Many churches across England and Wales have already won Eco Church Awards in recognition of their efforts to care for creation. Here some of them share something of their stories…
Lyme Regis Baptist Church
Lyme Regis Baptist Church gained a Bronze Eco Church Award in February 2016. One of the things they did by way of working towards their Award was to switch to a renewable energy company to supply the electricity and gas used by the church. This has made a big difference to their carbon footprint! However, they also found that smaller things – like using eco-friendly cleaning products – really helped the church family to reflect on the importance of looking after the environment as an expression of their faith.
“What I have particularly enjoyed about Eco Church is how accessible and easy to use it is. It gets churches thinking about the environment on a practical, spiritual and missional level in a way that I don’t think the church has ever been challenged to before. It looks at all areas of church life and provokes you to think about areas you had never thought of having an impact on the environment”.Izzy Woodman, Eco Church Rep, Lyme Regis Baptist Church
The Parish of Baildon
A combination of Al Gore’s film ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ and A Rocha founder Peter Harris’s books alerted the three churches of the Parish of Baildon (St John’s, St James’s and St Hugh’s) to the need for Christians to be responsible stewards of God’s earth. Using the online Eco Church survey helped them understand their strengths and weakness in regard to caring for God’s earth, and to establish priorities for action. By way of working towards their Bronze Award the churches held Eco Days to which they invited other environmental groups in their area. Together they hosted a variety of stalls and provided activities for children, along with refreshments. They supported the British Beekeepers Association’s ‘Adopt a Beehive’ scheme, have helped with Swan Rescue, and supported a Fairtrade initiative to assist farmers in Africa. With three church buildings in the parish, implementing environmental improvements presented quite a challenge financially. However, with sustained effort they were able gradually to install double-glazing, LED lights and more efficient boilers. Working together towards an Eco Church Award has made the parish aware of the beauty of creation, and of how their buildings and gardens can be a sign to the surrounding community of the importance of caring for the environment.
St John’s, Waterloo
Dealing with an old building and engaging the congregation in entering a ‘personal ecological conversion’ were the biggest challenges faced by St John’s, Waterloo in working towards an Eco Church Award. They found the process really helped them see where their strengths and weaknesses lay, and ensured the environment was at the top of their agenda when developing future plans. Eco Church enabled the church to reflect on the environment and their theology – a combination that produced great synergy and allowed the congregation to understand why they were participating in the scheme. Having gained a Silver Eco Church Award in October 2016, St John’s Church is now going for Gold!
Commenting on Salisbury Cathedral’s success in gaining a Bronze Eco Church Award, Canon Treasurer, Robert Titley said: ‘We believe that the Christian gospel is good news for the whole of creation as well as for human beings. The Eco Church audit is helping us see how we can express that better through the whole range of the cathedral’s life, from the hymns we sing to the heating we use – and with its graded scheme, indicating areas in which we could improve our service to the community and beyond.’
In the Diocese, the cathedral joins the Parish of Woodford Valley with Archer’s Gate with its Bronze, while Hilfield Friary holds a Gold Award. Another ten churches in the Diocese are registered with the scheme.
“Christians want to steward the gifts of God and care for his creation. It is great that the cathedral is taking a lead in this, putting Christian teaching on the care of creation into practice. Climate change is already damaging the lives of some of the world’s poorest communities. I hope other churches in the Diocese will follow the cathedral’s lead. We need to care for the earth because there is no Planet B.”The Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, Bishop of Salisbury. The Church of England’s lead bishop for the environment
When Dorset-based Hilfield Friary applied for a Silver Award, their application was so impressive, they were immediately upgraded to Gold! ‘They’d achieved so much,’ said Eco Church Manager Nigel Hopper, ‘they ran out of categories in our online survey.’ An A Rocha UK Partner In Action, the Anglican Franciscan community had done standard activities such as special Sundays on creation care, hosting A Rocha UK speakers, and fitting energy-efficient lamps. They’d gone a step further with electricity from renewable sources, insulating and double-glazing buildings, rainwater-harvesting systems and measuring their carbon footprint. But the friary tipped the eco-scale with solar panels, running their own water supply and sewerage plant, and replacing eight gas boilers with a single woodchip burner. ‘We seek to live a sustainable way of life inspired by St Francis of Assisi,’ said Hilfield spokesperson Brother Sam, ’embracing the whole of life – which is as much to do with the way we pray and share our life with those on the margins as it is with rejoicing in God’s creation and all it gives us.’ The community has cattle and sheep for grazing, helps people engage with leaders on environmental issues and works with sustainability movements. ‘We have three communal cars, one electric Leaf, one hybrid and one diesel,’ said Brother Sam. ‘We have two charge points and encourage guests to bring electric cars.’
