Saturday, August 19, 2023

Creation conscious crafts

One of the most difficult things to be rigorously environmentally sensitive about often seems to be craft work with the children - it is so tempting to potter round Hobbycraft and return with lots of plastic packaged, foam-based stuff. I've been trying to resist the sparkly jewels, stickers etc that I used to add to the Godly Play craft boxes, sticking to the dolly pegs, and lolly sticks and trying to encourage more use of junk modelling, but conscious that all these become difficult to recycle or compost afterwards. Over the summer I was tasked with coming up with more structured crafts to go with stories from Nick Butterworth's retellings of the parables. The results are by no means perfectly sustainable, but hopefully heading in the right, reduced-plastic, direction:

The Lost Coin - coins made out of yellow icing; coins of cardboard and foil

The Two Sons - 'Mr Potato Head' style apples (using bits of coloured icing I had left over from a birthday cake as if they were plasticine); decorated paper baskets for carrying - either origami boxes or the easier option of a sealed envelope with the two top corners cut away into a basket shape

The House on the Rock - stone painting, sand pictures, plastic bottle rain gauges

The Lost Sheep - sheep fridge magnets (magnetic tape a bit of a fail here, as was resorting to buying cottonwool from the chemist instead of a more sustainable brand); found sheep party crowns - more cottonwool as the sheep with which the crowns are decorated.

The Good Stranger - my predecessor as administrator bought huge stocks of coloured paper and extra large paper so no purchasing needed for 1) neighbour chains - paper chains with names of everyone who might count as our neighbour and 2) road pictures - large pictures of Bible road stories that can be joined up together as one giant road.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

School Fair and Churches Count on Nature

Last Friday was St John's school summer fair and we again ran an EcoChurch stall. 

This time we had plants for sale, courtesy of Lawrence (plus some extra sunflowers that had germinated in the pots children's church planted. Richard C re-potted these for me while I made a mad return cycle ride home at 3.30 on discovering I was missing all the prizes. Had I been in a car I would never have made it back in time through the school pick-up traffic!). We also had two games - one downloaded from the Climate Stewards' website which was a real eye-opener; and one involving a bran tub of jenga bricks with names of plants and animals on - the children had to draw one and then match it to a Wild Cards image in order to win a sticker (appropriately themed with wildflowers or eco messages). We had a lot of takers for the games which was great.

This Sunday I took the children out for our first ever 'Churches Count on Nature' - inevitably it was pretty small scale (and I'll add a few extra creatures spotted during the previous couple of weeks). The duck was of course our star find and there were some lovely damselflies. We also ended up picking a good bowl of strawberries.

Saturday, June 10, 2023

Equipping Churches to Care for Creation

On a day when any sane person would be taking a flask of iced tea and a good book to the nearest shady bench, I chose to take the green travel option to Wokingham (bike/bus/more bike) and so arrived looking slightly roasted at Oxford Diocese's Creation Care event this afternoon. I counted at least 45 delegates from Berkshire churches, and soon learned that across the diocese 184 churches have registered for EcoChurch, which feels very heartening. 

The key note speech was both sobering and inspiring as Bishop Olivia drew on her personal experiences of living in drought prone parts of Africa and encouraged us all, in Marianne Williamson's words 'to make manifest the glory of God that is within us' to make a difference in the face of the plethora of environmental issues we face. There were inspiring stories from around the diocese - I kicked off, sharing something of St John and St Stephen's campaigning, and plugging Hamish Preston's still very relevant and useful engagingthepowers website. Peter from All Saints Dedworth spoke about their impressive reductions in energy use (I need to get us some data loggers it seems - data is key!). Then Deborah reported on the wonderful opportunities for local engagement at the Lambourn Benefice's four day big green weekend. Finally Fr David of All Saints Ascot traced his church's recent engagement with the EcoChurch programme. 

There was plenty of opportunity for meeting up with others and sharing experiences in between the more formal sessions, the final of which looked at changing cultures to achieve the radical realignment we need. This was led by Hannah Mann (Diocesan Environmental Programme Manager), Rev Hannah Higginson of the host church - All Saints Wokingham - and Bishop Olivia. Suggestions ranged from getting the PCC to agree an environmental policy and using the church's seasons to structure action, to a multi-faceted approach to engage people of different temperaments, gifts and prejudices. Hannah Mann concluded proceedings with an impressive summary of the resources available, starting with the Diocese's EcoHub.

