Monday, December 14, 2009

Bishop dedicates Eco-congregation plaque

Last Thursday the Bishop of Reading, the Right Reverend Stephen Cottrell, visited the church to dedicate our Eco-congregation plaque. He also got to see the beautiful sacramental furniture which local craftsmen and congregation members Mark Ripley and Andrew Boddington have designed and made for the church.

Many of those present had been at the Thursday morning communion and the cafe. I was delighted that our Eco-congregation assessors Rob White and John Madeley were both able to be there too. Proceedings began in the main church when the bishop congratulated us on the award, appropriately in the week that the Copenhagen Climate Change summit began. The St John's school Eco-team were present too and he talked with them. We showed the Pathfinders' Christian Aid video about climate change and then I talked briefly about some of the things we've done at church. Afterwards most of us managed to squeeze into the foyer where bishop Stephen encouraged us to keep up the work (the award only lasts into 2011) and led us in prayer.

After photos with the school children and an opportunity to look at the sacramental furniture it was time for lunch. Ali and the cafe members had made fresh bread and a gorgeous soup. We talked over lunch about the Wave (at which many of the congregation had met bishop Stephen) and then he got some tougher questions on theology.

The photo above shows the Eco-congregation plaque in situ (with the vicar, Rev Vincent Gardner, plus Rosemary and I).

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Advent - Why We Are Waiting

Some months back I signed up to receive the Church of England's Advent e-mails at With my typical lack of organisation I've just sat down to go through a week's worth - they're really worth seeing. Dec 4 is about solar power on a church roof, many are similarly about 'green issues' or about the importance of taking Sabbath moments, reconnecting with God's earth - all very Eco-congregation.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Wave

It feels like we've been talking about this all year - the day of The Wave finally arrived. This was the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition demonstration in London just ahead of the Copenhagen Climate Summit.

Preparations at St John's began a few weeks back when the Pathfinders made their splendid banner. Then this Friday sixty cyclists turned up at the cafe - they'd come from Bristol and had stayed the night at St George's, Wash Common in Newbury en route to the Wave. They'd asked for a stopover for toilet and coffee but they got bacon butties for breakfast too courtesy of the Friday cafe.

Today about 25 of us headed down to London by less strenuous means - coach and train. When last I looked the BBC were reporting 20,000 marchers, Sky News said 40,000 but SCCC and Christian Aid said 50,000. Some of us arrived early enough for the service in Westminster Central Hall. The key phrase one of them reported from the service was that God told us to preach good news to all the world - not merely all people, but the cosmos.

By the time our family turned up there was a capacity 3,000 people inside and still an optimistic queue, but we headed downstairs for the Cafod children's activities, bumped into several old friends and the St John's Pathfinders, played climate change games, made banners and got blue hands painted on our faces (plus a good cup of coffee). Making a three-year-old walk the full route seemed a bit optimistic so while most people headed off to Grosvenor Square for the rallying talks and march start, we had a picnic and then visited Westminster Abbey. By the time we came out marchers were passing Parliament. The highlights for the boys were a wonderful blue dragon, meeting Tearfund's Super Badger and the cycle-powered music.

The rest of the congregation did walk the full route. The Pathfinders met our bishop, Stephen Cottrell, on the march (a photo of that should be appearing soon on the church's new website: There was more a storm of noise than a wave of hands at 3pm and the marching continued long after (we were on the platform at Waterloo when a friend rang to say they'd reached Parliament Square).

Changing our bank

Many months ago I mentioned discussion about banking. The Eco-congregation materials encourage churches to ensure they are investing ethically. Our bank was Nat West, well known for its investment in oil, gas and coal projects as part of the Royal Bank of Scotland group. Since many of the congregation bank with the Co-operative Bank some suggested we should change to this. Others thought it might be worth while supporting People and Planet’s Ditch the Dirty Development campaign – asking RBS-NatWest to change to funding renewable energy and threatening to boycott if they don’t. This latter option seemed more likely to work if other churches were on board so we were awaiting advice from the diocese on this.

However, the credit crunch has forced our hand – as interest charges drop while banking charges remain, it is no longer economically sensible to bank with Nat West. Consequently at the last PCC we chose to move our money into accounts that won’t be funding oil, gas and coal production. Other churches may be interested to know that for our current account we have chosen the Charities Aid Foundation bank because they provide an online banking system which allows charities and churches to sanction transactions with two e-mail accounts, like the two signatures on their cheque books. They also have far fewer bank charges than NatWest.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Age of Stupid

The Age of Stupid showing went off without a hitch on Thursday. With my usual failure to think numbers I forgot to count the audience but we think it was about fifty which is fantastic. Probably two thirds were congregation members.

I'd picked up lots of cakes at the Early St Peter's Toddler service the day before so they went down very well and I'd also put up a display of a few facts/figures/graphs about climate change and possible responses - I have to admit I didn't expect it to be read as much as it was (I even had to photocopy a piece for one attendee) so I've left it all up there for the week.

