Sunday, November 18, 2007

Green Tips - past history

Our first green tip appeared on 18 February 2007 and it was an encouragement to buy organic milk because organic dairy farms support far more wild flowers and insects and because standards of animal welfare are generally higher. Since then I've read various websites rejecting organic milk as a green option because they say more greenhouse gases are produced per pint of milk provided. Personally I'd put a priority on animal welfare and biodiversity in this case and say we have to reduce greenhouse emissions elsewhere but I know not everyone would agree. I also have concerns about the support for GM crops which is a consequence of allowing non-organic cattle to feed on GM food.

Another debatable topic turned out to be energy saving lightbulbs - one reason was that the heat of conventional bulbs was actually valuable in the winter (I'm not entirely convinced on that one) and another was concern about mercury content - I contacted Reading Borough Council to ask about recycling facilities and was told that they should simply be put in my ordinary rubbish bin or in the hazardous waste skip at the tip - this doesn't seem good enough to me.

Below is a list which I shall keep updating of green tips for the newsletter:

Rethink your breakdown cover. The major breakdown organisations all lobby for more roads. The Environmental Transport Association works to help us use cars less.

Green decorating: use organic, solvent-free paints (eg see - better for you and the planet, cleaner to use

Say it with flowers on Mothers' Day: but avoid the cut blooms that have been heavily sprayed with pesticides and flown half way round the world. A plant for the garden will last much longer and could be chosen to attract wildlife. If you can't deliver it in person check out

Wrap presents inventively to avoid wasting paper: try the large maps from out of date road atlases or attractive paper bags saved from shopping.

Avoid using peat in the garden (an area of peat bog the size of Monaco is being destroyed in Ireland every year and only 6 per cent of the UK's lowland peat bog habitat remains). When planting up deep containers with shallow-rooted plants fill up the bottom with polystyrene packing: it saves on compost and weighs less to carry.

Organic, locally grown and 'green' products are available at the True Food Co-op for less than supermarket prices. Packaging is minimal and products range from beetroot to icing sugar, bread to deodorant, and chocolate to printer paper. They have markets at different venues in Reading each evening and alternate Saturday afternoons: see leaflets at the back of church for more information.

Is all your tea fairly-traded?
Actually only 2% of the UK tea market is fairly traded. Why not make a resolution to only buy tea that is ? There is a large variety of tastes now for you to choose from. Fair trade encourages pesticide-free, sustainable farming methods

Green holidays: See for placements for Willing Workers on Organic Farms all over the world, but of course it's greenest to stay in Britain. In hotter climes, only 18% of holidaymakers turn off the air- conditioning when they go out for the day so millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide are emitted unnecessarily every year.

If we only boil as much water in the kettle as we actually need we could save enough energy to power our street lights. Putting a lid on a pan of boiling water speeds up time to boiling.

Switch to a green electricity supplier. The green tariff from ordinary suppliers is effectively meaningless because they are required by law to use some renewable sources and at present this still exceeds the demand through their green tariffs.
Good Energy source all their power from renewable power sources. Christian Aid are working with Ecotricty - a major developer of renewables who guarantee to cost the same as our regional supplier - ring 0800 0326 100 to switch to Ecotricity and if you mention Christian Aid they'll get a donation towards their climate change campaigning.

Cotton production accounts for 25% of all pesticides used over the world. Organic cotton products such as cotton wool and underpants are available in RISC's shop. Second hand clothes or bed linen are obviously a cheaper alternative to looking for organic cotton!

Energy efficient light bulbs save up to 80% on lighting costs and it is a myth that flourescent strip lights work more effectively if left on continuously

Driving at 50 mph is 25% more fuel efficient that driving at 70 mph; and although diesels are more fuel efficient they emit more nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxides and particulates so Friends of the Earth prefer a petrol car with a catalytic converter.

'Have you considered buying fairly traded furniture? is a fairly-trading online firm which has been recommended as having a good range — dining and bedroom furniture as well as soft furnishings and smaller items - and an honest statement of their policy under the 'Fair Trade’ heading.'

The National Trust is campaigning to stop the expansion of Stansted Airport because of its threat to a medieval forest and because it will encourage more air travel - google 'Save Hatfield Forest' to find more details and their on-line petition

Co-operative Insurance offer 'eco' car insurance, offsetting some carbon emissions and investing your money ethically - see

Carrier bags can be re-used as packaging, scrunched up instead of polystyrene, or as bin liners.

Running a washing machine and dishwasher at 40 degrees instead of 60 will use a third less energy.

Keeping your refrigerator 1 degree warmer saves about 50 kg of greenhouse gas a year

Eating more plant based food will help the planet: producing one kilo of beef creates half a kilo of methane which is a greenhouse gas twenty times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Moreover rainforests are being destroyed to grow cattle and chicken feed. Altogether livestock herds account for 10 per cent of greenhouse gases.

Increase insulation in your roof, around windows and doors, and the water tank. Put aluminium foil behind your radiators.

Consider boycotting ExxonMobil (Esso) who are actively blocking the transition to renewable energy

Visit the Living Rainforest - not only a fascinating afternoon out but also some of your entrance fee goes to support education and conservation projects in Madagascar and Indonesia (entrance fees reduced for those arriving by public transport).

Join the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust and gain free access to dozens of beautiful nature reserves in the area.

If holidaying in a hotel switch off air conditioning whenever possible(and put thermostat up), reuse towels, use resources sparingly - the average tourist uses as much water in 24 hours as a villager in the developing world uses in 100 days!

If trying to decide whether to 'carbon offset' your holiday travel, see article on the 'inconvenient truth' of this industry by Nick Davies at

Save paper and save lives by buying presents from the Oxfam bookshop where they'll put in a bookplate saying why the gift is a little dog-eared

The beer-drinker's solution to climate change - see Greenpeace's video at

At Greenbelt Ann Pettifor reminded us that while we're at home changing light bulbs big business are lobbying the government for their interests: look up the latest campaigns of Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Soil Association, WWF etc - at basic level many simply involve forwarding an e-mail.

Put wet autumn leaves in a plastic bag, stab a few holes in with a fork and a year later you'll have leafmould (burning them produces a highly carcinogenic smoke).

Never put broken pyrex or drinks glasses into the glass recycling as it will contaminate the entire load and all be landfilled.

Re-use cooking oil to add life to garden furniture. If you cannot return your egg boxes (the True Food Co-op use them) they're good for the compost heap.

Reduce your junk mail by calling the Mailing Preference Service on 08457 034599, opting out of the publicly available electoral register and putting a note on your door. Unaddressed mail can apparently be stopped by writing to Consignia (the Post Office).

Recycle polythene packaging, carrier bags and wraps from magazines by cutting off any labels and posting to PolyPrint Mailing Films Ltd, Unit 21a Mackintosh Road, Rackheath Estate, Rackheath, Norwick, NR13 6LJ, 01603 721807 (polythene is stretchy unlike cellophane or PVC which will snap if stretched and cannot be recycled).

Send old postcards to Actionaid, Ernie Roberts House, 13-15 High Street, St Mary Cray, Orpington, Kent, BR5 3NL

Reading Freecycle is part of an international network matching people who have things they want to get rid of with people who can use them, keeping usable items out of landfills. Sign up at to receive regular e-mails.

Once upon a time everyone used vinegar and newspaper to clean windows and mirrors or bicarbonate of soda for sinks etc - they're not tested on animals, they're much less harmful to the environment (and people) than most modern cleaning products, they're cheap and actually they work too!

Green Christmas shopping ideas
Plants, especially drought resistant ones
Look for energy saving gadgets, organic cotton clothes and fair trade or recycled products (eg at,, as well as the World Shop on London Road or the Traidcraft stall)
Avoid presents with lots of packaging, disposable parts like batteries or a short life span
Give gifts of experiences such as theatre, restaurant or massage tokens or membership of the National Trust
Sponsor an animal, or Send a Cow (or a toilet or doctors kit) with Send a Cow, Christian Aid's Present Aid, Oxfam Unwrapped etc or let them choose their charity with

Green Christmas preparations
Buy recycled wrapping paper(eg at tie it with string so both can be used again (or old cassette tape which curls nicely on scissors).
Use old cards for gift tags.
Buy a UK-grown real tree with roots and acclimatise it in a greenhouse or conservatory on its entry and exit from your home so that it will last for future years.
Choose durable and fairtrade decorations from natural materials (or hang biscuits from the tree) and soy or beeswax candles.
Try to buy food in recyclable packaging and remember Reading's Farmers Market is 1st and 3rd Saturday in the cattle market 8.30 - 12.