I came away buzzing with encouragement and throughout was much too focussed to take any photos of the day, but luckily I'd stopped off on my way to the station to look in at the Erleigh Road Community Garden at St Luke's - the first time I've popped my head in since before Covid I'm sure - and it is a glorious oasis there. So here are a few photos from that:

Sunday, June 4, 2023

Environment Sunday

Today was both Trinity Sunday and Environment Sunday and our focus was on the former, but we were outside in the glorious sunshine and the sermon slot talk - which involved a scavenger hunt and much flag waving - made frequent reference to God as Creator as well as to our blue planet. So it felt very apt for Environment Sunday nonetheless. The EcoChurch team had invited Tricia Marcouse of Reading Climate Action Network to give us a talk over coffee - for those who missed it or couldn't hear well, my notes on the talk are at the bottom of this post.

Afterwards we enjoyed a delicious lunch which (with a few tiny fishy exceptions) was vegetarian - a range of quiches, tarts and pizzas with salads plus puddings galore. The proceeds from the lunch will be going to Ripple Effect (previously Send A Cow) to "twin" our garden with one in rural Kenya. 

Throughout lunch we took it in turns to check on Jemima - the crazy duck who has decided to nest in our courtyard even though she won't be able to get her ducklings to water from there. Nikki, who keeps ducks, has ordered us some appropriate food and a proper water container for her to drink from while she's nesting (she's had to make do with a plant tray of water and bird seeds since I found her on Wednesday) and we're probably going to have to install a temporary pond.

As we were cycling home, I made a last minute decision to cycle left instead of right to join the Wildlife and Conservation group of the Friends of Reading Old Cemetery - they meet on the first Sunday of the month at 2pm, and to be honest my introvert brain is usually so fried after a church lunch that I've been putting off going since I found out about them last year. Realising it was 1.55, and knowing they'd advertised a Love Your Burial Ground week event, this felt like the moment to fight off the urge to slide into the hammock with an icecream at home and find out what was going on. It was not the biodiversity survey I had been expecting, but a working party building up habitat piles from the many fallen branches (I was very poorly dressed for the job), but it was such a lovely couple of hours. Wonderfully friendly people, tea provided half way through, plenty of scope for quietly getting on with the job or chatting to others as suited - we were working in the shade and kept catching sight of speckled wood butterflies in the dappled sunshine. Three of us were new and were given a tour of the cemetery part way through (caught sight of lots of holly blue butterflies there, as well as damsel flies, and the telltale remains of a sparrowhawk meal) - just a tiny glimpse of its fascinating history. I can see that finding out more about it could get quite addictive and am looking forward to going back soon.

Notes from Reading CAN talk:

Tricia began by explaining that Reading Climate Action Network consists of the same people as Reading Climate Change Partnership – ranging across many sectors of Reading including the hospital, council and university. While some of the sector leads, eg transport, do so as part of their paid work, others, such as herself heading up nature, are volunteers. Their budget is very small.

She began with an introduction to draughtbusters who help people in fuel poverty, referred to them from various routes. If we know of anyone in this situation, she recommends referring them either to the Council’s Winter Watch programme or the Citizens Advice Bureau. They are also keen to train up more volunteers if anyone is interested – she assured us it is “remarkably not complicated” and suggested we could host a workshop in our community to advise local people what can be done. They are trying to link up with housing associations to train them, but so far have only been linked with one in Oxfordshire, and they have started 8 other groups doing the same work.

Then she moved on to talk about protecting and promoting biodiversity in Reading. There are lots of little voluntary groups around town looking after plots of land belonging to council to increase biodiversity and carbon storage along with its existing use (our nearest is probably Newtown Community Garden).

They are also trying to future proof Reading for a future hotter climate – more shade will be needed in public open spaces so we need to plant now for the future. One plot they have worked on is Shinfield Road Recreation Ground. She showed us posters from this of children’s designs for nature projects for home and school. So far all the trees  they planted there are ok, but a portable BBQ had melted the plastic seats chosen to avoid them rotting. She recommended cycling over to Clayfield Copse where the bank of wildflowers they have planted looks magnificent.

In Reading at present there are a lot of problems with people trying to have tree preservation orders overturned. We really need legislation that in principle you cannot cut down trees.But good things are being achievedShe mentioned that the biggest single thing we can do is have a wildlife pond in our garden and she is happy to help provide suitable plants since they multiply easily yet cost a fortune in the garden centres.

She concluded by urging us to join the climate festival events, this starts with the Water Fest where she will have stall where there will be the opportunity to handle slow worms.

In the questions afterwards, as well as making suggestions for dealing with the duck nesting in our courtyard, she mentioned events for children happening at Holy Brook Nook in the triangle between the railway lines in Coley.