On second viewing (as Matt Freer said) it didn't feel so angry and I think I got more out of it. Afterwards I advertised the Eco-veggie fayre which will be held at Reading Town Hall on 19th December and includes a showing of the film. We also encouraged people to join The Wave climate change march on 5th December. Then I encouraged people to talk it over with their neighbours rather than going bleakly out into the night, and they did talk for a long time! All the feedback I got was very positive (albeit with some despair about how to respond). John Madeley said he'd like us to try to get every church in Reading to show it. Next up will be Tilehurst Methodists who are showing it on 9 December.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Age of Stupid - advertising showing

Showing at
St John and St Stephen's Church,
121-147 Orts Road, Reading, RG1 3JN

Thursday 19th November 7.30 for 8 pm start

Free entry (retiring collection to cover costs)

It's certificate 12A. I'm hoping to be showing it with subtitles on.
Please join us and bring a friend.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Just back from the GREN AGM. One of the first external events I attended as an Eco-congregation co-ordinator was the meeting which launched GREN - the Greater Reading Environmental Network. It's a network of the very many groups in the Reading area with concerns about the environment, be that urban wildlife, veganism or climate change. As a yahoo group it's proved a very useful way of keeping in touch with the variety of things happening, as well as a source of local information (in my case including the greenest way to dispose of my car). But it also organises events and the next focusses on Copenhagen:

Thursday 12 November 7.30 pm
RISC, 35-39 London Street, Reading, RG1 4PS

The Science:
Professor Jonathan Gregory, Climate Scientist, University of Reading

The Campaign:
Phil Thornhill, Campaign against Climate Change

The Politics:
Martin Salter MP, Reading West

An opportunity to learn more and to send your message to the UK government.

Other Reading Christian Ecology Link members have been part of organising this, one of whom will be chairing the evening - please come along!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Reading International Festival

We're currently in the middle of the Reading International Festival. The day that the programme for this was handed out with our service sheets in church it so happened that three of us were standing up to advertise events in it anyway (including last week's Tearfund Climate Change Evening). Inevitably we've found ourselves bumping into other congregation members at these events, particularly at Ann Pettifor's talk at the university last week "Chasing the Moneylenders from the Temple of our Democracy: Credit, usury, political power and the Millenium Development Goals" - since my husband was organising this I was at home with the boys but it will eventually be possible to watch a video of it on the university website so I'll put a link up when that's possible. I've heard a lot about how impressive this was.

This evening Hamish and I were both at RISC where one of our Eco-congregation assessors, John Madeley, was launching his first novel after many years of writing factually on development issues: Beyond Reach?. It's set in the Make Poverty History campaign of 2005 and he explained that he'd turned to fiction in the hope of spreading his message to a wider audience, emphasising that if ordinary people really understood what poverty means they would find a way to stop it, despite the apathy of governments. He encouraged us to buy a second copy at half price to give to a friend who was not involved in the campaign - good Christmas present potential. It so happens that one of the endorsements on the back is from Ann Pettifor: 'Be warned, this book could change your life'. Carl Rayer wrote: 'In the tradition of Saturday, this outstanding novel weaves together the world of public events with the private world of individual lives'.

I took the opportunity to hand out posters for our forthcoming showing of Age of Stupid - yes, despite my reservations about its angry tone there has been such interest in the congregation that I have decided to organise a proper public showing. It'll be at the church on Thursday 19 November, doors open 7.30, show starts 8pm. Entrance will be free but with a retiring collection in the hope of recouping some of the licence fee. Hopefully there'll be plenty of info there for people to be inspired to go out and act upon afterwards.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Reading Churches Campaigning Network

This morning we concluded St John's Season of Creation. The sermon came in two parts - our vicar began with the Gospel reading and Jesus' entirely practical response to blind Bartimaeus's need. Then Hamish introduced us to Reading Churches Campaigning Network: fighting against world poverty and economic injustice (formerly the Reading Jubilee Debt Campaign). He explained the great need for Christians to try to get to grips with some of the complexities of the issues that need campaigning on in order to make an effective difference. He and others often hand out campaign postcards that we take away and sign, but more is needed. He invited us to do some 'sacrificial reading' - giving up time to work through a dossier that would help us better understand the economic situation that keeps 800 million people at near starvation level. He observed that these issues are not getting anything like as much attention as they ought to because of the focus on climate change, but really it's part of the same battle for a fair world.

All today's songs and hymns reinforced this 'kingdom building' message, powerfully. Afterwards a number of us collected sample papers from the dossier to explore. Mine is onTNCs, water and mining.

We've decided to keep on using the fairtrade wine which everyone is happy with. The home made communion bread needs a bit of working on - I'd forgotten to specify milk free bread (many bread makers have milk in the recipe) for vegans and dairy intolerant folk, plus too much consecrated bread can be a bit of an embarassment so we need to specify a smaller size or just a few slices. Probably a few of us will fill the freezer up on a regular basis but hopefully others will contribute on a more casual basis.

Tearfund Climate Justice Evening

Last Thursday's climate justice evening was attended by over fifty people, making it quite a squeeze in our church refectory. I think just over half were not from the congregation. The evening began very hospitably with coffee and cakes before we sat down for a general introduction to the issues. They particularly focussed on cases in Malawi (a video many will have seen at the Hope for Planet Earth evenings) and Nepal, where climate change is already destroying livelihoods and community.

They explained that there are three 'legs' to Tearfund's campaign -
speaking/writing to those in power
changing our own lifestyles

It was when we broke into two groups (on each of the first two subjects) that I found I learnt more stuff that I didn't already know. I chose the campaigning group. They explained that Tearfund are campaigning specifically on the reduction of carbon emissions and an adaptation fund for developing countries but there are other big issues up for discussion at Copenhagen too, notably deforestation (my note - you can sign up to the Prince's Rainforest Project to contribute to campaigning on this) and technology transfer (issues of who has the rights to use/benefit financially from newly invented green technologies).

Our carbon dioxide emissions so far mean that a rise of 1.5 degrees is inevitable. Some islands won't survive this. For the Maldives 2 degrees will be too much. Tearfund's campaign is for a commitment from developing countries to reduce emissions to 40% of 1990 levels by 2020 (ie in the eight years after the Kyoto protocol expires in 2012). For developing countries a $150 billion adaptation fund is needed (not from other development budgets).

