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.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Bird feeding

On Sunday I noticed the birds have at last started using the seed feeder. Yesterday I happened to be passing and actually saw a great tit on it which was lovely. Sadly the peanut feeder has disappeared. I'll look out for one of the slightly less 'green' meshes of peanuts to replace it.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Operation Noah Service

This Sunday we had our 'Environment Sunday' a month early. The theme was Operation Noah. I'd ordered their church pack, which includes quite a lot of lovely liturgical resources. The aim of our service was to move beyond the focus on shrinking our own carbon footprints, which we've tended to have in earlier services, and emphasise the importance of more pressure on government.

We began with the Creation song, God Said. Then we gathered all the children at the front to sit down so that I could read to them the first few pages of Nicola Davies's Ice Bear. This was a present to my youngest on his recent third birthday. It's a wonderful 'story', beautifully illustrated, in which every word is true. The combination of amazing facts and poetic language seemed a wonderful introduction. I ended with the line 'Nothing stops polar bear'. Then I gave every child a bag (old party bags and Riverford fruit bags actually) in which there was an animal mask and some crayons. Finding suitable masks to download and print out for this was probably the most time consuming part of preparing for the service. While they went back to their seats to to start colouring in, I addressed the adults:

Nothing stops polar bear? Nothing except us. By the end of Matthew's fifteenth summer many scientists believe there will be no summer sea ice at the Arctic ice cap. To remove an ice cap is a very dramatic thing to do to our planet.

It was only a few weeks ago that I learnt that – it was at a conference Jan organised at the warehouse. The speaker was Ian James – a professor of meteorology and the diocesan environment adviser. There is now more carbon dioxide in our atmosphere than there has ever been in human history. To quote Professor James ‘there is not the slightest doubt that this is the direct result of human activity: the burning of fossil fuels.’ Every year we are emitting the equivalent of a million years of photosynthesis into the atmosphere. He also said that despite all the talk of reducing emissions they are still accelerating. I won’t give you the whole scientific info as I’m sure most of you are very familiar with it. He concluded by saying ‘climate change is real, it’s happening now. At the moment it is relatively slight but there is no sign of it slowing down. By the time the problems are large and serious it will be irreversible’.
Of course, for many individuals in the poorest countries the problems are already large and serious – according to the UN, climate change is now a major reason for the number of displaced persons and refugees. Either their land can no longer feed them or stressed resources are leading to conflicts. And on top of all the human suffering – can I ask how often you think scientists believe another of God’s creatures or plants becomes extinct – one a month, one a week – any suggestions?
It’s one every six hours – that’s something like 1,000 times the natural average. 25% of all mammals are considered at risk of extinction – not just the polar bears. Both Old and New Testaments tell us that we look to God’s Creation to understand God – but we are erasing God’s fingerprints around us. How should Christian’s respond? We’re going to look at Christian Ecology Link’s suggestion on this, but first we’ll have another song,

(Most of that information came either from Ian James's talk at the Greening Faiths conference recorded earlier in this blog, A Rocha's Hope for Planet Earth presentation or Christian Aid's Countdown to Copenhagen DVD).

We then sang I the Lord of Sea and Sky.

Then the children with their masks were encouraged into a side room as Jeremy began a slightly edited reading of the Noah story. Pete was being the voice of God, cunningly hidden with his microphone so most people couldn't work out where he was. Steve mimed Noah's part and at the appropriate juncture young people and children began bringing in large cardboard pieces (constructed by Jeremy's daughters at home) which he assembled as the ark. Then the children came in again with their masks down, not quite two by two, to sit around the ark, and more toy animals went into the ark itself.

I stepped back in to link this story to the next part: skipping over the historical and theological complexities of the story, I focussed on the thought, to quote Operation Noah's website, that in a time of climate crisis Noah was a just man, a man who walked with God, who acted on the knowledge God gave him and protected Creation by those actions.

The first step to walking with God must be prayer, so we had five minutes to pray as people wished. Hamish played music, on the screens were some photos my son James took last summer (when he was four), there were post it notes for people to stick prayers to the ark and paper and crayons in the gallery.

We concluded this time of prayer by singing When I needed a neighbour.

Then I asked everyone 'who are our neighbours' - we had a variety of responses, from next door neighbours to all people. I then mentioned Ian James's argument (and my own at a previous service) that it is time to understand all created life as our neighbours because we are all interdependent.

The second question 'in a time of climate crisis, how do we love our neighbours' produced the succinct response 'watch our carbon footprints'. This was my cue to say:

In changing our own lifestyles we begin to reduce the problem and to restore the integrity of our relationship with our Creator God. But we need to spread that change – we need to tell our neighbours and our colleagues and we need to make our government take radical action. The industrial revolution began here in Britain – appropriately last year our government instituted the world’s first legally binding long term framework to tackle climate change, but we have to build on this and we can. More than a quarter of the world’s CO2 emissions come from our power supplies. That’s why this church has changed its electricity supplier to Ecotricity. Operation Noah want us to petition the government to take a lead at the climate summit in Copenhagen this December. As a first step we need global power station emissions cut by a third by 2020. The government say they don’t have enough of a mandate from the people to take the environmental actions needed – we have to take that excuse away. So, as a start, we have some origami arks to make with a petition on them for Gordon Brown.

Eveyone had been given the A4 sheet from Operation Noah's website as they came in. Instructions for folding appeared on the screens. The folding process took a good deal longer than I'd expected but people were helping each other. Part way through I realised that if people wanted to add a personal message this needed to be done before the Ark was complete, but I don't think this mattered.

Photographs were taken: unfortunately I'd failed to arrange for someone with a decent camera to attend so the picture up the top was the best I could manage. Half the children were mysteriously absent from it too. Notices were read, including encouragement to write our pledges for reducing our carbon footprint onto a poster for Reading Borough Council in preparation for their environment day: Forbury Fever on 6 June. We were also encouraged to sign Fairtrade Foundation postcards to Baronness Ashton, the new EU trade commissioner, asking for fairer relations with Africa, Asia and Latin America.

We concluded with the Rainbow prayer used at the launch of Operation Noah:
Creator God, how deep are your designs!
You made a living earth, cloud, rain and wind,
And charged us with their care.
We confess that the way we live today
is changing the climate,
the seas and the balance of life
dispossessing the poor and future generations.
Build our lives into an Ark for all creation,
and, as you promised Noah never to repeat the Flood,
so make us heralds of a new rainbow covenant:
choosing life for all that is at risk –
for creation,
for neighbours near and far,
for our children and ourselves.

This was followed by Sent by the Lord am I and a blessing.

Over coffee we showed the Christian Aid Countdown to Copenhagen DVD. I had to leave early but there was then a meal - these are meant to be free, but donations are encouraged to cover costs and any extra after costs goes to a charity so this week's will be for Operation Noah. I took 36 signed arks away with me but since not all were finished I hope to collect a few more before they're posted off.

Spring gardening

Oasis were tidying the garden again on Wednesday. We failed to persuade the cafe mums to join in but one did say that passing it is the highlight of her walk to school. The birds didn't seem to have located the bird feeder yet and we may have to cut down the dead tree in which it hangs anyway. Being green, none of us had arrived by car, so we were very grateful when Andrew passed by and asked how we were planning to move all the prunings - in his trailer it turned out.