ECO CHURCH? WHAT IS ECO CHURCH?
Until recently I was unaware of ECO CHURCH, what it is and what it does.
Several years ago Uniting Church Sketty started to recycle, in a small way. We collected spectacles, used postage stamps, batteries and printer cartridges. The spectacles are given to a local optician who is part of a scheme which sends spectacles abroad where they are used in developing countries, this giving people with sight problems, who could not afford to buy spectacles a new lease of life. Stamps have been given to various charities, although the market for used stamps isn’t as buoyant as it was. The cartridges and batteries are taken to the local authority recycling centre.
After we started recycling these items I was made aware of ECO CHURCH. I downloaded their survey to learn more.
About two years ago we expanded our recycling efforts to include crisp packets, Pringle tins, baby food pouches and toothpaste tubes.
I felt at this time that we could complete the survey to apply for the BRONZE AWARD, which is the first award you can attain if you meet the criteria set by A ROCHA, the charity which champions ECO CHURCH.
The survey consists of 5 categories – WORSHIP AND TEACHING; BUILDINGS; LAND; COMMUNITY AND GLOBAL ENGAGEMENT and LIFESTYLE.
The WORSHIP AND TEACHING category proved no problem. An example of a question is – Caring for God’s earth is preached in our church.
The BUILDINGS category is much more detailed. Our church was built in 1876, but we had recently had an extension which enhanced our chances of ticking more boxes. An example of a question is – Our church premises (main church) are insulated as follows – all walls and lofts/ceilings; some walls only; some walls and lofts/ceilings; all lofts/ceilings only; all walls only; some lofts/ceilings only; not at all; not applicable (listed status). Here you can see that this category is more complicate and needs the knowledge of your property stewards etc.
Shortly we will be starting PROJECT HALL during which the original church hall will be modernised, including having solar panels on the roof. This will stand us in good stead when we apply for our next award.
The LAND category could be contentious. Does your church face straight onto a street with no land around it at all? If so you are exempt from completing this category. However, if your church has a small amount of land e.g. some flower beds, you have land. After much thought we had to admit that we had land, even though it is only a small area. One of the questions is – our church land contains a pond or wetland area that is good for wildlife. You may answer – yes; no; not applicable. Our land does not have a pond and is not likely to as we don’t have enough land for one. SO, should the answer be NO or NOT APPLICABLE? Firstly I decided the answer should be NO. Then I had a rethink and changed it to NOT APPLICABLE as we are never likely to have a pond. A Rocha questioned this change, but understood when I explained. In fact I was asked…..are some of the answers listed ambiguous? I said they were, so was asked to think how they could be more clearly stated.
COMMUNITY AND GLOBAL ENGAGEMENT many people would agree is a large part of what should be in the forefront of any church’s mind. One of the questions is – our church participates in the Tearfund/Cord “Toilet Twinning” scheme. The answer to this question for UCS was a definitive YES, as our young people raised enough funds through craft sales etc., to TWIN all our toilets.
The final category is LIFESTYLE. This category refers to recycling, carbon footprints, reduction of car use, communal Christmas and Easter card schemes, the types of food used when eating meals together, ethical investments and environmental lifestyle audits etc.
In December 2019 we gained our BRONZE AWARD.
We are now working towards achieving our SILVER AWARD. It’s surprising what you can do towards this even during lockdown.
Perhaps the most difficult one we had to decide upon was the LAND category. One the one hand our congregation does not walk out of the building straight on to a pavement. But, on the other hand, we do have some flower beds and a small area of grass, so, being honest we couldn’t say we didn’t have any land. Yet, on the other hand, we haven’t got enough land, for example, to grow trees. Eventually we decided we had land and we would have to look at ways of using it as creatively as we can, now and in the future.
In August 2020 UCS attained a SILVER ECO AWARD, from A Rocha, the charity which encourages churches to become more environmentally friendly.
At the time of writing, UCS is the only Methodist URC church in Wales with a Silver Eco Award.
Even though we have been in lockdown for several months, it has been possible, by “thinking outside the box” to work towards this award.
During the late winter and early spring, new plantings were made in the church flower beds, to attract butterflies, bees and other insects. The flowers which were planted, and have flourished, include poppies, rudbekia, nicotiana, cranesbill geranium and sedum.
As UCS does not have enough land to grow trees, we have joined a scheme initiated by the City and County of Swansea, where you can pay to adopt a tree or buy a new tree. The church meeting agreed to the purchase of a Liquid Amber tree (related to the Canadian Maple), which will be planted in a local park next winter.
Our church related Community Worker (URC Swansea Region of Churches), Adella Pritchard, has started a Unity in Diversity clothing bank for asylum seekers, who are now living in our community. However, asylum seekers don’t just need clothes, so the project has extended its remit by appealing for items such as desks and chairs for older children to do their school work and for cots and prams for babies and toddlers.
Many of the sections of the ECO survey were already being undertaken at UCS regularly. Each month our magazine includes “Pray Without Ceasing”, which includes prayers for people in our locality, the environment and current issues.
During Creationtide, this autumn, we plan to experiment by meeting outside in two local parks and on a local beach. These services will be similar to worship indoors in that we will use prayer, meditation and contemplation to marvel at God’s creation. We have devised prayer walks for use in parks and on beaches, so those will be used. We will also include activities for all ages, based on the five senses. Whilst on the beach we hope to do a litter pick if needed!
To learn more about Eco Church awards visit www.arocha.org.uk