Much discussion followed, including concerns at how the adaptation fund would be used to benefit the poorest and fears that our little efforts cannot make a difference. I entirely agreed with the speaker's point that we need to do the 'right' thing even if we're the only one since it is about our relationship with God and our neighbours, but also that lots of tiny drops together do make a difference.

At the end we had a chance to flag up things that our churches were doing, Rita advertised the coach she's organising to The Wave on 5 December and I mentioned the Ecclesiastical Electricity plan to get solar panels on a church roof in Reading by encouraging Christians from across the town to contribute rather than one church trying to do it alone (the idea being that their profits from selling back to the grid would help to get more panels on more churches).

Stand Up Take Action Against Poverty and Inequality

Last Sunday's service was a Stand Up service. It began with an introduction to the Millenium Development Goals and the concept of Stand Up. These then featured in a short video and the subsequent intercessions. Once all the children had rejoined the service we all (just over 80 of us) stood up to read the pledge together. I'd been leading Exclaimers so we had been looking at the Millenium Development Goals too and the children then wrote letters or produced art work which I took home with the order of service and pledge script to send off to our MP.

Reuse, Recycle - clothes swap and tip visit

A couple of weeks back there were two green events I've been meaning to record. Suzanne took a group from Oasis and the cafe to the Civic Amenity Site to witness the recycling process there and apparently it was quite an eye-opener. Last Sunday Alison stood up to talk about it briefly and advised us to talk to her, Monika, Bridget or Suzanne if we want any more information. The amount of contaminated stuff going into the recycling is absurd (duvets very common, but also a deer and a goat in the past year!). Apparently the biggest headache is the plastic bags that get put in, especially full of cans, hence all cans have to go through the sorting process twice to give the poor sorters a chance to grab all the bags going through.

Then Anne and Helen organised a clothes swap party at which 15 folk turned up with clothes they no longer wanted to exchange for someone else's. This was a fun evening and the left overs went to a charity shop.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Truth About Climate Change

Last night was the second of our 'Creation Time' film evenings. I was not very optimistic that anyone would want to venture out on such a soggy October evening, but to my surprise seven folk turned up, most of them walking. David Attenborough has been a hero of mine since childhood and this kind of down to earth BBC documentary is something I feel much more comfortable with than the dramatic films probably. We just watched the second episode because there is a certain amount of repetition and it seemed an appropriate follow on to our last film. This also meant there was plenty of time for discussion afterwards, and there was certainly plenty of inspiration for discussion in the programme.

Its main focus is the predicted consequences of the rising temperatures, primarily using modelling fom the Met Office's Hadley Centre, and this makes pretty bleak viewing: 'somewhere between severe and catastrophic'. I was surprised, however, by the exent of the optimism that we can at least stop carbon emissions at 2006 levels (it was made three years ago).

Monday, October 5, 2009

Home, update

We welcomed two home groups to our front room a couple of weeks back to watch the film Home (lucky we live in a clergy house). It is a very powerful film and does offer a bit more hope than Age of Stupid towards the end. As long as 'we still have half the world's forests' counts as hope? For me its greatest strength is that it makes it more obvious what it is we're fighting to protect because it is stunningly beautiful (in its shots of people as well as, primarily, landscapes). As far as I noticed there were no shots of British countryside, so since I happened to be on the Cornish coast a couple of days later, that's what this picture is of.

October is a busy month in the run up to Copenhagen - upcoming events in Reading include an event at Caversham Heights Methodist Church at which CAFOD's head of policy will be talking about the importance of acting to avert climate change at 7.30 on Friday 16th. This will be one of a number of Stand Up aganist Poverty events that weekend. Then on Thursday 22 there will be a Tearfund Climate Justice Evening to equip people to respond to the crisis.

Rubbish Art

Last October our Eco-congregation assessor, Rob White, finished a challenge to fill only one bin bag of rubbish in a whole year. He subsequently took his bag of rubbish to various school assemblies to talk about recycling. Once that was done he was looking for an alternative to simply throwing it away so a member of our home group, Sue Batchelor, turned some of it into a work of art. She chose to make a vase of flowers because of Rob's job as a gardener. These tiny photos don't really do the art justice so if you can enlarge them to admire them please do. On the single flower you can see some of the writing on the plastic still.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


This week's communion bread was made with Oxfordshire wheat ground in the last working watermill on the River Thames (Mapledurham) and olive oil from Palestine. Just as we began to gather to receive, so a delicious smell of cakes baking wafted in from the kitchen where the Exclaimers were baking in preparation for our harvest service in a fortnight (the cake will be frozen in the meantime!).

I announced that I will be hosting some films over the next few weeks appropriate to the Season of Creation. We're starting this Thursday with Home, a film by Yann Arthus-Bertrand (who produced the book Earth from the Air). This was recommended to me by Matt Freer when I mentioned that I found Age of Stupid too angry. I've not watched much of it myself but what I have seen is a stunning celebration of the variety and beauty of our planet.