Support your local milkman - he can provide organic milk in reusable bottles

Save your Christmas cards and paper to re-use next year. Send unwanted gifts to charity shops (apparently hospitals and hospices sometimes appreciate them too)

If each of the UK's office workers used one less staple every day 120 tonnes of steel would be saved each year - staple-less staplers are available and paper clips or mini bulldog clips are reusable.

Be informed: read Felicity Lawrence's 'Not on the Label' - an eloquent and accessible exposé of the environmental damage and abuse of migrant workers created by supermarket demands for cheap food.

'Organic' can mean many things: the produce of a small local mixed 'non-organic' farm that limits its pesticide use (available at a farmers' market) is likely to be much 'greener' (and fresher) than heavily packaged, distantly grown products from 'organic' farmers whose
dependence upon supermarkets forces them to use the maximum of every chemical permitted under organic standards.

If every driver took one less car journey a week averaging 9 miles, this would cut carbon dioxide emissions from traffic in the UK by 13%.

If you want to send cut flowers, check out who despatch local, seasonal flowers instead of imported blooms.

To tie in with Tearfund's carbon fast - green tips for Lent are:

Carbon fast extra ideas 1: make sure fridge and freezer are running efficiently by regular defrosting, cleaning dust off the coils at the back (dirty coils use up to 30 per cent more energy) and filling spaces in freezer with newspaper.

Carbon fast extra ideas 2: check your heating timer - can it be on for a shorter time without you really even noticing?

Carbon fast extra ideas 3: check your washing machine manual (if you can find it!) - could you be using shorter time settings as well as lower temperatures?

Carbon fast extra ideas 4: ensure car tyres are properly inflated and drive smoothly as stopping and starting, over-revving and fast acceleration require more fuel

Carbon fast extra ideas 5: Try to by more fresh food because frozen food requires ten times more energy to produce.

Carbon fast extra ideas 6: Do less housework! Vacuum less, wash towels and sheets less often.

If you have a compost caddy that seems to need lots of washing out, line it with newspaper. Or abandon it and use a sturdy paper bag such as those organic box schemes deliver fruit in so the whole thing can be composted.

The World Shop at RISC sells much better value 'green' dishwasher powder than the tablets available in supermarkets - it also reduces the packaging involved.

Grandparents and parents of small children - borrow toys, baby equipment and musical instruments at Reading Toy Library instead of buying. Call in to any Reading library or visit

Allowing the lawn to grow to at least 4 cm before mowing avoids brown patches and unnecessary watering

Plants like lilac, buddleia, evening primrose and honeysuckle help support the butterflies whose natural habitats are being destroyed.

Keeping a jug of cold water in the fridge means you don't need to run the tap to get it cold. Keep a jug by the tap to collect the water you run before it's hot and you can pour that on plants.

Radiators heat rooms more efficiently with aluminium foil behind them and a shelf a couple of inches above to direct heat into the room instead of up the wall.

If you turn the oven off ten minutes before the stated time, the residual heat will keep cooking the food. Only pastries, bread or a souffle really require the oven to be pre-heated.

Covering food (and ice cubes) in a fridge or freezer prevents the moisture in it condensing as ice on the appliance. Iced up walls make the appliance less efficient. Fridges don't need to be colder than 3 - 5 Celsius. Fitting a Savaplug which allows electricity through in short bursts can reduce energy consumption by 20%.

Real corks come from forests that support a huge variety of wildlife, including the endangered Iberian lynx. After use they can be fire lighters or composted.

RECYCLING - Reading Borough Council residents can put their foil, scrunched up, into their red bins (only Wokingam residents need to use the recycling here).
Drink cartons can be recycled at Palmer Park

Watering plants first thing in the morning instead of last thing at night reduces the problem of slugs and the consequent need to put out pellets that may kill birds. Also try leaving uprooted weeds in a damp corner of the garden because the slugs should prefer the softer wilted leaves to your precious veg. Avoid beer traps which catch slug-eating beetles as well.

Rather than leaving cooked food in a saucepan on a low heat to keep warm, pile a couple of folded tea towels on top of the lid.

Suggested ways to avoid having to apply ant poison: if their entry can be found block it up or put lemon juice on it; apparently they hate talcum powder, chalk, charcoal dust and cayenne pepper so they can be diverted with barriers of these.

Kettles are more efficient when descaled (boiling two cups of white vinegar diluted in a little water should do the job), and only boiling as much as you need is more efficient too. Vinegar can also be used one part to three parts olive oil for making furniture polish.

More environmentally friendly cleaning methods for troublesome stains (I've not checked these out): rub white chalk into oil stains before washing; remove tea, coffee, chocolate and blood with one part borax to eight parts water; tackle grass stains with glycerine.

If you have a fish tank at home or at work, you can make sure the fish are an unendangered species by looking for the Marine Aquarium Council certification (and please don't buy coral to decorate the tank because it is in serious decline in many areas).

Bagged salads use more packaging and more energy and have lost many of their nutrients compared with whole lettuces

You can wash out plastic takeaway containers for storage, sandwiches etc, children's groups often find them useful, and you could try taking them back to the takeaway for your next meal

Boron- or natural asphalt-based wood preservatives avoid the toxic nerve poisons and fungicides common in other products which harm wildlife

Sustainably forested timber is the best material for most household carpentry (look for the Forest Stewardship Council logo). Although particle boards such as MDF and chipboard look easier to handle they contain carcinogenic formaldehyde.

When ironing, it uses much less energy and avoids limescale build up if you spray water onto the clothes using a spray bottle instead of using the steam setting.

Green Christmas preparations
Check that your Christmas cards are from recycled paper - Traidcraft produce some.
Buy recycled wrapping paper (eg from Oxfam) or sustainably produced paper (eg at the World Shop on London Road) and tie it with string so both can be used again (or old cassette tape which curls nicely on scissors).
Use old cards for gift tags.

Green Christmas preparations
If buying a cut tree look for the Christmas tree growers' association label or logo to ensure it has been grown sustainably. Or buy a UK-grown real tree with roots, soak it well, keep it away from direct heat, don't keep inside for more than a month and if possible acclimatise it in a greenhouse or conservatory on its entry and exit from your home so that it will last for future years - re-pot it in spring into a larger container (make sure it's composted if this doesn't work)

Green Christmas preparations
The Soil Association estimate that a typical Christmas dinner involves food miles equivalent to two trips round the world: Reading's Farmers Market is 1st and 3rd Saturday in the cattle market 8.30 - 12. Organic turkeys (that have lived a more natural life than those cooped up in sheds with breast blisters and ulcerated feet and their beaks trimmed to stop them pecking each other) usually need to be ordered in advance.

Although aerosols no longer contain CFCs their propellants are often still polluting hydrocarbons and the containers cannot be recycled so products in pump containers are greener.

Mattresses filled with natural materials such as horsehair, cotton, coir or coconut fibre have much less environmental impact than nylon ones (they also conduct body moisture away more effectively and don't sag in the middle - apparently)

Green Globe 21 is a worldwide certification programme to help the travel and tourism industry develop in sustainable ways.

The caustic soda in bleach-based toilet cleaners kills the organisms needed to digest the waste at the sewage plant, making the system inefficient and expensive.

Cremation releases a cocktail of toxins into the air as well as requiring a great deal of energy. A woodland burial simply nourishes the earth.

Veg boxes are a lot more user friendly than they used to be! Riverford's organic boxes are cheaper than buying organic veg in a supermarket and you can now order a box just of the items you really want. Only about 15% of their veg is imported. They also supply fruits (fairtrade where applicable but never air freighted) and other organic foods. Their weekly newsletter regularly shows how they're constantly trying to be as environmentally friendly as possible (as well as giving British farmers a fair deal, unlike supermarkets). See or ring 0845 3671157.

