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Eco Church Now 200 Strong!

by Dr Ruth Valerio

Posted: 04 Apr 2016

'Whatever happens to the earth at the time of the Lord's return, one thing is clear; it was created in love by God, who continues to care for it. As Christians, we can surely do no less.'

These were the words of Martin Pett, of Trinity Church, Lewes, as he began his address to a 300-strong audience gathered in the crypt of St Paul's Cathedral in London back at the end of January. He went on to explain how the congregation at Trinity have gone about establishing caring for the environment as an integral part of their everyday work and witness.

You may well be aware that Martin was speaking at a special event that St Paul's Institute hosted, to mark the launch of Eco Church. Eco Church is a brand new award scheme for churches who understand, and want to demonstrate, that the gospel is good news not only for people but also for God's earth.

In partnership with Christian Aid, the Church of England, the Methodist Church and Tearfund, Eco Church has been developed by A Rocha UK - a Christian charity working for the protection and restoration of the natural world - as the successor to Eco-Congregation for churches in England and Wales (Eco-Congregation continues to operate in Scotland and Ireland).

A Rocha UK's vision for Eco Church is for the scheme to create a vast network of churches as local centres of creation care in the community - shining beacons of hope for a brighter environmental future. This vision was endorsed by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams who, speaking at the launch of Eco Church at St Paul's, welcomed the new scheme as part of a 'tectonic shift' in Christian thinking through which environmental concerns will 'embed more deeply' in church culture.

Launching Eco Church at St Paul's gave us a wonderful way to get the scheme going, and it has been very encouraging seeing the response since then. Around 200 churches have now registered, and we are starting to see the first awards come trickling through. One of the things I'm really pleased about is the variety of churches reaching Eco Church status: from great big St Paul's Cathedral to little St John's Hurst Green in Lancashire, from Lyme Regis Baptist church in the South West, to Streetly Methodist Church in the Midlands. And now we can also announce that York Minster has gained its first Eco Church award, at Bronze level, presented to them at their main Easter Sunday service!

I'm encouraged too to see Anglican dioceses all around the country picking up on Eco Church and seeing it as a way to help their parishes integrate caring for God's earth through their church lives. We'll be launching Eco Diocese later this year, so I'm looking forward to seeing some healthy competition!

What I love most is hearing from churches themselves about what they've been doing and what they've enjoyed about getting involved with Eco Church. The people from Lyme Regis Baptist Church told me,

'I think the best thing we have done practically as a church to work towards the award is switching to a renewable energy company to supply all the electricity and gas we use as a church. Due to the fact our building is quite old it takes a lot to heat it and knowing it comes from 100% renewable resources makes a big difference to our carbon footprint and helping the environment. However, just doing the small things like switching to eco-friendly cleaning products has really got the church family thinking on a spiritual level too about their impact and whether they think looking after the environment is important to their faith.

What I have particularly enjoyed about the new Eco Church scheme is how accessible and easy to use it is. It gets the churches thinking about the environment on a practical, spiritual and missional level in a way 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 as having an impact on the environment'.

The woman who was the key person behind Collier Row Methodist Church's award told me how encouraging the scheme had been to her personally: 'The thing I enjoyed most about the eco scheme was, having been trying at home to be more eco-friendly, as we gradually improved things at our church so we could see our score improving on the chart and this was a great encouragement'. She went on to tell me about how they were making sure that their paper plates and cups were biodegradable or recyclable and that, when they were ready to replace their old boiler, they would be making sure it was replaced with something environmentally-friendly.

Another church told me of the fun they had had holding an alternative fruit and vegetable show and visiting a local, family-run farm.

The scheme itself covers all areas of church life: Worship and Teaching; Management of Church Buildings and Land; Community and Global Engagement; and Lifestyle. At the heart of Eco Church is a unique, online survey that enables participating churches both to record what they are already doing to care for God's earth, and to reflect on what further steps they can take to that end. As a church completes the survey they collect points towards an Eco Church Award at Bronze, Silver or Gold level. In order to qualify for an Award, churches must attain the required standard in each of the areas covered by the survey that apply to them. Accompanying the survey is a whole new suite of online resources to help and support churches to undertake the recommended actions.

Churches apply for an Award by downloading and completing the simple application form. Award-winning churches receive a certificate to mark their achievement and can purchasing (at cost) an Award plaque fashioned from recycled church pews.

To participate in Eco Church all you need to do is register online at ecochurch.arocha.org.uk, and then start completing the online Eco Survey - it's that simple!

200 churches registered within the first two months of launch is a really encouraging start, but with around 40,000 churches in England and Wales, there is a long way to go before we can really say that caring for God's earth is an accepted part of church life across the denominations and networks. At A Rocha UK, we want to see 4000 churches gain Eco Church status over the next ten years and think that will give us the tipping point we need to see church culture revolutionised.

Each one of you reading this can play your part in bringing this about. Please: have a look Eco Church and get your church involved today!

St John's Hurst Green, Lancashire

St John's Hurst Green, Lancashire, recently received their Bronze award.

About this author

Dr Ruth Valerio is the Churches and Theology Director of A Rocha UK, and author of 'Just Living: Faith and community in an age of consumerism'.


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Disclaimer

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of St Paul's Institute or St Paul's Cathedral.