At the recent special UN summit in New York, commitments to tackle climate change were seen as lacking by many. In response 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg issued a harrowing remark: ‘You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.’ Meanwhile that same week, there were multiple demonstrations and protests all around the world for the climate. Campaigners want drastic and urgent action from the world’s governments. Half measures won’t cut it.
The magnitude of the task ahead of us was aptly described in a recent edition of the Economist: ‘… because the processes that force climate change are built into the foundations of the world economy and of geopolitics, measures to check climate change have to be similarly wide-ranging and all-encompassing. To decarbonise an economy is not a simple subtraction; it requires a near-complete overhaul.’
Where to start?
Many debate what this ‘near-complete overhaul’ is supposed to look like. But what’s clear is this: although climate change affects everyone, people living in poverty are already experiencing the deadly effects of extreme weather. As a result, no one is exempt from being part of the solution. We all, as global citizens, must take responsibility and make a stand. We all need to play our part.
This means that our churches need to play a part. In fact, as Christians we have even more reason to care about sustainability. For us, this planet is not a cold, meaningless orbital clump of mass, but God gave us creation to steward and enjoy. As such, it has intrinsic value and purpose. Furthermore when we fail to take care of creation, the repercussions hit those living in poverty the hardest. In the words of Pope Francis’ encyclical letter Laudata Si, we are called to ‘work with generosity and tenderness in protecting this world which God has entrusted to us.’
So here are some top tips on how to turn your church sustainable. But as you get started, remember that this is a team effort. You need to think strategically, find the right people and convince them to make this happen. That might be your church leadership team, treasurer, or someone influential on a committee. Find allies and don’t be a lone voice.
Inform and inspire
Find, even write, worship songs that celebrate God’s creation. Preach Jesus the creator and pray and intercede for environmental issues. You can teach environmental care in children’s church and for the adults hold lunchtime or evening meetings with environmental speakers. If you’re looking for a place for your youth group to start, check out the Plastic Together Group.
Use renewable energy
The Big Church Switch aims to convert the electricity in all churches to 100% renewable sources. On their website they say: ‘The Big Church Switch calls on churches of all denominations to switch to using energy suppliers that only put electricity into the national grid from 100% renewable sources such as solar, wind or waterflow; instead of supplying power generated from fossil fuels.’
Reduce energy consumption and material waste
Consider double-glazing if possible (do they do double-glazing for stained glass?). At a more basic level it’s easy to cut the number of printed newsletters left on church seats after service, and instead share news using digital platforms like Mailchimp. Instead of filling up bins with tea-stained cups, use compostable disposables for your pre or post church coffee. And if you fly abroad, purchase carbon offset flights.
Help others, locally or abroad
Use church space for community relaxation (even inner-city churches have spaces that you could turn into small gardens); consider being involved with community green projects. If your church has invested assets, consider how those investments might be ethical. You can even make your bathrooms ethical by twinning your toilet with Tearfund. When you ‘twin your toilet, you help fund a project in a poor community that will enable families to build a basic toilet, have access to clean water and learn about hygiene — a vital combination that saves lives.’ Finally, if you want to find more ideas like this, look into the A Rocha Eco Church scheme or the CAFOD LiveSimply award.
To read more from Alex, you can visit his blog The Coffeehouse Cleric
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