St Barnabas, Emmer Green

Last Thursday evening I was invited to share some of our experience of Eco-congregation with members of St Barnabas, Emmer Green. We watched the Operation Noah film, God is Green first. This proved an excellent starting point for discussing Christians' roles in the climate crisis which led into deciding what the congregation of St Barnabas should do. It felt a very productive discussion at the end of which they had decided to start putting green tips in their newsletter and to bring the Eco-congregation environmental check up before the next PCC.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Living in a Fragile World

For this first Sunday in our Season of Creation I rashly promised to lead the Exclaimers on the same theme as the sermon without having first looked at the sermon notes on the ctbi website. I was consequently rather challenged to realise that the reading was Proverbs 1:20-33 in which Wisdom chastises foolish men for not listening to her and says she'll mock them when disasters strike. I decided to begin with an adaptation of the first Godly Play session from Living in a Fragile World. This is a wonderful resource which I'd highly recommend using, but I discovered that it really needs to be used properly with all the Godly Play trappings of a carefully laid out room, children filing in slowly with shoes off and sitting at a distance from the objects with which the story is told etc. My version descended into chaos as the kids, hyper for the first session of term, could lean over and move the pieces to set up satellites, space hotels etc. It was interesting and depressing to see their lack of faith in humankind's ability to sort out the mess we've created. Hopefully we can make the next few sessions more optimistic in this respect.

We were back in the church for communion, the first with home made bread. When full-flavoured focaccia represents the body of Christ it is thought-provokingly different from a bland white slice. It feels like real nourishment.

The sermon, which I missed, apparently drew on the connection between Jesus and Wisdom in creating the world, on the importance of recognising that the world was created 'through Wisdom' (there is reason . . . a science to it) and concluded that Christians can respond to the negativity of the new 'grand narrative' of climate change with wisdom drawn from the Sermon on the Mount: that to 'travel light' is a joyful experience.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Season of Creation

Summer holidays are over and Time for Creation is here again. Our church has decided to extend the Season of Creation over the next two months, in part because it begins so soon after the holidays that no one is quite ready for it until it's half over, in part because that avoids having to go back to Pentecost Season for a month before Kingdom Season begins.

Today's service was looking at our relationship with the much wider community - our church's connections with Nepal and in particular the INF. For the meal after the service we tried to use stuff from our own gardens - this led to many very delicious puddings (the golden plums in the crumble I ate were apparently picked only yesterday afternoon) - and a good quantity of courgettes/marrows in the ratatouille.

We've decided to use Fair Trade wine for our communions this season. We may well continue with this afterwards, or experiment with local/organic options. We've also asked people to sign up on a rota to bring home made bread for communion and I was delighted at how quickly this started filling up. Again, we hope this might end up extending beyond this season.

We've decided to use the Churches Together in Britain and Ireland Time for Creation resources for our sermons for the early part of the season when they tie into the lectionary.

On October 22nd there will be a Tearfund Climate Justice evening at St John's to which all are welcome.

Hopefully there will be few other events through the season, including a clothes swap evening and perhaps a couple of film showings.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


We're just back from Greenbelt Christian Arts Festival at Cheltenham Racecourse. A large number of our congregation are now Greenbelt regulars and there was certainly plenty of environmental stuff at Greenbelt this year. For me the green highlights included wild food foraging with Earth Abbey before the Sunday service (see picture), an enlightening workshop with one of the makers of the Age of Stupid and Tamsin Omond's passionate call to non violent protest (and John Bell as always - this time regarding Sabbath for people and planet). I also made my contribution to Christian Aid's mass visual trespass (a video petition to be projected onto a public space), calling on Gordon Brown to get his priorities right and be present at Copenhagen this December. However, as I began my ambitious plea about halting the melting of the Arctic sea ice I found my words stumbling in recollection of Alistair McIntosh's lectures. These were profound, heartbreaking and hugely important - he talked of the inevitable burn out of activists as we see most of the world failing to respond and crucially of the need to recognise that too little is happening too late so that, whilst still doing absolutely everything we practically can to halt climate change, we also need to prepare ourselves spiritually for the catastrophe.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Tax dodging

A few weeks back two of our congregation joined other campaigners from Christian Aid for an award ceremony with a difference. Dressed in evening wear, they walked from Reading station to the offices of Price Waterhouse to present employees with an award for being a company in the best position to do something about the scandal of tax dodging that is keeping poor countries poor.

Apparently the employees, having been warned in advance, were all carrying something in each hand so that they could not accept the proffered leaflets, but the mood of the event was very positive.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Banking and the legend of Canute

I've recently been in e-mail contact with Matt Freer who works for Oxford Diocese on environmental aspects of social responsibility and have learnt that the ethics of the diocese's banking are under discussion. No decisions yet, but we await conclusions with interest.

On a quite different note, having just got back off holiday I learnt that 'King Canute' was due to cycle into Oxford last week as part of a climate change demonstration. I've not been able to find what he did yet, but being a medieval historian, I'd just like to mention
1. the story of Canute and the waves is probably the invention of a twelfth-century cleric
2. the story was intended to indicate Canute's wisdom and piety. His shouts to the incoming waves (or the tide on the Thames, depending on your source) were a stunt which he followed by declaring 'Let all the world know that the power of kings is empty and worthless, and there is no king worthy of the name save Him by whose will heaven, earth and sea obey eternal laws'.

Friday, July 3, 2009

East Reading Festival - Noah's flowers

It's the East Reading Festival this week, including an art exhibition and flower festival in St John's Church. So, I volunteered to do an EcoCongregation flower display (perhaps not wise for someone whose rare attempts to arrange bouquets in vases tend to be comic rather than attractive). I borrowed one of my sons' several arks as the basis and filled it with plants from our garden. Unfortunately I had no idea how long oasis should be soaked for and transporting the entire arrangement by bike was a little tricky. The image above bears only a passing resemblance to the arrangement now in the church (on arrival I abandoned the fennel that was already wilting and yesterday morning I had to pluck out the soggy roses and dried up strawberry runner, substituting flowers from the church forecourt garden, so that there are now no food plants in it, unless you count lavender, but based on the lavender cake I once I ate, I don't count it!). The accompanying text reads:

The plants in this display were all organically grown in Reading and transported by bike. Some are wild flowers and some are cultivated. Some are for healing, some for eating and some are simply beautiful. They represent the bounty and generosity of God’s created world.This ark is a fairly traded toy from Sri Lanka belonging to a five-year-old in our congregation.