Since 1997 the income of most UK dairy farmers, including income from subsidies, has averaged at £2.90 per hour. For their sake and that of the countryside they manage it makes sense to buy milk as directly as possible, eg at Reading Farmer's Market or a farm-based box scheme like Riverford.

Free range eggs are not always as ethical as we might imagine since the chickens can still be kept in such cramped conditions that they need to be de-beaked to avoid cannibalism. Soil Association ratified organic eggs guarantee more humane conditions.

Growing sugar cane requires a lot of water and high levels of fertilizers (causing run-off which has damaged, for instance, the Great Barrier Reef); sugar beet is sprayed with up to 13 pesticides (some causing greenhouse gas emissions) and is very energy intensive to harvest. So, decreasing our sugar intake is good for the planet as well as our health. Traidcraft and the True Food Co-op do sell organic fairtrade sugar.

Fairtrade Easter Eggs are on sale in the Oxfam book shop (8 High Street)

As you get the garden in order this Easter, consider leaving a little corner a bit wild because our gardens are precious wildlife corridors, don't forget that birds need feeding all year and see if you can include some plants that butterflies like. For lots more ideas and inspiration, see A Rocha's Living Lightly website:

Old coffee grounds are good for acid loving plants

A single glass of ordinary (from concentrate) orange juice requires 22 glasses of water for processing and over 1,000 glasses of water for irrigation. If you want to opt for not from concentrate then it is cheaper (and tastier) to buy oranges from the market and squeeze them yourself than to buy 'not from concentrate' cartons. However, thousands of children in Mexico and Brazil work 14 hour days in close proximity to highly toxic pesticides in the orange industry, so you might prefer to buy fairtrade or organic.

Paper bags are not necessarily greener. Although plastic bags are made from oil and cannot be composted, typically the energy intensive process of making paper means that a paper bag's carbon footprint is four times that of a plastic bag. Making bags from recycled paper halves this. So don't be tempted to use the mushroom paper bags for other goods if you plan to return your bags to Sainsbury's plastic recycling bin (they even have one in the store in the middle of town now - but make sure not to contaminate this with 'degradable' or 'compostable' plastic).

Much of the waste we send to recycling ends up in landfill because the loads have been contaminated. As well as being scrupulous about what we put in our recycling bins, it makes sense to compost card and paper (a good way to destroy sensitive documents too) and to try to reduce packaging to start with (a good excuse to eat butter instead of margarine?).

Bin liners - because the conditions in landfill rarely allow composting it makes more sense to buy liners made from recycled plastic than biodegradable. Where possible use plastic bags you couldn't avoid collecting.

For ways to travel overland to destinations you thought you had to fly to, see 'the man in seat 61',

Why not try doing a one week car fast and see what happens?

Packaging makes up a quarter of UK household waste and 70% of that is food related, largely because we now buy more prepared and processed foods which come in plastic packaging. To avoid over-packaged basic ingredients check out the True Food co-op, the market and Reading Farmers' Market.

Reading buses are now issuing a travel card which costs £15 for ten single journeys. You can get the 'smartcard' (with its first ten jouneys) at the travel kiosk in Broad Street Mall and then top the card up on the bus when you need to.

Leaving your mobile phone charger on for a day uses the same amount of energy as driving a car for one second. Leaving it on all year uses the same amount as one hot bath. For more information on the relative usefulness of energy-saving actions see D Mackay's Sustainable energy without the hot air (in bookshops or online)

British organic meat can now be purchased through the True Food Co-op. This ensures better living conditions for the animals and greater biodiversity on the farmland.

Deforestation for paper production is a greater cause of climate change than flying. Traidcraft stock many recycled paper goods. The True Food Co-op stock recycled printer paper.

Earley Green Fair, Saturday August 1st. 10am to 3 pm. Lots of stalls, many on an environmental theme. Held in the Maiden Erlegh Nature Reserve, entrance free, either from Beech Lane (where road dips) or roads off Silverdale Road leading to Lakeside.

If you have an old tent you no longer want, take it to Millets who will send it to be used by aid agencies overseas. If you're planning to buy a new tent they'll give you some money off in exchange for the old tent.

Easy ways to donate to Christian Aid - go through their website to buy Natural Collection products (lots of green stuff from fairtrade clothes and jewellery to green gadgets and cleaning stuff), insure your house with Ecclesiastical or change to Ecotricity and either a donation or a percentage of the money you would pay anyway goes to Christian Aid (,

Over three quarters of the world's fish stocks have been over-exploited. Products bearing the Marine Stewardship Council logo are not among these (see for more info)

You can now buy Fairtrade melons (Asda and Morrison's) and a wide range of Fairtrade bodycare products (26 at Boots, as well as a number available from smaller shops).

Rowan Williams's Operation Noah lecture can be read at and his sermon before The Wave Climate Change march is here

Ideas for living a greener Christian life can be found at or

Wash out and re-use vegetable and sandwich bags eg. fix with an elastic band over a plant pot to make a windowsill propagator.

You can significantly reduce the cost of public transport with a Network card from the railway station (1/3 off all journeys in the south east).

Microwaves use much less energy than conventional ovens.

Mapledurham water mill sells flour from Oxfordshire-grown wheat ground in the last working water mill on the Thames. Large sacks can be pre-ordered to save money and journeys.

Pray in a garden.

David and Goliath and the McLibel 2

Great Exclaimers session this morning - I'd been slightly dreading it as we'd planned to put all the children from 4 to 11 in together but it was one of those days that just worked really well. After Mark had played the part of David and recounted his story in a dramatic monologue, I talked briefly about God's propensity to choose the weakest to do God's work and all the younger brothers were particularly pleased about this. Then the younger children made sheep and did colouring etc while I talked with the older ones about modern day Davids. They were so animated and fascinated it just felt great - we began with Rosa Parkes, Martin Luther King and Gandhi, and then moved on to my friend Jim who worked for Greenpeace (considering the pros and cons of GM) and finally the McLibel 2 'How come McDonalds weren't closed down after the judge said all that?' Ashley asked indignantly!

Friday, November 16, 2007

LOAF meal and Ethical Investments talk

On 4 November we arranged a LOAF meal to raise funds for Christian Ecology Link and A Rocha. We were hoping an autumn meal would make provision of local food especially easy - perhaps we'll aim for a greater challenge next year. We printed off Christian Ecology Link's LOAF 'tablemats' for each table:
Locally Produced
Organically Grown
Animal Friendly
Fairly Traded

The service happened to be led by our mission partners from Nepal so it was a good time for thinking about global responsibilities. We were able to show A Rocha's 45 second video so people knew where their money would be going. Our meal consisted of fairtrade organic rice from the True Food Co-op with a variety of vegetarian toppings (mushroom stroganoff, veg curry, chilli, roast veg and something beautiful with coconut in that didn't seem to have a name). The ingredients for these came mostly from the True Food Co-op or the Farmers' Market . The latter fortunately took place just the day before - it was lovely bumping into each other there, adding to the friendly atmosphere the market always has. Many people brought puddings made with apples and pears from their own gardens to which we added the richest, most gorgeous Jersey cream and yoghurt from the Farmers' Market. While eating we were able to watch the Pathfinders' fabulous Christian Aid video on climate change.

Before people sat down to eat, Geoff gave a presentation about ethical investment - this took longer than we'd expected due to the animated audience participation. Below is a list of the websites he suggested to help us find out more. Good Shopping Guide website The research website referred to in the Good Shopping Guide, good for lots of info Website for bi-monthly magazine Ethical Investment Research Institute – lots of background info and facts UK Social Investment Forum – good source of info and fund data Ethical Investment Association Fund data website with ethical sector for easy finding of information Useful website for background info and news on Socially Responsible Investments, but it is a US site Find an Independent Financial Adviser (remember to tick the “Ethical” box to narrow down your search). - Very useful section on the Jupiter website dedicated to Socially Responsible Investments issues and funds

WATCH THIS - Pathfinders' fabulous Christian Aid video "Climate Change, Jelly Babies and the Human Shrub"

Emma writes
the pathfinders went to a Christian aid weekend in the middle of October. the weekend was based on climate change and the problem of global warming. we were told we had to make a music video/mini film to show our views on the climate change debate. we made it about superheroes and saving the planet but ended it by being everyday heroes and talking about what we can do ourselves to cut the carbon. as well as making our film there were other workshops going on like drumming and a drama one. the weekend was a lot of fun and we learnt quite a bit about the climate.

