By Hannah Mayo, Eco Church Lead Holy Trinity, Westcott.
I used to be an ostrich, sticking my head in the sand about climate change. I’m sure that’s the case for many people. Maybe because they’re happy with their life and don’t see why they should live differently... or life’s already too complicated and they simply have no energy left for something that feels so overwhelming.
But as a Christian I believe in God as creator, who’s given us the planet to nurture, steward, and enjoy. And I’m embarrassed that people of faith have not been actively, and loudly, leading the fight against climate change.
Over the last few years, I’ve found a way to not feel overwhelmed. The Eco Church award scheme helps churches, and people in them, look honestly at how we walk on the earth we believe was created by God, to take seriously our responsibility to it, and to each other. The commandment, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’, clearly meaning our neighbours not just where we actually live, but across the planet, who are devastatingly and disproportionately affected, right now (even if it feels as if we’re not), by the effects of climate change.
At Holy Trinity Westcott, just outside Dorking in Surrey, I’ve been leading the Eco Church team since 2016. Eco Church challenges us to examine 5 areas of church life: worship and teaching, management of buildings, and of land, community and global engagement, and personal lifestyle.
Once registered, there’s an online questionnaire to help us look at what we’re doing in each of those areas, and what we’re not…make changes…some small, some more significant…and we revise our survey answers as we go along, accumulating points which change the colour of gauges to bronze, silver then gold.
On 5th June, representatives of churches from Dorking/Surrey Hills met at St Pauls Dorking, for a quarterly Deanery Synod, this time focussing on the Climate Emergency.
"Our congregations have been motivated to grab hold of the issues themselves, make lifestyle changes, believe there is a way forward, and take that message out to the wider community."
My friend Annabelle South (the Eco Church lead at St Paul’s, Dorking) and I explained what we’ve done in each of our churches and together (it makes such a difference to be collaborative - Dorking’s first Eco Fair was a joint venture!), how our congregations have been motivated to grab hold of the issues themselves, make lifestyle changes, believe there is a way forward, and take that message out to the wider community.
It was fantastic that local Lib Dem and Conservative Councillors joined us for the meeting, speaking with passion about their plans for a more sustainable Mole Valley and Surrey, and answering questions about how to make those plans a reality.
We hope all local churches will register with Eco Church. Thousands of people worship at UK churches every week, and what a difference it could make if every one of us grabbed hold of our responsibility to live differently, and campaign for change. At Synod, Annabelle and I talked about what had worked and what hadn’t in our different contexts…our joys and our frustrations…but we both agree that there is simply no downside to churches registering with Eco Church. It just needs one person to take it on, and a supportive vicar who also feels challenged by climate change issues (I’ve heard of some that aren’t, which seems frankly unfathomable), who will invariably be delighted that someone else is taking the lead! Then go to go to the website and sign up.
"I guarantee you will be able to tick several of the boxes already, which will hopefully encourage you to be proactive about doing more... Once you start, one action leads to others."
Your first mission will be to go through the online survey - I guarantee you will be able to tick several of the boxes already, which will hopefully encourage you to be proactive about doing more. We’ve found, for those of us on the team, and in the congregation, that there’s a domino effect. Once you start, one action leads to others.
Just start somewhere. Don’t do nothing.
At our Synod meeting, the Environment lead for Mole Valley District Council, Claire Malcolmson, talked about her plan to present a motion for the council to declare a Climate Emergency.
On 18th June, at an extraordinary meeting of the council, she did….and it was passed, unanimously. It includes pledges to make the council and its contractors carbon neutral by 2030, but working towards it happening well before that, and to lobby Surrey County Council to provide resources to make possible that target date. To place climate change on agendas more widely across council business, and work with local businesses, community groups and residents to make a positively beneficial impact on the environment and biodiversity in the District.
We’re so glad to be building relationships with our local government representatives. Collaboration, and a shared vision, is the only way we’re going to bring about change.
"I dare to imagine a world that is clean and unpolluted, where all life can not just survive, but thrive."
I believe in a God of hope, of love, of redemption, of new beginnings and life in all its fullness. I dare to imagine a world that is clean and unpolluted, where all life can not just survive, but thrive. And where we all work together, as people of faith or none…as churches, community groups, local councils….to build a better, sustainable world.