The windmill represents St John’s PCC’s recent decision to change our electricity supplier to Ecotricity renewable energy.

Christian Ecology Link have launched the Operation Noah campaign to protect our rich wildlife and the world’s poorest people from climate change. If greenhouse gas emissions are not curtailed soon there will be no summer sea ice at the Arctic before this ark’s owner is eighteen and before he is fifty the number of climate change refugees, some arriving here, will exceed the combined populations of England, Germany and Italy (at the most conservative estimate).

In a time of climate crisis, Noah was ‘a man who walked with God’, listened to the warnings and acted. Today we are all called to act as Noah did.

On my arrival with the display Oasis (which I'd missed due to a dental appointment) were finishing off their contribution and my youngest son helped to add the 'desert' sand around it - their's was all taken from the forecourt garden which they'd just been tidying for the festival (I did try photographing it but it's a lousy picture).

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Not Stupid?

Just back from a showing of The Age of Stupid - I'd been thinking of arranging a showing fo our congregation and community, but have not been persuaded. It starts very powerfully so I had almost immediately stopped noticing the oppressive heat in the room and probably cried the first time about ten minutes in - over a glacier.

But eventually I realised I was feeling bombarded with anger. I suppose the title should have been a warning of the anger behind it. It was at about this point that several folk walked out. It did then calm down somewhat but I ended up disappointed. By saying that 2055 would see humans on the verge of extinction I felt they were being unhelpfully extreme. It gave too much scope for people to refuse to believe.

There was lots of good stuff in it (I'd have been happy just to watch the wonderful French mountain guide) and lots of heart breaking stuff, especially the Iraqi kids. I had hoped for a more coherent exploration of what climate change would mean for the world. Certainly it is powerful and if some people find themselves inspired to radical action by it then that's fantastic, but I don't think I'd be happy to see it shown in all schools as some have suggested.

On the subject of climate change and coherent explanations, Jo Jamison at Operation Noah has made a very helpful five minute radio piece on the refugee crisis that will result, here.

Wind Power

I've had a more detailed reply back from Ecotricity about their electricity generation. Unfortunately my efforts to copy across extracts therefrom have failed due to text incompatibilities it seems (or my ineptitude). Apparently a wind turbine is likely to be saving 35,000 tonnes of CO2 in its lifetime. It is expected to save between 40 and 70 times as much fossil fuel as it took to construct. If anyone reading this wants more detail I'm happy to forward them the e-mail.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Stillness (and food ethics)

Contrary to the impression this blog may give, I don't spend quite every waking moment thinking about climate change. This morning I was leading Exclaimers (8-11s) on the calming of the storm and intended to avoid any reference to real weather crises. Instead I wanted to use the reading as an opportunity to give the children an experience of contemplative prayer, a way to find a calm space within themselves for God's presence to respond to storms.

However, as I was preparing I realised that this is very much what Maggie Ross keeps advising us as a response to the climate crisis: to get in touch with our core silence (I've just found her piece for the Tilehurst Greening Faith day on her blog). The exercise was not a total success, but not a complete disaster either! We concluded by making boat church together.

The image above is of a reconstruction of a first century boat found in the Sea of Galilee.

On another note, new service booklets have been issued which include, on the inside cover, the photo of our Operation Noah service and reference to our new status as an Eco-congregation so that anyone attending our services will know.

Over coffee I was talking with Rachel about food again. She told me that for Lent her sister only ate food produced within ten miles of her home in Devon: no grain (bread/pasta) all Lent and she was sick of rhubarb by the end! Rachel suggested that interested families in the church might opt to monitor all their food for a week, trying to make 'ethical' choices wherever possible, and then discuss together the complexities raised. This was prompted by a green tip I'd included in this week's notices suggesting that we reduce packaging by shopping at the market (among other places) since there are of course various down sides to shopping there in terms of pesticide use and fair trade.

Midsummer Party

Yesterday the Churches Together in Reading Midsummer Party was blessed with much better weather than Forbury Fever had been in the same location two weeks ago. Reading Christian Ecology Link were running much the same stall as on that occasion, but inevitably we had rather different conversations since people had not arrived at the event expecting to be challenged about the environment. As well as the Operation Noah petition we were also promoting Thames Valley Vegans and Vegetarians' petition to make one day a week meat free in Reading. The number of vegetarians who visited the stall seemed out of proportion to that in the population as a whole - does this mean vegetarians were more likely to visit a Christian Ecology Link stall? Certainly a meat free day was a popular idea among those who came to the stall, even among the omnivores.

There was lots more enthusiasm for colouring in animal masks than for making origami boats so I think in future we might want to make the boats up ready for signing if we want to be able to post these off. Those who did make boats only wanted to do the ones with scrap paper to see them float, not to post to Gordon Brown. We did, however, fill two pages of Operation Noah's petition and get lots of interest in the Ecclesiastical Electricity plan to put solar panels on a church roof in Reading (including encouragement from Bishop Stephen). A few people also took Eco-congregation leaflets with a view to exploring the possibilities at their churches.