Harvest time

St John's congregation includes a number of priests whose ministry is based elsewhere, including the chaplain of Queen Anne's School in Caversham. Consequently I was asked to give a talk for their harvest service this year. The chapel was wonderfully decorated so that even the tins had been arranged in colour-co-ordinated pyramids and fruits were balanced everywhere. I added a few conkers to my lectern before beginning:

5th October 2007 – Queen Anne’s School, Harvest service

My driveway is littered with conkers, spiky cases split open, gorgeous chestnut skins shining and rather a lot of squished creamy pulp where the car has driven over them. Conkers are one of the great emblems of autumn, abundant and gleaming. They aren’t particularly useful – not like blackberries or elderberries or all the cultivated harvests we celebrate, or even the scarlet hips and haws that the birds are stocking up on for winter – indeed, conkers are mildly toxic, but they are beautiful, they make life feel richer – conkers are a reminder that God’s creations do not have to be obviously useful to be valuable and treasured.

But the horse chestnut trees along my road have been looking sick all summer - leaf miner beetles which used die off in the winter are weakening the trees. Our conkers are falling victim to climate change.

Of course they’re not the only ones. Let me tell you about Risolat Muradova. She is 18 years old and a member of Tajikistan’s national basketball team. This summer she came over to the UK to start Christian Aid’s 1,000 mile Cut the Carbon march. The march ended in London last Tuesday when they petitioned the government to commit British businesses and government to a radical reduction in our carbon emissions. Risolat made the journey here from Tajikistan because she can see the devastation climate change is already causing – so many poor harvests are driving the farmers of Tajikistan to abandon their homes and become builders in Russia. Ironically the average inhabitant of Tajikistan only produces just over half a tonne of carbon each year, whereas here in Britain we produce about 10 tonnes. Risolat’s fellow marcher, Mohammed Adow comes from Kenya – his neighbours only produce one fifth of a tonne of carbon each, but droughts are destroying their land – it’s not uncommon for women and girls to have to walk 30km in a day to find water – that’s like having to walk from here to Wokingham and back for water - it always is the women and girls who are hit hardest in such crises.

And yet, my latest post from Friends of the Earth began – ‘climate change could life better for you’. The need to act on climate change could be the catalyst we need to build a cleaner, fairer future with stronger local communities and a healthier relationship with the land. What I’d like you to take away this evening is a conviction that we can do this – that God has given us all that we need, and that we are the Noahs of this day with an ark to build.

On some levels the Christian response to the climate crisis must be the same as that of any person with a conscience. Christ called us to love our neighbour, to feed the hungry and clothe the naked; to do all we can for those girls walking 30km a day to fetch water.

But there’s more to it than that – the God who made us and loves us takes delight in this whole planet. There’s a great passage in the otherwise rather depressing book of Job where God demands
‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? . . .
‘Have you entered the storehouses of the snow, or have you seen the storehouses of the hail? . . .
‘From whose womb did the ice come forth and who has given birth to the hoar-frost of heaven? . . .
‘Do you know when the mountain goats give birth? Do you observe the calving of the deer? . . .
‘Is the wild ox willing to serve you? Will it spend the night at your crib?’

Here God reveals a passionate continuing involvement in Creation, a care even for the mountain goats giving birth. If we can see our efforts to look after our planet as working alongside God’s continual creating it becomes a good deal more hopeful, even joyful, sharing in this task.

That’s why I chose the first reading this evening from Proverbs – God’s Wisdom speaking of her childhood participating joyfully and playfully in God’s act of creation. We don’t tend to think of God as a child very often, but God is all ages of man and woman. Wisdom tells us that she was ‘At play everywhere on this earth, delighting to be with the children of men’. ‘Delighting to be with the children of men’– this is so important.

So often in environmentalism humans seem to be simply the bad guys – inevitably destructive, by our very nature at odds with the needs of the rest of the planet.

Yet Christianity’s most famous ‘green hero’, St Francis, had a rather different take on it. He wrote that
‘We bless the earth with each step we take.
And the firmament too needs our touch’

Passages like that in Proverbs or even the Genesis Creation story had convinced St Francis that human beings were designed to be good for the Earth, to work in a positive relationship with life on Earth. And we know we can be – just look up into the skies above Caversham or along the road to Oxford – and almost invariably you will find somewhere en route a beautiful bird of prey with russet red feathers and a distinctive forked tail – it’s the red kite – once extinct in England, but now flourishing thanks to human effort.

A few months ago a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses knocked on my door and asked me what worried me – I told them climate change and they said ‘Ah yes, it is such a great problem that we cannot possibly do anything about it, we must just trust in God to sort it out’. I was so surprised I couldn’t think of a response at the time. I wish I’d remembered the story of Joseph and Pharoah – you know how Joseph was the favourite younger son, sold to passing camel traders by his jealous brothers so he ended up in Egypt interpreting the Pharoah’s mysterious dream about skinny cows eating healthy cows. God had sent the dream to warn Pharoah that after seven years of good harvests there would be seven years of famine – forewarned with this knowledge Joseph and Pharoah carefully looked after Egypt’s harvests and saved enough to feed the people through the famine. If Pharoah had just said ‘Oh dear, we’ll have a famine, never mind I’m sure God will sort it out’ the people would have starved. Today we’ve got scientific predictions instead of dreams, but the situation is the same, we know what we’ve got to do and we can do it.

On a smaller scale we have done it before – when I was at school the environmental crisis of the day was the hole in the ozone layer – this was a thinning of the ozone in the earth’s atmosphere caused by gases used in fridges and aerosols that was likely to give us all skin cancer. Environmental campaigning led to political action to stop the use of these gases. Scientists say the hole is now in the process of mending as a consequence of these actions.

It is easy to imagine as individuals that we cannot achieve much – so I take heart from one of my great heroes – Anita Roddick, who died last month. She started the Body Shop simply because she needed a way to earn money for herself and her daughters while her husband cleared off for two years to ride a horse from Buenos Aires to New York. But her passion for the environment and for social justice shaped a new way of doing business that has influenced so many high street shops. Of course while Anita Roddick was the visionary her family and all those who worked for the Body Shop were what made it happen. We don’t all have to be the visionaries at the front, indeed it won’t work at all if we all try to be that – it’s the working together that achieves most.

That’s why development agencies like Christian Aid are trying to get us all on board with their Cut the Carbon campaign. Thousands of people are petitioning the government to commit to drastic reductions in carbon dioxide emissions – Anita Roddick added her name to Friends of the Earth’s part of the campaign just two months before she died. Jude Law, James Blunt, Thom Yorke and Darcy Bussel are among other famous figures you’ll find talking about it on Friends of the Earth’s website. If you would like to join them, you can pick up one of the Christian Aid postcards at the back of chapel and fill it out – we can post them off together.

Achieving change at a political level is part of building the ark. The other is how we live our own lives – did you know that a tonne of your carbon emissions is a result of the manufacture and care of your clothes? Buying fewer clothes and buying them second hand or organic makes a big difference – yes I did say organic – manufacturing pesticides produces extra greenhouse gases and a quarter of all the pesticides in the world are used in cotton growing. Making sure washing temperatures are as low as possible helps too. Buying organic food and food that hasn’t travelled miles is another basic step. Farmers’ markets and farm shops are a beautiful way to shop. One of the biggest but easiest changes you can make is to get your family to switch to a green energy supplier like Ecotricity – the ones with that magnificent windmill near junction 11 of the M4 – check Christian Aid’s website to see how you can get Ecotricity to give Christian Aid a donation when you sign up. Another biggie is cutting down on your meat and dairy foods because cattle emit an awful lot of greenhouse gases, not to mention the vast destruction of precious, precious rainforests for their grazing - and for growing chicken feed.

