Monday, May 25, 2009

Eco-congregation Assessment

Yesterday was the day of our Eco-congregation Assessment and we were granted the award 'with commendations and recommendations'. One congregation member said 'it's like being Ofsteded', according to which comparison I suppose we've come out satisfactory but not outstanding. This is what I'd have said was appropriate. We've been at this for over two years and have a congregation who see themselves as a community for whom green issues matter, but there is still a lot we'd like to do. The assessors' particular commendation was the front garden - on a fabulously sunny Sunday it did look wonderfully colourful and was alive with bees and butterflies so it was seen to best advantage! The principal recommendation (apparently others will follow) was that we should work out our carbon footprint and then set ourselves targets for reduction. It is typical of my chaotic, fluffy approach to such things that I hadn't given much thought to such an ordered approach.

Our assessors were John Madeley, an author and journalist who specialises in development/social justice issues and is aiming to make St Peter's Caversham carbon neutral, and Rob White of Newtown GLOBE (and a local Green Party candidate). They attended the service and then got to talk with some of the congregation over coffee (pleased that it was real coffee - which reminds me, I've been trying to collect the coffee grounds for composting but probably need to draw more attention to the collecting pot and plead with those who do use it to drain them thoroughly first to avoid yukky spillages). Then they walked round the church asking Ali, Rosemary and I questions (and Andrew the churchwarden too initially - one reason it was very good to have the assessment on a Sunday was that people with answers we didn't have were around). Then we went through more questions over lunch in the refectory which was very pleasant and an opportunity for us to learn a lot from them too.

Given John's own interests it was not surprising that he focussed particularly on our energy use. He was more optimistic than we have been about the potential for solar panels on our roof and even suggested that the nearby canal might be used as a heat source (apparently they're looking into using the river in Caversham). Rob promised to put us in touch with a friend who could help us work out a sensible way to carry out the carbon footprint measuring. I have since found that the Church of England's website already has information designed for churches to check their footprint which I'll be downloading in the near future. (On that note, it was good to see that the Church of England has now set the more ambitious target of becoming a 20% church - using 20% of current energy levels by 2050 - perhaps not quite quick enough still, nor as ambitious as Operation Noah).

On the subject of towels Rob pointed out that a large pull down towel that could be washed would be more ecological than the paper towels and electric dryer - I doubt that now these have been installed we could have a third option and of course those huge towels probably don't just go in domestic washing machines. Nonetheless, it would be good to find a way to reduce this waste.

The assessment was an opportunity to remind ourselves of things we'd been meaning to do eg improve the bread used for communion by drawing up a rota for people to supply home made loaves. Apparently Ali hasn't bought a single loaf of bread since she did the research for the Sacred Space on bread and discovered what goes into them - her bread maker has been very busy. Looking around the school garden, which is due to be redeveloped, was the first time it had occurred to us that we ought to be suggesting waterbutts be installed. Talking about the very large number of people who are interested in greening the church compared with the very small number who actually manage to make it to meetings set me thinking about trying to arrange our meetings after church instead - although given how long it has taken to get me, Ali and Rosemary in church on one Sunday this may be tricky too.

John and Rob encouraged us to make much of the receipt of the award and both said they'd like to attend the service in which it is presented which is great. I hope it doesn't take quite so long to co-ordinate that as it did the assessment itself.


  1. For the record, Mr White is (usually) the candidate in Park Ward. St John & St Stephen's Church is in Abbey Ward.

  2. Apologies for my inaccuracy. Rob used to live in the same street as the church and is known to some of the congregation through his work at Newtown GLOBE and Sun Street commuity garden etc, hence my tendency to think of him as our local candidate. As it happens many of the green team members also live in Park Ward and have mentioned his campaigning so I should have known he couldn't be standing in Abbey Ward.

    For the record, the assessors are not chosen by the church itself and I should say that although I've made a couple of references to the Green Party in the blog recently I wouldn't want that to imply that the church necessarily equates greening the church with Green politics - I know a couple of those very concerned about the environment are LibDem members and am sure green team members support a number of different parties.