Our display of eco-friendly household items proved a good starting point for conversations too (green washing liquid, wash balls, a pump for grey water [from the renewable energy UK shop], an OWL electricity monitor [apparently now available in John Lewis among many other places and possibly free to British Gas customers], solar powered lamp from Ikea, wind up radio etc). The display of books, on the other hand, was only browsed by other people on the stall!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Loving your neighbour in an age of climate crisis

I recently put together a sort of beginner's guide to green living for Christians in Reading for use at some of the Christian Ecology Link stalls we've been holding. I'll be taking some paper copies to St John's on Sunday (recycled paper of course!) but thought it would be useful to put a version up here too:

Activism: the Copenhagen climate change summit this December is the crucial opportunity for politicians to commit to sustainable stewardship of our planet. Join other Christians in campaigning to make sure this happens:;;;

Animals: meat and dairy production contribute more to climate change than the entire global transport sector. Most of the recent destruction of the irreplaceably diverse and beautiful Amazon rainforest has been for beef farming (the UK is a major consumer of this beef), some has been for soya chicken feed. Intensive farming is not just an abuse of God’s creatures (cf Proverbs 12:10) but a breeding ground for disease, including swine flu. For animal welfare, look for RSPB Freedom Food labels or Soil Association ratification. Better still find locally reared organic meat and milk (, for Reading Farmers’ Market, True Food Co-op and Riverford see below Food) and cut down consumption so you can afford and enjoy meat as the luxury it should be in a fairer world. Try going veggie for Lent or Advent and see what happens.

Banking: our money is powerful. We can make sure it is not used to invest in destroying Indonesian rainforests for paper or mining operations that devastate local eco-systems. The Co-operative bank (and insurance companies) have an impressive ethical policy that serves its customers well too (see Their Reading branch is on St Mary’s Butts. For a bank with real ‘kingdom ethics’, see Triodos Bank who only finance positive social, environmental and cultural projects ( At present they only do savings accounts (by post or online).

Books: Greyfriars’ Bookshop and St Andrew’s, London Street each have a small but very useful range of green Christian books. Ruth Valerio, ‘L’ is for Lifestyle is a great starting point for greening your life; J Matthew Sleeth, Serve God Save the Planet is compelling easy reading; C. Foster and D. Shreeve, How Many Lightbulbs does it take to change a Christian? is full of green tips.

Cars: transport accounts for about one quarter of the UK’s carbon emissions, mostly from road traffic. Leaving your mobile phone charging all day uses as much energy as driving your car for one second. The RAC and AA campaign for more roads, so change to the Environmental Transport Association ( and see their website for advice on greener driving. Try giving up the car for a week and see what happens. It can prove surprisingly liberating. If you want to scrap a car, offer it to Reading Skidz to help kids learn useful skills: 0118 987118. provide a fantastic car share scheme based at Cemetery Junction and Kennet Island.

Church: ‘The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it’ (Psalm 24:1) – what is your church doing about it? See,,,, (as well as those cited under activism), for ideas and resources to help your church respond.

Compost: plants, food waste and paper in landfill produce methane (which is 20 times worse than CO² as a greenhouse gas). See Reading Borough Council’s website for advice on composting and for special offers for residents on compost bins and green cones (the latter are for cooked food waste that might otherwise attract rats).

Dirt: conventional cleaning products for our bodies, homes and clothes are, or have recently been, commonly tested on animals. They contain various substances that damage water eco-systems and are hard to process at water treatment works (requiring greater energy and water input). All you really need can be bought at RISC, London Street, or the True Food Co-op (see below, Food). For household cleaning they sell Bio-D, probably the greenest household cleaner. Ecover come a close second and with (slightly less green but award-winning) Fresh and Green or Simply Active Eco-smart can be purchased at Robert Dyas. The Co-operative sell a similar ‘own brand’.

Electricity: the single biggest thing you can do to reduce your individual direct carbon emissions is change to a genuinely green electricity supplier (don’t be fooled by the ‘greenwash’ of the major energy companies and their ‘green tariffs’). Ecotricity guarantee to charge the same as the Big Six local electricity suppliers but invest over £400 per customer in wind generation (, mention Christian Aid when you switch and they’ll get £25 too. Check the website to decide if you want their 100% green tariff)

Food: Half of all the food produced on British farms is thrown away. At least 1 in 8 people on the planet are undernourished. A similar number are obese. Yet simple, home-cooked food can be one of the deep pleasures of life, echoing sacred meals under the oaks of Mamre or in a house at Bethany.

Use your LOAF: Locally produced, Organically grown, Animal Friendly, Fairly traded .

Where to buy it?

Reading Farmers’ Market: every 1st and 3rd Saturday, 8.30-12, The Cattle Market, Gt Knollys Street for local food and a chance to meet the growers themselves

The True Food Co-op: every 2nd and 4th Saturday 1-4, RISC, London Street and venues throughout Reading the rest of the week (see for organic (often fairtrade or vegan) wholefoods, fruit and veg, green cleaning etc at low prices with minimal packaging in a relaxed atmosphere

RISC, London Street and Oxfam Books, 8 High Street, sell fair trade foods and other goods. County Delicacies on St Mary’s Butts sell local cheeses and many types of flour (making bread can be a wonderful space to de-stress in, even to pray. See also

Veg boxes are local and guarantee our farmers a fair price. For very local, see, or (if you want to be able to choose what arrives and have a wider variety, never air-freighted and 22% cheaper than supermarket organics)

These are all also much more enjoyable ways to shop than supermarkets.

Support your local Co-operative shops too: they’re officially the ‘greenest supermarket’.