Once upon a time harvest festivals were primarily a time to pray for our farmers and their care of the land. Now they need our prayers more than ever. But also we know we all have a responsibility to care for this beautiful, precious, fragile earth and its inhabitants, our neighbours. We have been told just as clearly as Noah was – if we join Risolat from Tajikistan and the thousands of others campaigning and changing their lifestyles – we can build that ark with God.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Green Sunday

On 1st July 2007 we properly introduced the morning congregation to our Eco-congregation plans with a Worship Together service - the order of service used Iona Community Wild Goose Worship Group and Christian Aid materials (some significantly adapted like the confession to include confessing to younger people what we've done to our world), a sketch taken from a link to the Eco-congregation website, a Creation drama I had written and a powerpoint presentation on the crisis in the environment and our response.

We started horribly late because we couldn't get the loop system working but that gave time for everyone to arrive and for us to organise the children who were doing the drama. One member of the congregation said she was almost in tears during the powerpoint, despite the unintended comedy moment when an image of a mountain gorilla appeared on the screen just as I said 'As Christians'. For others the highlight was the Creation drama - the pantomime dinosaur was a hit and it took everyone by surprise when the two dads who'd carried on closed cardboard boxes so nonchalantly lifted their toddler son and daughter from inside. Stuart had spent hours adapting the powerpoint presentation specifically ensuring that the rotating image of the earth was how our planet had looked earlier that very morning (luckily he noticed it was rotating the wrong way before we started).

Order of Service 1 July 2007

On screen at the front as people come in – image of the Earth with ‘The Earth is the Lord’s and Everything in it’ - Becoming an Eco-Congregation written below it

Light a candle on the altar

O God, who called all life into being
The earth, sea and sky are yours
Your presence is all around us
Every atom is full of your energy
Your Spirit enlivens all who walk the earth
With her we yearn for justice to be done
For creation to be freed from bondage
For the hungry to be fed
For captives to be released
For your Kingdom of Peace to come on Earth

Please sit. This morning’s service is a part of our commitment to becoming an Eco-congregation. Becoming an Eco-congregation is about bringing care for creation into three areas of our church life – the spiritual, the practical and our relationship with the wider community. At the end of this service we would like to invite everyone to help develop an action plan for this process.

As an all age worship I’m hoping all you children will find the whole service interesting, but just in case there’s the odd brief boring bit, we have prepared an activity sheet for under twelves – if you don’t have one please pick one up from the tables at the back of the church. These sheets tell the story of Joseph great grandson of Abraham whose story we’ve been looking at in Exclaimers. Joseph was sold as a slave to passing camel traders by his jealous brothers and ended up in Egypt – on the activity sheets you’ll find the story of how God warned that there would be no harvests but that Joseph and Pharoah were careful with the earth’s resources so that the people of Egypt did not starve. It seems a good story to bear in mind as we think about the threat of global warming.

This service is about our relationship with the natural world and the implications of that for our relationships with God and with all of God’s children. Inevitably we’re going to be thinking about the threat of climate change to our planet and its people. But we want to begin with a celebration of the goodness of God’s Creation.

We begin with a hymn that celebrates that goodness and what it tells us of God
Hymn – How Great Thou Art

Please sit. Jonathan and Naomi will read a story of the Creation

Voice 1. In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, there was nothing. And God said
Voice 2. Y’he cymbals crash Let there be
Voice 1. Through the Word all things came into being and the Spirit of God swept over the face of the void. In the first minute of time, the universe stretched a million billion miles across. Two minutes more and God had made 98 per cent of all the matter there is or ever will be.
Perhaps about 9 billion years passed.
And God caught up a swirl of gas and dust 24 billion kilometres wide and from almost all that gas and dust God made our sun. But around it still spun the dust grains that became its planets. God spent two million years fashioning this planet earth.
Throw the planet ball back and forth across the central space.
And God saw that it was good. There was evening and there was morning. The first day.

Voice 1. About 500 million years later, God said
Voice 2. Let there be life
Voice 1. And beneath sulphurous vapours in boiling seas bacteria swarmed. And some became blue-greens who could photosynthesize. And God saw that it was good.
Two children walk on covered with blue and green crepe strips and blowing bubbles.
The blue greens sent up bubbles of oxygen - like beads of silver on the surface of the deep - and over millennia these transformed the atmosphere and built the ozone layer.
And there was evening and there was morning. The second day.
Children sit to the side

Voice 1. And God said
Voice 2. Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures.
Voice 1. Plants grew in the seas. Corals and sponges formed.
Children with white crepe jelly fish outfit or worms on sticks walk on wiggling them
Worms and jellyfish swam, then trilobites and ammonites.
God made fish about 160 million years after the ammonites.
And there was evening and there was morning. The third day.
Children sit to the side

Voice 1.And God said
Voice 2. Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed and trees of every kind.
Voice 1. And it was so.
Child wheels in wheelbarrow of plants to set around the bottom of the altar
God planted mosses and liverworts along the shoreline. And sowed the horsetail and club-mosses that would become our coal.
God planted the ferns that waved among them and the pine trees and the cedar that towered above.
Child walks off with wheelbarrow
And God saw that it was good. And God said
Voice 2. Let the earth bring forth creeping things and insects that fly
Voice 1. And it was so.
Children bring in insect mobiles (made previous week at Exclaimers)
Millipedes crept through the mosses and silverfish slid across the ground. Amphibians, some of them four metres long, dominated the earth for about hundred million years. Grasshoppers chirped and the blue dragonflies hovered over head.
And God saw that it was good.
And there was evening and there was morning. The fourth day.

Voice 1. And then God created the great land monsters that were the dinosaurs and also the tortoise and the snake and then the opposum.
Dinosaur with two Exclaimers under it walks on
And 180 million years ago God said
Voice 2. Let the waters under the sky be split into smaller seas and dry land spread around the globe
Voice 1. And God split the plates of the earth asunder and the continent of Pangea broke up and moved about the earth.
And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning. The fifth day.

Voice 1.And God said
Voice 2. Let these lands be filled with wild animals of every kind, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky; let plants bring forth flowers and great whales swim the seas.
Voice 1. And all this was so for God created the wild animals of the earth and the birds of the air, the flowering plants and the giants of the deep.
65 million years ago the climate changed and the earth grew cold and the dinosaurs died. And then God made many more wondrous creatures.
And perhaps just 3 million years ago, or perhaps less than a hundred thousand, God said
Voice 2. Let us make humankind in our own image and likeness, that they too may delight in these works, and create with us, and share in the husbandry of the fish of the sea, and of the birds of the air, and of every living thing that moves upon the earth.
Two dads carry on large boxes marked as if posted and lift their babies out
Voice 1. So God created humankind, male and female, in God’s image. God looked at everything and indeed it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning. The sixth day.

And on the seventh day God rested.

But God’s creating had not stopped nor were the plates of the earth stilled. And in their scriptures people celebrated a God who watches over the calving of the deer and helps the lion hunt its prey, who fathered the rain and gave birth to the ice, who gave the horse its might and by whose wisdom the hawk soars.
And God so loved this world that ‘he became flesh pause and dwelt among us’

This is the world of the Lord

Leader: Thank you.
What do you love most about Creation? Please take a couple of minutes in threes and fours in your pews to share with others the things that are most precious or wonderful to you about the created world.

Let us come together to give thanks to God for Creation and for our place within it in the words of Psalm 8. Please stand.

Psalm 8
women: Your glory glows in the heavens.
It is babbled by babies and sung by children.
men: You are safe from all your enemies;
Those who oppose you are silenced.
women: When I look at the sky which you have made,
The moon and the stars that you set in place:
men: Where do human beings fit in the pattern?
What are we, that you care for us?
women: You have made us only a little lower than yourself;
And crowned us with glory and honour.
men: You share with us responsibility
To care for sheep and cattle, wild things, birds and fish,
Everything that lives in the sea:
To work with you, within creation

Please sit. We need a doctor

Richard and Rosemary's Planet doctor sketch

Extinction/climate change powerpoint
Our planet has entered the sixth great extinction event of its history, triggered not by natural phenomena but by human actions.

Ever since the introduction of farming 10,000 years ago we have been changing the balance of life on our planet

But in the last two hundred years things have been changing rapidly. Today tens of thousands of species are under threat because we are destroying their habitats – for our food, for fuel, for tourism, for gold and jewels, for hardwood furniture, for cheap clothes, by accidental pollution, to build roads and so on.

For instance, in the last 150 years 93% of tiger habitat has been destroyed – there are probably only about 6,000 of them left in the wild.

