelling several miles to get to church. Most of those who are local and in good-health walk or cycle to church, but many of our members need cars because of ill health or age.
We are part of a local neighbourhood association and also relate to Transition Southampton (one of our members is vice-chair), Southampton Climate Action Network and Hampshire Climate Action Network. We recognise that we are a very, very small player in the face of the huge climate and biodiversity emergencies, so we truly value connections. It’s in this spirit that we appreciate the pathway that A Rocha UK has created through the Eco Church programme.
With thanks to Avenue St Andrew’s United Reformed Church for sharing their story with us.