If your church does not have a Traidcraft stall, it’s time to set one up (

Grow your own: whether it’s sprouting seeds on the kitchen window or working a whole allotment, most people find such creative acts good for their relationship with the Creator. They can also reduce food miles and make for a better understanding of the planet. Caversham, Tilehurst, Woodley and Earley/East Reading all have horticultural associations that give support (talks, visits etc) and have trading sheds for competitively priced essentials. (See Reading library website for details of the first three, ring 0118 9861909 for the last). B&Q sell peat free organic compost and growbags.

Heating: a typical home wastes one third of the heat produced by its central heating system through the roof and walls. Reading’s Heatseekers will advise on what insulation you need and how to get substantial discounts: 0845 3909390. (See also Wokingham residents can get discounts through

Living Lightly: Inspired by Psalm 24, A Rocha have set up an online community to encourage Christians to live more sustainably by committing to make one lifestyle change every three months. Even if you don’t join them, the website is full of useful tips:

Paper: forest loss caused by paper production is a bigger cause of climate change than flying (it’s also driving the orang-utan to extinction). The True Food Co-op (see above, Food) sell recycled printer paper. Along with RISC and the Co-operative they also sell recycled paper goods like toilet rolls. To cancel unaddressed mail, write to Door to Door Opt Out, Royal Mail, Kingsmead House, Oxpens Road, Oxford, OX1 1RX; to cancel addressed junk mail, ring the Mailing Preference Service on 0845 7034599; to cancel free papers, find their phone numbers inside; put up a note for the menu deliverers. Re-think your buying of magazines etc. Re-use as much as possible, then compost.

Travel: join Reading Cycle Campaign to help make cycling safer and for discounts at cycle shops ( gives advice on alternative travel arrangements to avoid flying to many destinations. Network or Family&Friends Railcards make for significantly cheaper train travel (as does booking in advance). The Travel Office in Broad Street Mall sells smartcards for cheaper travel on Reading Buses (see

Deanery Synod

This evening was an opportunity for churches in our deanery to 'show off' good practice/interesting initiatives to neighbouring churches who might like to do similar things. So we at St John's had our nifty Traidcraft cupboard on display - it's on wheels and opens out with all the goods ready on the shelves so makes organising the stall so much easier than laying out a table every week. Richard made it and is happy to send the plans to anyone who wants them. We leave an honesty box on the top and in 2008 sold £4800 of goods. Next to that was a display about Eco-congregation, including Operation Noah arks and petition. We had some really good chats, although I was also surprised by some folk's reluctance to sign the Operation Noah petition to reduce power station emissions ('What do we use instead?' being the response). The evening included a barbecue - for some reason folk just looked at me and said 'you're a vegetarian' - luckily there were plenty of veggie burgers and I was promised that all the left over food was destined for a good home with the scouts.

Carbon footprint 2

Last night I reported back to the PCC on the Eco-congregation assessment. It emerged that one of the other home groups had already discussed measuring their footprints and buying a communal OWL (at home we've just borrowed one of these devices for measuring electricity use and it is a real eye-opener - for me the biggest surprise has been how much difference a single notch up on a hotplate control will make. I've always wondered whether boiling a kettle was just faster or really more efficient than boiling water on the hob prior to cooking veg and now I know the kettle is more efficient).

Measuring our carbon footprint is going to be difficult since we pay a set percentage of the gas bill for the whole school/church plant (as well as a small extra bill for the refectory over which we have more control). This however is a good incentive to work more closely with the school, and probably the council too since they have the basic controls for the heating.

I've been in touch with Ecotricity this morning who were very helpful in discussing the 'carbon footprint' question. Unsurprisingly they don't have specific figures to calculate the amount of carbon input that should be taken into account in individual bills (I wonder if a meaningful statistic could even be reached on that?), but they have promised to e-mail me details about the construction of their wind turbines which currently account for 53.6% of the power they supply.
Please see the comments on the previous 'carbon footprint' post for their replies.

Last Sunday (we were away) after the service the congregation went to Mark's workshop for a picnic in the gorgeous sunshine and to see the progress on the new sacramental furniture. Apparently this project will be appearing in a future edition of Furniture and Cabinet Maker.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Carbon Footprint

Well we've had another report back from the Eco-congregation assessors. The commendations are for both the garden and for the large number of people involved in the process. The recommendation is that we should measure our carbon footprint and aim to reduce it. At Forbury Fever I picked up a personal carbon footprint calculator and then remembered why I'd never set very much store by them - I can easily cut my footprint in half depending on which calculator I'm using! The Church of England's calculator is just about direct power consumption which is obviously less subject to different interpretations so probably where we'll start.

I did e-mail Ecotricity to ask how we should calculate emissions from them and the initial e-mail said there are no emissions. I'd love to calculate it this way, but surely this can't quite be true since the windmills etc require building: I'll be on the phone to them soon. I find myself wondering how many organisations claim to be 'carbon neutral' without taking into account the original inputs?

I'd be very grateful for any suggestions anyone has on effective ways to calculate a church's carbon footprint.

Brother Sun, Sister Moon

For this half term, our home group leader decided to focus on themes inspired by the life of St Francis of Assisi. We began by watching Franco Zeffirelli's 1972 'biopic'. These days it does feel very dated; my hippy side loved it while the medieval historian in me was becoming increasingly frustrated, especially by the depiction of Clare, and had to exclaim in annoyance when it ended so soon in the saint's life. But it certainly provided much food for discussion. Last week we drew out some themes to follow up, including one very pertinent to the eco-congregation journey: simplicity. Hopefully we'll weave in learning a bit more about the history of Francis along the way.

Spreading the word: Forbury Fever and Woodford Park

On Saturday 6 June Reading Borough Council held their annual environment festival in Forbury Gardens: Forbury Fever. As part of the newly formed Reading Christian Ecology Link I was there on a stall in the drizzling rain - more of a cold than a fever, my husband remarked.