The Wind in the Willows is James’s favourite book – the hero Ratty is of course a water vole

In the course of the 1990s the British water vole population dropped by 88 per cent. Modern farming practice, water pollution and escapee mink from fur farms have made ratty our most endangered mammal

As Christians we are called to prioritise the least. To cherish and protect the vulnerable. In today’s world perhaps that is not just the widow and the orphan. Perhaps it is also the mountain gorillas of whom only 700 now remain.

Now we understand just how interconnected life on earth is. Now we know that the rainforest trees are the lungs of our planet.

Now we know also that plants in these threatened habitats can be crucial to our lives – the Madagascan Rosy Periwinkle can increase the chance of surviving childhood Leukemia from 10% to 95%.
Perhaps it is fair now to understand the rainforests as our neighbours.
And it is not just distant wildlife that is precious. Scientists are now associating some mental health problems, particularly in children, with a nature deficit disorder. Physically, mentally and spiritually we need a better relationship with the rest of God’s Creation.
But now an even greater threat looms – on top of this current extinction event, there is the emerging catastrophe of global warming

Global warming is already happening. This graph shows temperatures suddenly rising up to the year 2000 but the trend is continuing – 2005 was the hottest year on record, but last April was the hottest April on record.

The overwhelming consensus of the scientific community is that increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are directly contributing to higher global temperatures, and that humans are responsible for this increase in carbon dioxide levels. In the past 150 years we have burnt up fossil fuels that took 200 million years to produce.

The consequences of continued warming will be catastrophic for many species. And humans too are already suffering. Higher temperatures mean more extreme weather conditions
In 2003 Europe was hit by a heatwave that killed 39,000 people
In 2004 there were more tornadoes in the US than in any other year in history.

But those hit hardest are the poorest.
Tens of millions of people in low-lying nations such as Bangladesh, Vietnam and Egypt will be threatened by further sea level rises caused by ice sheets melting.

But in countries like Senegal droughts are rendering land infertile.

A staggering 182 million people in sub-Saharan Africa alone could die of disease directly attributable to climate change by the end of the century.
The Red Cross has estimated that already 25 million refugees (58 per cent of the global total) owe their displacement to climate change. Christian Aid fears there will be a billion more.
Climate change threatens to undo all of the progress made by development agencies in recent years – that is why organisations like Tearfund and Christian Aid are urging us passionately to do all we can to stop this catastrophe and why the Church of England is committed to cutting it’s carbon footprint to 40% of its current level.

Again it is a matter of our obligations to the poorest and those already most vulnerable. At the moment the energy hungry lifestyles of those who live in rich nations are condemning the poorest to lose their livelihoods and their lives. While each of us emits almost 10 tons of carbon dioxide every year, those in sub-Saharan Africa emit less than a ton.

To help us address this personally, Christian Aid have produced a carbon calculator so that we can make an estimate of our own CO2 emissions and consider our response. Our home group have already used these and found the results surprising. If you would like a copy please let me know after the service. To avoid catastrophic climate change scientists estimate that each of us should emit no more than 2.5 tonnes. That is a hugely ambitious target.

With all this in mind, we turn to our confession. Please stand. Can I invite Andy and anyone else under 25 who wants to come up to the front at this point to do so – we will need you for the absolution
Let us confess our sins
Creator God
Your fertile earth is being stripped of its riches, your living waters are being poisoned, your clear air is dark with the smoke of burning oil and forests
Open our eyes to see

Creator God
The rich plants and wondrous animals you gave us to care for are under threat – orangutans face extinction so that we can have palm oil, tigers are dying out so that we can have coffee, rainforests are burning so that soya can be grown for chicken feed – a million species will be lost in just fifty years if we cannot stop our climate changing
Open our eyes to see

Creator God
Our sisters and brothers are losing their sources of food and fuel, the poorest in our world are being made poorer, drought and floods threaten to make millions of refugees and to undo all the progress that development agencies and debt cancellations have made. Our sisters and brothers are dying because of the way we live
Open our eyes to see

To all the children and young people we make our confession too. All those over 25 saying together
We confess to you that we have sinned through thoughtlessness, through idleness and greed, by the destruction we have caused and the actions we have failed to take.
We are truly sorry.
We repent of all that we have wasted and the bounty we have squandered, knowing that the world will be poorer for your generation.
Inspire us to turn back the tide and work to heal this broken planet. Challenge our complacency, nag us when we fall short and keep us accountable for your future.

Children: May God forgive you, Christ renew you and the Holy Spirit guide us all to rebuild this world.

(thank children and send them back) Please remain standing for a hymn from the Iona community –
Hymn: Inspired by Love and Anger

Joanna: Please sit. It is easy to be overwhelmed by the scale of the crisis in Creation which faces us and to feel burdened by humankind’s responsibility. Our homegroup recently watched the film The Matrix which is a futuristic nightmare of a computer dominated world. In one scene the computer generated Agent Smith argues that people are not really mammals because all other mammals regulate their population according to the resources of the land they inhabit, humans, he says, are more like a virus that devastates its host.

Christianity doesn’t see it that way. Humankind is an integral part of a very good Creation. More than that, humankind is made in the Creator’s image. One of Christianity’s most famous ‘green’ heroes is St Francis and I recently came across a poetic translation of some of his words which celebrate the mysteriously beautiful relationship between humans and the rest of God’s Creation.

We bless the earth with each step we take.
And the firmament too needs our touch:
Someday your tenderness will reach it.
Look how the birds climb some invisible staircase
and lay their hands upon Him.
Of course I am jealous, when I too cannot do that.
The seas waited long to sing. Not until we leaped out laughing
Was their birth of us complete.

We have a huge task ahead of us, but St Francis’s words encourage me that we are mentally and spiritually equipped for it, even designed for this task, to be good for the Earth, to work in a positive relationship with life on Earth. And we are not alone – the Holy Spirit who breathed over the waters at Creation is with us, making things possible.

But where do we begin? Clearly it is something to be worked at on so many levels – in prayer and political action and our everyday lives. For different people different aspects will be easier and I think it is crucial to feel ourselves working in community with others and with God because otherwise our efforts can easily appear too small to make any difference.

That is where becoming an Eco-congregation comes in. Those of us who have been meeting up over the last few months have sent off a preliminary action plan to register ourselves with Eco-congregation but would like to use this service to build on that. The idea is that once we feel we’re really quite a green church we apply for the Eco-congregation award, a bit like being registered as a fair-trade church, and our efforts will be assessed by someone associated with Eco-congregation.
Please think about what you would like to change in the life of the church and in your own lives? Wild daydreams are allowed at this stage but we’re especially keen on actions that you are prepared to set in motion!

This is a summary of our action plan so far:

Powerpoint summary

Joanna. In the gallery there are large sheets of paper on the tables – at some point between now and when you leave the church please write your ideas on these sheets – all ideas: crazy and practical, about the spiritual, the practical and the community focussed – and preferably put your name beside your idea. If someone has had the same thought, please add your agreement so that we know which ideas are most popular.
And what about our lives beyond church? It makes sense to start with just one issue and build on that. To start empowering ourselves for that we thought it would be helpful to break into discussion groups on certain themes and for each group to put together a poster of ideas that others can look at over lunch – hopefully there’ll be no more than about 10 people in each group so everyone gets to talk.
We thought the young people would prefer their own discussion groups, so Ann Morrison will co-ordinate under 10s . . . and Alison will co-ordinate the over 10s
For adults we’ve come up with five issues to talk on –
If you’re interested in questions of food and shopping – see Ali, Helen or Josie
For questions of transport see Richard
For energy and water use see Alex or Nigel
For recycling and re-using Rosemary
And for political action – me

Joanna: Please can we return to our seats to offer up all that we have been discussing in our prayers.

Let us pray
Creator God, take our feet off the path of destruction. Help us to treasure and conserve the resources of the Earth. Help us to share your bounty fairly. Teach us to find joy in living more simply and to love your world.

