On 26 January Eco Church became five years old. Covid has prevented a face to face ‘birthday party’, but on 26 March we will be holding an online event to celebrate the extraordinary development of the programme, to thank all who have contributed, and to pray together. And we have so much to thank God and you for.
Five years ago, when Eco Church was launched, we set a target to reach 10% of churches (or about 4,500) across England and Wales in 10 years. The idea, based on research, was that 10% would be a ‘tipping point’ after which churches practically caring for creation would seem increasingly normal and gain its own momentum – without A Rocha UK having to drive it. So, how are we doing and what are our plans for the next five years?
We’re well over half way there: a total of 3,100 churches have registered for Eco Church, over 1,000 awards have been achieved, and Eco Church has become a national community learning together and stretching across all sizes and styles of church. It has also gained the strong support of many denominations as a key tool for them to achieve their own increasingly ambitious carbon-reduction goals.
We are delighted, and deeply grateful for the hundreds of dedicated individuals taking this forward in their own local churches and at ‘area’ level – in Anglican dioceses, Methodist Circuits, URC synods etc. A Rocha UK simply could not achieve this on our own!
Who could have imagined this 5 years’ ago, with all the events that have unfolded in the intervening years, both in the UK and globally? The societal and environmental context has changed dramatically since 2016 not least because of the pandemic but also because predictions of climate change and environmental degradation impacting normal life are coming to pass. In the midst of a pandemic, it’s easy to forget the record breaking ‘environmental’ events of 2019 and 2020 including wildfire devastation across Australia and California, as well as on the UK’s heather moorlands. In the hottest decade ever recorded, we’re seeing the impacts near and far. Yet there are reasons to be hopeful, and Eco Church can make an even more important contribution to the Church fulfilling its obligation to care for God’s creation in the critical years ahead.
Through the Eco Church programme, local churches can work together to advance core parts of our Christian mission: to care for the rest of creation, of course, but also to care for the poor and vulnerable people, to restore community relationships and point all people towards God via the wonder of His creation. For example, restoring even a small piece of land for nature locally, be it a rural church yard or scrappy street-side plot in the inner-city, helps all people to access the vital lifeline of nature.
Teaching about care for creation in church, and being seen to act on it, will make Christian faith and church life much more relevant to younger people in particular.
The good news is that all of these actions are things that many churches are already doing – and can continue to do even in the midst of a pandemic. So where does the Eco Church movement go next?
Looking ahead we believe that the next steps for the Eco Church movement include encouraging newer churches and networks to come on board, facilitating progress by those churches struggling to get an award, and enabling Eco Churches to speak up together on issues like climate change through, for example, the Climate Sunday initiative. It is also going ‘international’: many of our sister organisations within the wider A Rocha family are keen to roll out a version of Eco Church in their own countries. This way we hope Eco Church will make a significant contribution to nature, the Church and people in the challenging years ahead.
But none of this will happen without God and the energy, inspiration and support of the growing number of individuals and churches around the country.
Please join us for a special online service on 26 March to celebrate and pray for the next phase of our work together. And if you cannot be there, please join us in private prayer, or with your church, thanking God for the contribution Eco Church has made so far to helping Churches care for creation more effectively, and for guidance for the staff and core volunteers leading it forward.