Our journey to become an Eco Church
During the autumn of 2019 we held a series of learn and share lunches after morning services to discuss aspects of the Climate Emergency. This led to an enthusiasm to do something with the whole church and in Feb 2020 Church Council passed a motion which committed us to start the journey to become an Eco Church. At this meeting we received a challenge from our young people to take some clear actions to make ourselves more eco friendly. They specifically asked us to: compost our coffee grounds from Sunday morning coffee, use bars of soap and refillable bottles and have non-dairy milk always available.
Unfortunately just as we started to put the suggestions into practice lockdown came and our normal church activities were suspended. We did not have any Sunday services in the building or online until Sept 2020. We did however use the period to undertake a church review of our priorities and activities. This involved a questionnaire being sent to every member and the responses showed a real enthusiasm for taking action around the Climate Emergency and becoming more Eco friendly.
In October 2020 we set up a group of Eco Champions (11 people) who started to meet (on zoom) and formed small groups to lead on each of the areas covered by the Eco Church survey. Also in October the church At Home Day included a workshop on the environment and as a practical part of that composts bins were put in place outside the church.
As the small groups have worked their way through the questionnaire we have tried to keep the whole church on board by having updates in the weekly newsletter and at least one article in the quarterly magazine. Despite not being able to meet in person there has been no loss of enthusiasm and the whole champions group has met on 5 occasions over the last 10 months with almost full attendance each time. It is fair to say that we have had particular challenges around our building as we are a grade 2 listed building in a very prominent location in the city with almost no land attached. This is reflected in the summary below of each of the areas and the activities we have undertaken.
Worship and teaching
One of our first actions was to ensure that the letter to preachers that is sent out before each Sunday service asks them to reflect on the Climate Emergency in their prayers and in their choice of hymns. This was done very quickly and since then there has rarely been a week where this has not happened in some form. Many preachers have reflected on the Climate Emergency in their sermons too.
Lent gave us an opportunity to really sharpen our focus with the use of the liturgy produced by the circuit each week entitled” Touching the Earth Lightly”.
Our Climate Sunday worship will be the weekend of our Eco Fair on 25th July 2021 and a small group have been planning this.
We are also going to be involved with local churches in an initiative to mark the start of COP 26 “Low Carbon Sunday” on 31st October 2021.
This has been our biggest challenge because we are so restricted by our listed building status. We undertook a major re-furbishment project lasting 9 months in 2017 which has brought significant improvements to the Sanctuary and Narthex areas. As part of this project we have been able to make our heating system more efficient and install LED lightbulbs etc. We have just completed another phase which has re-furbished the remaining rooms on the ground floor and these have been able to be made more energy efficient, with LED lighting and secondary glazing in the rooms where it is possible.
We have a large and small hall underneath the Sanctuary and we have plans to re-furbish these within the next couple of years. This will be another major project and will mean we can further upgrade the premises to make them more energy efficient.
We do not have a church office, this function is carried out at circuit level but we have ensured any printing/photocopying done for us (which is very limited as we are mainly paperless) is using recycled paper.
Similarly the circuit carries the responsibility for the manse rather than us as an individual church.
In October 2020 we did a rough calculation of our carbon footprint and identified the actions we could take within the constraints of the building permissions but we do have more to do. Our action plan for next year will involve a more detailed calculation of our footprint and we shall be taking to Church Council in October a proposal for carbon offset and a plan of how we might achieve more change over the longer term.
We have been using Eco Clean as our cleaners for several years as part of our efforts to reduce our carbon footprint.
We have a very small area of grass at the front of the church and a sloping tarmac path one side bordering the Royal West of England Academy (also a listed building) and a narrow tarmac path on the other side bordering university property.
We followed up installing compost bins with planting wildflower seeds in April to cover part of our grass area and the children erected a bug hotel. We have a cycle rack which is going to be installed in the next couple of weeks. We have also placed planters/pots with plants to attract bees where we can.
We made the decision to focus on transport first and through an article in the magazine raised the issue and encouraged people to share car journeys to church and try to reduce their car journeys by at least one a week. We are a gathered church, rather than a neighbourhood one and many (90% plus) of our congregation come from over a mile away. The pandemic affected this and it is something we shall return to once we are back worshipping in the building at full strength.
During Lent we circulated the calendar encouraging people to take an action each day. “Touching the Earth Lightly” which was produced by the circuit. To maximise the effectiveness of this we re-circulated it each week and included a comment on several weeks on how members of the planning group had responded personally to one or more of the challenges.
In terms of community we are a church in central Bristol surrounded by the university and cultural buildings with little residential accommodation in the immediate vicinity. This is reflected in our vision statement:
Victoria: A Methodist Church which seeks to share the Gospel through encouraging lifelong learning and engaging with and through media and the creative arts.
We have partnerships with both and in May we joined RWA volunteers on a wildlife survey of their land prior to their major re-development starting. We are also discussing with them a possible art workshop around COP26, with students as the main target audience. We have already commissioned a young theatre group to do a drama workshop on 6th Nov.
Our main recent focus has been planning the Eco Fair which will happen on 24th July. It has involved many of the congregation from young to old in the organising/preparation and we are looking forward to it. The flyer is on the website.
Plans for the future
After the Eco fair we will be drawing up an action plan for next year covering all the survey areas and will be taking another motion to Church Council to consolidate our progress and agree next stage priorities.
We will continue to try to involve all our church community, young and old on this journey.
Motion passed at Church Council February 2020
- This Church Council recognises the Climate Emergency that the world is facing and our particular responsibilities as a church community with a belief that we are stewards of God’s world.
- As part of our response we agree to commit to becoming an eco church, registering and working through the structured eco church process. This focuses on 5 areas of church activity:
- Worship and teaching
- Community and Global Engagement
- It is recognised that there will be particular challenges in relation to Victoria having a listed building but this is taken account of in the eco church process.
- It is also recognised that this is the start of a journey in which we want to include as many of our church family as possible. We also want to have some “eco champions” who can help to motivate and hold us to account on the journey. As this is so important an issue we are wanting Church Council to endorse that it will be a priority for the leadership team in their various specific roles.
- It is proposed that work will start on developing action plans for the five areas following this Church Council but there are some actions that it was felt could be agreed immediately.
- Church Council is therefore asked to endorse the following:
6.1 All products purchased for church use will be ecologically friendly and fair trade if such a product is available
6.2 A noticeboard will be placed in the church to communicate activities that support our eco church project.
6.3 Sunday morning services will include a “pause for the planet” on things people are doing, however small they may seem to change our lifestyles, ideas or inspiration from elsewhere.
6.4 One special collection each year will be for an environmental charity (in addition to Christian Aid)