Please stand for our final hymn
Hymn: The Servant King

Let us remain standing to bless one another in the words of a Celtic blessing
Deep peace of the running wave to you
Deep peace of the flowing air to you
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you
Deep peace of the shining stars to you
Deep peace of the Son of Peace to you

Supper and Clutter Sale

On 21 April several members of the congregation arranged a Supper with Friends at the Warehouse in aid of Tearfund's Work a Miracle campaign for those suffering with HIV and AIDS. Music was provided by the Scamping Rogues and the dinner raised £1,506.10.
The following month the focus moved to Christian Aid with the traditional house-to-house collection and on 13 May the Exclaimers (8-11s) helped to arrange a sale after the morning service of second hand goods brought in by congregation members. The sale raised £233.05 and the leftover clutter we were able to pass on to the Scouts for their jumble sale.

Action Plan

On 20th November the PCC agreed that we should carry out the Eco-congregation Enviromental Check Up which we did on 23rd January. After this we produced the following action plan:

The Church at Present
Environmental concerns are already raised in occasional services and we regularly give thanks to God as Creator in prayer and song. Among the children’s work the 8-11s group have spent some time discussing ecological issues. The church building, which is quite modern and shared with St John’s school, is kept in a generally energy and water efficient manner and has good access. There is no churchyard. We are a Fair Trade church and use crockery rather than disposable cups and plates. We provide facilities for recycling stamps and printer cartridges and the office uses recycled paper. We support a number of development agencies including Reading 3000 in Mozambique, the Leprosy Mission, SAMS, International Nepal Fellowship, Tearfund and Christian Aid both financially and in promoting their campaigns. The church is very conscious of issues of importance to the developing world and has important overseas links, especially with Nepal. Many individuals in the church are taking steps to green their own lives, eg supporting the local organic True Food Co-op, participating in organic box schemes, cycling, using environmentally sensitive cleaning materials, investing ethically, and one family have installed solar panels on their roof.

Eco-congregation Initiatives so far
We have arranged a Sacred Space evening service on the theme of Care for Creation which considered the interdependence of life on earth and celebrated God’s love for his Creation and the innate goodness of the created world expressed throughout the Bible and most powerfully in the Incarnation. The congregation were invited to move between ‘stations’ on specific environmental themes – road use, recycling, food choices, clothes and water use. At each point there was information about the impact of our choices and about green alternatives, pointers for prayer and an activity such as tasting apples that were locally grown and imported, organic or not; using a footbath while meditating on all that we appreciate about water; looking at literal and metaphorical ‘strings attached’ to cheap clothes; or making models out of rubbish.

We have also started including green tips in the weekly news sheet and have a space on the notice board for Eco-congregation matters (which is currently displaying Tearfund climate change information).

The Action Plan
Spiritual life
Worship – we hope to encourage more thought about our relationship with Creation in worship, beginning with a Worship Together service on 1 July. This service will be in three parts – 1. Celebration: giving thanks for Creation 2. Confession: considering the current crisis 3. Action: praying for the healing of Creation and providing opportunities to explore what each of us might be doing as individuals (encouraging those who already do things to tell others about it) and what we would like to add to the church’s action plan.
The increased awareness of green issues through the green tips in the news-sheet and information on the notice board will hopefully help to keep this in our prayer life.

Practical activities
Recycling – boxes for stamps, cartridges, batteries, foil and possibly bottle tops will be at the back of church [Rosemary]. Exclaimers (aged 8-11s) will be organising a Clutter Sale to raise funds for Christian Aid on 13 May [Joanna].
Energy efficiency – when the refectory is finished we need to ensure the committee prioritises energy efficiency in stocking the kitchen, including the most practical dishwasher and other A++ rated white goods. [Ali]
Investment – we need to hold a meeting with the Treasurer about our investment and find out about the environmental policy of our current bank [Joanna]
Educating ourselves – we plan to arrange termly talks before our shared lunches on the first Sunday of the month – speakers have so far been suggested on investments, green electricity and clothing.
Cleaning – try to arrange for more environmentally cleaning materials to be used.

Talk with the school, asking them to become involved with our initiatives, starting with recycling and making sure lights, computers etc are switched off.
Consider the possibility of green electricity for the church but this is currently decided by the council because it is also the school building so this could be an opportunity to lobby the council to reconsider its policy.
Discuss with RE-Inspired the possibility of including sessions on Creation/Environment issues.
Publicise events by Newtown’s environment group GLOBE, particularly the Kennet clean up, and publicise Earley’s Green Fair.
Promote Christian Aid and Tearfund’s campaigns on carbon reduction.
Produce a blog of our activities attached to the church’s website.

Sacred Space 19th November 2006

Sacred Space is an alternative worship service which happens once a month on a Sunday evening at St John's.

We took the theme of Care for Creation. We began by throwing an inflatable planet earth across the circle of those present naming things we love about creation (not easy with a baby balanced on one hip). The focus of the service were prayer stations around the church inviting thsoe present to contemplate issues of concern. These were introduced with the following talk:

One of the things I love about our home here in Reading is the presence of jays – the jays who planted these oak trees. An acorn that falls to the ground beneath its parent will never receive enough light to grow. An acorn buried by a squirrel will first have been nibbled to prevent it germinating. Only the acorns planted by the jays will become new oak trees. The oak supports a wider variety of wildlife than any other English tree and for thousands of years its spread has been dependent upon the fabulously colourful, chattering jay.

Just over 2,000 years ago Jesus ben Sirach, in Ecclesiasticus, declared
Each creature is preserved to meet a particular need,
All things come in pairs, one opposite to the other, and God has made nothing incomplete.
Each supplements the virtues of the other. Who could ever tire of seeing God’s glory?

Now, more than at any time in our history, we know how intricately and fundamentally we are all connected to and dependent upon the web of God’s creation. We know that it is a web that has always been shifting, threads breaking and reforming as tectonic plates have moved, as ice ages have reshaped the landscape, as species have evolved, died out, migrated. Animals and humans have destroyed habitats and brought to birth beautiful new landscapes. Every change reverberates through the web in so many ways.

It is easy to imagine these as amendments to God’s original Creation, after all, the second chapter of Genesis asserts
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished and all their multitude.

But elsewhere in the Old Testament descriptions of God as Creator indicate his constant and close involvement in this changing world. One of the most powerful of these appears in YHWH’s response to Job’s complaint about his own sufferings, here are a few verses:

Then YHWH answered Job out of the whirlwind . . . ‘I will question you, and you shall declare to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? . . .
Have you entered the storehouses of the snow, or have you seen the storehouses of the hail? . . .
Who has cut a channel for the torrents of rain, and a way for the thunderbolt, to bring rain on a land where no one lives, on the desert, which is empty of human life, to satisfy the waste and desolate land, and to make the ground put forth grass?
Has the rain a father, or who has begotten the drops of dew? From whose womb did the ice come forth and who has given birth to the hoar-frost of heaven? . . .
Can you hunt the prey for the lion . . . ?
Do you know when the mountain goats give birth? Do you observe the calving of the deer? . . .
Is the wild ox willing to serve you? Will it spend the night at your crib?

This process of Creation is awesomely powerful, but a lot harder work than just saying ‘let there be light’. If giving birth to the hoar-frost of heaven feels anything like giving birth the way I’ve experienced it, it is both astoundingly painful and unutterably beautiful. More importantly, it is about intimate relationship, as is watching over the birth of goats and deer, or providing rain for lands regardless of human need. And it is an ongoing relationship. This is a God constantly involved with and delighting in Creation.

Yet throughout the history of Christianity there have been those who have wanted to see the Divine as something utterly other and separate from the dirty, messy, contradictory, vulnerable matter of this world. The stunning opening of John’s gospel emphatically rejects such a dichotomy:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being . . .
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory,

The Incarnation of God as Jesus Christ is the ultimate sign that created matter is good. God was not just clothed in flesh: Jesus was fully human and fully God. Nor was Jesus concerned only with the spiritual welfare of the people he met – time and again he healed their physical ills and he fed them. Our God is not interested only in the spiritual but in the physical too.

Moreover, Jesus came not just to save humankind but for the sake of all Creation. The Gospel accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion describe the earth’s response. Matthew’s is the most detailed:
He tells us that, ‘From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.’ And that as Jesus breathed his last ‘the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom, the earth shook, and the rocks were split’
More explicitly, St Paul told the Romans
We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves . . . groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
And he told the Colossians,
In [Jesus] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to God’s self all things.