Trinity Church, Leek
Trinity Church, Leek registered with Eco Church by way of demonstrating their ongoing commitment to creation and environmental issues. They saw the scheme as a practical and user-friendly way of providing a focus and motivation for action. In achieving their Bronze Eco Church Award they found that lots of little actions actually added up to quite a lot! They found that taking small steps at a time enabled people to cope with the necessary changes and so support the church’s efforts. Now working towards a Silver Award, the church plans to switch to a green energy supplier.
Romsey Methodist Church
Romsey Methodist Church embarked on their Eco Church journey a few months after completing a major building modernisation project that included stripping out organ, pews and heating, and installing energy-efficient heating and lighting with enhanced insulation. They carried out their initial Eco Church assessment at the weekly coffee morning, where the online survey was projected on to the wall for everyone to see. They really appreciated the fact that what they were already doing to care for God’s earth was valued highly within the Eco Church framework. Having gained an Eco Church Bronze Award, Romsey Methodist Church is now working towards Silver! Among their plans for future action are: enhanced guidance for members on caring for creation via church news sheets and magazines; hosting events for other churches and for the wider community; to incorporate more regular prayer and worship elements centred on caring for the environment; and to further improve the building stock by refurbishing the remaining areas of the church building and modernising the lighting in the manse.
St Edmund’s, Roundhay
As winners of the Eco-Congregation Award (the precursor to Eco Church), St Edmund’s, Roundhay embraced Eco Church as a means of continuing their work to care for creation as an expression of Christian mission. Completing the online survey was a source of great encouragement because it served to illustrate the progress they’d already made. Reducing the carbon footprint of the church building was – and will continue to be – the biggest challenge on account of the costs involved. Nevertheless, having achieved a Bronze Award the church is determined to progress to Silver by working with people from across the congregation.
Streetly Methodist Church
Having replaced an old heating system with new one fuelled by a biomass boiler, Streetly Methodist Church began thinking about a 20-year future plan and how caring for the environment might feature in it. They signed up to Eco Church when it launched and began working towards an Award. A particular highlight was working together to plan a big Eco Weekend. The church was also thrilled to see their young people get involved in a range of fantastic eco projects. However, it wasn’t always easy to persuade people of the merits of devoting time and resources to environmental matters and considerable effort had to be made to get sufficient numbers enthusing about this aspect of mission. That effort has proved very worthwhile with the environmental focus drawing the congregation together in all sorts of ways, and the local community talking about what the church has done – including achieving a Bronze Eco Church Award!
St Stephen’s, Ealing
St Stephen’s Church in Ealing has long been passionate about caring for God’s world. Eco Church provided them with a very good assessment tool to see what they were doing already and to make good plans for progress on other things to be addressed in the future. They set up five separate teams of people to complete each of the five sections of the online Eco Survey. The process generated much enthusiasm and involvement, which spilled out to others Taking small steps was very encouraging and allayed fears that large amounts of money would need to be spent straight away. The church has, however, been saving towards a project to upgrade its toilets and drains to required standards, and the roof is scheduled for greater insulation in due course. Having achieved a Bronze Award, St Stephen’s has learned the importance of making action to care for the environment fun, engaging and rewarding. They know it is not always wise to expect change quickly, but to set realistic targets, to pray and to hope! With that in mind they are embarking on work towards an Eco Church Silver Award!
Market Harborough Methodist Church
Having taken part in a local Churches Together initiative in which Eco Church featured, Market Harborough Methodist Church made the decision to register. Although it was something of a challenge initially to determine what was already going on in the church to care for God’s earth they stuck to it and were rewarded with an Eco Church Bronze Award. They found that working as a group was helpful because it sparked ideas for action. Looking ahead, the church plans to do more to care for the environment in its grounds and to work with another local church embarking on the Eco Church journey.
St Mary’s, East Grinstead
St Mary’s Church, East Grinstead gained is an Eco Church Bronze Award winner. Reflecting on their Eco Church experience, church member Anne Stone writes: ‘We are an urban church and the land surrounding our building is mainly tarmac and used for car parking. Fortunately, we have a large oak tree that supports a great deal of wildlife. Several years ago we took the decision to make the rough area of grass around the oak into a garden. We organised a joint project with the school for the initial digging-over, with each child planting either a crocus or a daffodil. We established a framework of shrubs and then perennials (either leftover from our annual plant sale or from people’s gardens), resulting in the transformation of the area into an early season garden that really emphasises the coming of spring.