We were trying to get more origami arks and petition signatures for Operation Noah and promoting the Ecclesiastical Electricity plan to get solar panels on a church roof in Reading. On display panels at the back there was various information, including advertising the forthcoming showing of Age of Stupid at the Town Hall on 30th June. We also had displays on Caversham Heights Methodist, Tilehurst Methodist and St John and St Stephen's Eco-congregations.

There seemed to be fewer things going on in the gardens than previous years and the rain certainly kept the visitors away. Nonetheless our puppet show which some girls from Reading Community Church put on every fifteen minutes was very popular, telling the story of Noah's Ark. We did get a few colourful origami arks to float in our paddling pool (before rain sank them) as well as some signatures and good conversations.

The following day my family cycled in brilliant sunshine to the Woodley Churches Together open air service marking the start of Woodley carnival in Woodford park. My husband had been asked to preach. He focussed on the Trinity Sunday reading of Jesus's baptism but wove in a message for Environment Sunday (both 7 June): lots of Biblical stories of God leading God's people into new lives through breaking waters and the opportunity for that now, including the new lives we need to lead in the face of the current climate crisis (sorry to paraphrase so brutally). So I had the posters of our Eco-congregation from the previous day up on display again, plus inviting more petition signing and lots of general info on greener lifestyles. Unfortunately the very moment the service ended, the rain began, luckily only briefly but enough to send some running for cover. I did have some good conversations with members of Woodley churches thinking of trying to follow the eco-congregation route. As so often, there was much bemoaning the seeming apathy among most of their congregation for such matters.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Eco-congregation Assessment

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

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

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

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

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

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

Witnesses to the Resurrection

Leading Exclaimers yesterday I decided it was time to link our sessions in with the lectionary - in this case Jesus's prayer for the disciples at the last supper and the choosing of Matthias to replace Judas among the apostles, to be with them a 'witness to the resurrection'. Accordingly I checked up the Bath and Wells development matters linked lectionary that I mentioned a few months back. This suggested that today's witnesses to the resurrection are those who act in hope of a just world, a world in which God's kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven. They had a great piece from Christian Aid about a girl from the Democratic Republic of Congo who avoided resorting to prostitution to help feed her five siblings after her father's death because of a CA partner's sewing school. I felt more than a twinge of guilt at the girl's mother's plea to CA collectors not to be put off when they are turned away from houses because of the importance of their work. I edited out references to prostitution in the version I wrote for the Exclaimers but it was great to be able to encourage them that through their clutter sale they're 'witnesses to the resurrection', like Matthias - it's not just the church leaders/preachers that they suggested when first asked.

I've finally found a 'green' anti-bacterial cleaner suitable for the kitchen - it's one of Anthony Worral Thompson's Fresh and Green range on sale in Robert Dyas, so easier than mail order options. We still haven't sorted out a sustainable method of purchasing our cleaning materials though. A couple of the notices have also disappeared from the toilets - they were explaining why we have recycled toilet paper and paper towels and why we've switched to Ecotricity.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

MEP Hustings

Last night there was a hustings for our MEP candidates on issues of trade justice and the environment, organised by Oxford World Development Movement. Our home group normally meets on a Thursday so we decided to attend the hustings instead and ten of us made it. The largest room at the Reading International Solidarity Centre was packed and there was some heated debate at times (especially regarding Israel). There were representatives from UKIP, Green Party, LibDems and Labour (the Conservative rep was unable to attend). I was especially surprised by how many of the candidates opposed agricultural GMOs and also nuclear power (on the grounds that it cannot be brought on stream in time to make the difference needed, is too much of a security risk and is not that efficient) and was interested to learn about the possibility of micro nuclear power stations (enough for a village, buried so deep underground that there is little security risk [too little there anway] and decomissioning problems are apparently avoided). I was also interested to learn of concerns among MEPs about a lack of transparency about lobbying from religious groups (specifically the Vatican) and encouraged by reference to the importance of aid channelled through civil society, specifically church groups (this from a candidate I would not be supporting).

The above image is copied from a Green Party member's blog on the evening.

Christian Aid Week

I am a complete coward when it comes to house to house collections - I did them for some years when I lived in Yorkshire but it seems to have got harder and harder - so as Christian Aid week approached I ducked all requests to do this duty and promised to ask Exclaimers to help organise another clutter sale. This happened on the first Sunday of Christian Aid week, everyone seemed to enjoy it, I have bought all sorts of clutter, and we raised just over £100. I don't yet know what the total raised by all those braver souls than I has reached.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Between the Flood and the Rainbow at Oasis

On the Wednesday after our Operation Noah service we used their study guide at Oasis. It is entitled 'Between the Flood and the Rainbow' and has a great deal of thought-provoking material in it which does need working through before leading a session. We just looked at the first reflection and action sheet. We found ourselves uncomfortable with attempts to apply the Old Testament passages to today's climate crisis. In part this is because Christ showed us a God who would die for us rather than kill us for our sins. In part it is inappropriate to see natural disasters as God's punishment when it is clearly the poorest, those least responsible for the greed precipitating the crisis, who are suffering for it. Nonetheless there was much food for thought in the texts.

The reflection highlights the 'everlasting covenant' that Isaiah declares to have been broken in 24:5 and which is usually deemed to refer to the covenant made after the flood (Genesis 9:8-11). We found ourselves wanting to picture a rather broader concept of such a covenant embracing especially the Jubilee laws. In a world in which possessions could only be held on a short term basis and the land itself was given rest, things would be very different.