It is clear that in the earliest Christian thinking all of Creation has an intimate, interactive relationship with God.

So what has happened?

Climate change is wiping out glaciers and coral reefs, rendering once-fertile lands uninhabitable, threatening to displace millions and millions of the poorest people on earth. The gloriously complex eco-systems that are the rainforests, lungs for the planet, are being decimated – very often to grow chicken feed. Our local councils are running out of land in which to bury our waste, and we are told that after the oil wars there will be water wars, although rising sea levels will also be covering Bangladesh, and London.

It is a very scary picture. And much of what needs to be done to halt these changes depends on the actions of governments and businesses, or on people who understand the technologies required.

So where does Christianity come into this?
First, it is a question of the integrity of our relationship with the Creator God who delights in this earthly world – even if climate change could not be halted, that alone is reason enough not to be wanton in our attitude to the planet.

But more than that, Christians have a unique perspective to offer. A perspective that shifts the process of caring for creation from being a burden to being a joy.

Jesus taught a radical destabilising love for the poor and the oppressed. Feasting among outcasts who are the first in his kingdom. Like oppressed human beings our broken planet is a victim of greed, selfishness and domination – of the perception that its value lies only in what it can do for us. It too deserves love for its own sake.

If we try to ‘save the planet’ out of a sense of guilt we will be miserable and bitter and we will probably fail. If our efforts to be green simply leave us feeling inadequate at the task before us, we will crumble. But if we can start from loving Creation as our neighbour it becomes an entirely different process. A process of being surprised by the joy of its presence, of seeking out new ways of giving back. If this sounds like hippy nonsense, try shopping at the Farmer’s Market and getting to know the stallholders there, or at the organic True Food Co-op where we are trusted to weigh out our own food into minimal packaging and have a cup of tea while we’re at it. This feels like right relationship with the planet and it is so much more pleasurable than Tesco’s. Yes it is only a drop in the ocean, but I believe it is the right perspective to start from. Moreover, only when we approach Creation in this more positive way will we find a way to live permanently in a balance that will sustain all God’s people.

The threat of climate change is terrifying, but the need to respond not as individuals but in community and the need to learn to love creation has the potential for some very beautiful developments in that web.

This service invites us to rethink our relationship with the created world, to delight in the earth. As Christians we need to cast off that ancient Greek ideology that privileges the spiritual over the physical. Above all we need to recognise the importance in our tradition of God’s love for creation, for the material – that God so loved the world that he embraced it and became one with it.

The Prayer Stations
Rethink rubbish
a pile of (clean!) rubbish in the refectory which they were invited to redeem by turning into sculptures
Strings attached
items of clothing with strings attached to labels were placed on a table with information about the environmental and human costs of clothing manufacture
Water of life
seats were positioned around bowls of warm water and people were invited to soak their feet while contemplating the importance of water and their appreciation of it
When did you last go paddling? And what did it feel like?
Do you have a favourite waterfall, river, lake or loch? What do you do there?
What do you most like to do with water?
Are there things that you would like to do with water but haven’t yet?
Do any of the Bible’s water stories have a special meaning for you?
How do we travel?
A bicycle was brought in and around it were placed various pieces of information about the consequences of our transport habits and a cyclist's prayer celebrating the joys of cycling
Taste and see
a variety of apples - some organic, some fairtrade, some local, some not - were laid out with the following notice beside them:
Please cut off a piece of one apple and read where it comes from
Eat it contemplatively, slowly savouring its taste, its texture, and conscious of its story
Then try another apple . . .

In 2003 The Guardian bought a basket of fresh food containing 20 items, including pears from Argentina, peas from South Africa and lettuce from Spain. The cumulative distance travelled by the contents of the basket was 100,943 miles – just under half the distance to the moon.

In 2001 the University of North Carolina conducted a study of over 700 women living near crops sprayed with certain pesticides and found they faced a 40-120 per cent increased risk of miscarriage and birth defects

Only 38 per cent of apples sold in our supermarkets were grown in the UK. Friends of the Earth found 14 British varieties of apple in supermarkets but 28 on market stalls.
British apples are available from late July until the following April.

In the Beginning

Report of meeting held on 3rd October 2006 to discuss Eco-Congregation

Why did people attend?
We agreed that those present share the passionate belief that respect of and care for God’s created universe is fundamental to a right relationship with God Himself and with our fellow human beings.

We are deeply concerned about the current threats to the natural world. This is an abuse of a most precious gift from God and in distancing ourselves from the rest of Creation we distance ourselves from ways of understanding God. Moreover, to quote from Tearfund’s latest publicity, ‘Climate change is not just an environmental issue – it’s a threat to people living in poverty’.

We are conscious that Tearfund, Christian Aid, Cafod, Oxfam, WDM and other development agencies have joined the Stop Climate Chaos coalition precisely because the most vulnerable people on this earth are those whose lives and livelihoods are already being destroyed by climate change. It makes little sense to support fair-trade initiatives without also responding to the impending environmental catastrophe. We are also aware that the Church of England has launched a national environmental campaign, Shrinking the Footprint, endeavouring to reduce the Church’s energy consumption by 40%.

We take heart from the fact that experts in the environmental field assure us that meaningful action can still be taken. The substantial reduction in water consumption in the Thames Valley this year is indicative of people’s willingness to act for the greater good in such matters. The Church of England’s website cites the feeding of the 4,000 (Mt 15:32-39) as an apt parable: ‘At Jesus’ request, the disciples gave up what little they had (which was still more than the rest) for an apparently impossible task. In the end it was more than enough.’

What is Eco-Congregation?
Eco-Congregation is ‘an environmental toolkit for churches’ produced by ENCAMS and Churches Together in Britain and Ireland. Becoming involved with Eco-Congregation entails undertaking their ‘Churches environmental check-up’ and producing an action plan as a result which endeavours to develop environmental awareness in three areas;
Spiritual – linking environmental issues with faith eg through worship
Practical – eg energy consumption, recycling
Community – working with or through the local community on environmental issues eg litter pick, project with a school or similar, getting positive publicity.
When this threefold environmental commitment can be demonstrated we can apply for an Eco-congregation award.
Eco-congregation provide a range of resources which we can use if we find them helpful.

Summary of issues covered by environmental check up:
1. Life and Mission of the Church – does care for the environment have sufficient weight within the church’s mission? This is assessed by looking at the five marks of mission formulated by the 1988 Lambeth Conference -
a. To proclaim the good news of the Kingdom
b. To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
c. To respond to human need by loving service
d. To seek to transform unjust structures of society
e. To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation; to sustain and renew the life of the earth

2. Worship
3. Theology
4. Children’s work
5. Youth work
6. All-age and Adult education
7. Church property
8. Church management
9. Church land
10. Personal lifestyle
11. Community outreach
12. Overseas concerns
This document is available in full on the eco-congregation website

Do we think Eco-Congregation would be good for St John’s?
St John’s is clearly already environmentally aware, obvious examples being last Sunday’s Harvest Service, Oasis’s contribution to the forecourt garden and through our overseas interests – Rosemary brought along Tearfund’s latest campaign card which calls on the government to play its part in stopping climate chaos. Nonetheless, there are many other things we could do and which the Eco-congregation ‘tool-kit’ would help with.

We feel it is particularly useful right now as we embark on the ‘Lost for Words’ course. Getting involved with the wider community on green issues would be an obvious ideal opportunity for conversations with non-church goers in which we can begin by explaining that our involvement is inspired by our faith.

We are conscious that young people especially see much of church as irrelevant to the real world. However, they are concerned about what is happening to the planet and would be attracted to the church if it was seen to be engaging with issues whose importance they understood.

Observing the enthusiasm in the room, Jo commented “this is what it means to be ‘energised by faith’” – this is something that would be good for St John’s as a congregation.

What next?
Sacred Space – use 19 November’s Sacred Space service to explore ideas about Care for Creation and to distribute Tearfund’s booklets For Tomorrow Too (on ways to reduce our impact on the climate). This would enable more of the congregation to discuss these issues.
A planning meeting for this service will be held on 7th November.

PCC – Give a copy of this report to all members of the PCC and ask them to consider a proposal to work towards an Eco-congregation award at their 20 November meeting.