Our second, more controversial decision was to make the small area of grass between the hall and church into a wildflower meadow. We hadn’t the resources to strip the grass and replant, so we allowed the grass to grow and at the same time planted yellow rattle plugs to reduce its vigour. As expected, this caused some comment amongst the congregation as many felt it looked “untidy”. We are now introducing “prettier” wildflowers such as primrose, field poppy, and oxeye daisy but are pleased to note that the diversity of species is increasing naturally each year. Additionally, our Kidz Club planted a Lenten Cross of daffodils that has reappeared “magically” each February.
We have erected bird feeders, nest boxes and bug houses (made by our Beavers group) and also made a log pile, a bug hotel and a hedgehog house; all accompanied by signs explaining their purpose. We also have a compost bin. Last year we entered our churchyard in the South and South East in Bloom competition and obtained a Silver Award; this pleased us greatly as we do have a somewhat restricted site.
For many years now we have held a very successful plant sale that attracts large numbers of people. We have always had a ‘Grow Your Own’ section but this year we introduced a stall showing the best ways to help wildlife in your garden and selling bee-friendly plants. We also organise a ‘Seed-Swap’ coffee morning in October, and this year have invited some of our Town Councillors to be present to hear ideas from members of the public on how to make East Grinstead kinder, greener and more environmentally aware.
As a church we have helped with the establishment of a community garden, organised walks in the local countryside, and had picnics on Ashdown forest. We hope that our efforts have converted what was a pretty sterile environment into an area where wildlife is beginning to find a home, and one that changes with the seasons. Many of our congregation are elderly and live in flats; we hope that by greening our churchyard we are, in a small way, bringing the countryside to them.’
Wymondham Abbey in Norfolk received a Bronze Eco Church Award in July 2016. Hilary Hunter describes some of the work involved…
‘Our churchyard is closed and maintained by the Town Council, but in 2015 it was agreed that we would take over part of it to establish a wildlife conservation area. Creating the foundations resulted in a large amount of consecrated soil needing a home. Where the soil was spread is an ideal site for wildflowers and grasses, so special wildflower meadow mix has been sown there. Round this area are short mown paths which lead to our Garden of Remembrance. The rest of the area was left uncut; part to grow to medium height, the remainder to full height to allow wildflowers and grasses to grow. We devised a three-year Site Management Plan and have recruited a Volunteer Task Team to help us maintain the area.
One of our first activities was a ‘Green Halloween’ event led by members of Wymondham Nature Group (WyNG). Children were shown where they could hunt for bugs and snails, discover hibernating ladybirds, and – the highlight – how to detect bats! Then it was time for craft-making and pumpkin soup, before finishing with a candlelit blessing of the churchyard.
In February 2016 we held a Churchyard Activities Day for the community. Adults made a grand bug hotel and children had a lovely time collecting pine cones and twigs to fill its spaces. They also helped create a woodpile for hedgehogs and other creatures whilst the adults made a compost bin. With the help of WyNG members we carried out a wildlife survey of the churchyard, recording over 40 species and identifying unknown plants with the help of reference books. We have since conducted surveys monthly, finding many new species in the areas where we have let the grass grow. A local ornithologist put up five nest boxes as part of a Nest Box Monitoring Programme. Blue tits bred successfully in one of the boxes, and the birds were all ringed as part of the British Trust for Ornithology’s Nest Records Scheme. We also had peregrines nesting on the tower on a platform provided by the Hawk and Owl Trust.
During Hedgehog Awareness Week, we had a large display about wildlife conservation and hedgehogs. As well as various activities for children, a representative from PACT Animal Sanctuary gave an excellent presentation on ‘Hedge-ucation’. We have since been able to offer a home in the churchyard to seven of their rescued hedgehogs!
In June we held an 1107 Living History Week for local schools, much of which took place in the churchyard where we have also created a medieval herb garden. Visitors find this of great interest, learning about herbs and their uses; and it attracts bees and butterflies. Our Learning and Events Coordinator plans special events for schools, so children can learn more about the wildlife in our churchyard.
Our churchwarden Brian Randall – a keen birdwatcher – has commented, ‘A conservation churchyard is obviously great for wildlife, but ours has shown that it’s also great for people. We’re getting more and more visitors who just come to chill out and enjoy the special atmosphere. It’s a real ‘win-win’!’