Conspiracy of Freedom – Oxford

Guest post by Mark Powley I never planned to get passionate about simple lifestyle. I’ve basically stumbled into the role of lifestyle-guru (I’m not really a guru at all, of course, just a bumbling amateur who just won’t let the issue drop). But after five years of co-running The Breathe Network I find myself launching a conspiracy to transform our way of living. Breathe is a Christian network for simpler living, and the Conspiracy of Freedom is our collaborative effort (with Tearfund, Stewardship and A Rocha) to kickstart a nationwide discussion about lifestyle based around regional events and small group videos. The Oxford event takes place at St Aldate’s Parish Centre on 10th June at 7:30pm. No booking is required, admission is free. Behind the Conspiracy of Freedom is a question: how does genuine lifestyle change take place? A quick glance around the environmental / ethical world all too often reveals something like the following:

  • Stark warnings from experts
  • Detailed rules
  • A passionate group upbraiding the mainstream public
  • Costly lifestyle ‘statements’ only some can afford

You may have already noticed the parallels with the Pharisees in the time of Jesus. The Pharisaic party of Judaism appears to have been terrified by the prospect of another return to exile. They also detested their Roman overlords and dreamed of ‘saving the land’ by bringing God’s blessing through their sheer obedience to the Law. But not everyone could afford the Pharisee’s particular lifestyle, and the more the Palestinian public got on with grinding out a living in compromised circumstances, the more radical the Pharisees became.

What strikes me as truly revolutionary, and a great contrast to the Pharisees, is the attitude of Jesus. He didn’t endorse any compromise in God’s standards when it came to what really mattered. But he had little time for ‘expert teachers’, exclusive rules, or a holier than thou attitude (greener than thou?).

For Jesus, lifestyle change flowed from an experience of grace – the father’s welcome, a taste of the kingdom. After that it rippled out differently in different lives. There was a sense of humble realism about the ethical ambitions of some of his followers. And yet there was also an unquenchable hope.

More than anything, he expected lifestyle change to happen in community. Mutual acceptance, mutual challenge, mutual support. No one was expected to sell everything they had without the promise that a radical community of sharing would welcome them with open arms.

The Conspiracy of Freedom hopes to follow this approach. We know that our present turbo-consumerism is ecologically damaging and shallow soil for faith. We know that change is needed. But it must be in an environment of grace, and doing it together will be crucial. That is why we’re following the regional events with four videos, to be made available online, that any small group can watch and discuss. Group members can hold each other accountable over time. Breathe’s role will be to help point people to ways they can take things further. Already this has started to bear fruit with our London event, where participants made their own commitments to live more simply, more sustainably and more generously.

If you’re interested in this, join us in Oxford on 10th June for inspiring teaching and discussion of the first video. Or email in@breathenetwork.org to stay in touch with what we’re doing.

Mark Powley is Associate Rector of St George’s Church in Leeds and a founder of Breathe, a Christian network for simpler living. He will be at each of the Conspiracy of Freedom events and later this year will be releasing a book on consumerism. The Conspiracy of Freedom event in Oxford will take place at St Aldate’s Parish Centre on 10th June at 7:30pm. No booking is required, admission is free. For more information visit www.conspiracyoffreedom.org

Get support to start a Climate Change Action Group

Get help and support from Oxfordshire Rural Community Council and Climate-X-change to develop a climate action group with your church, youth group or community group and help fight climate change in your community.

Thanks to a grant from Oxfordshire County Council, this new project will help local residents meet the challenges of climate change, by supporting and encouraging community-led initiatives to reduce carbon emissions and promote more sustainable behaviour.

An impressive amount of climate action is taking place in Oxfordshire, including swap shops, the production of ‘buy local’ guides, home energy reduction clinics, community composting schemes, community orchards, eco-weeks, talks, film screenings… Could your community do something similar? Each additional group helps spread the carbon reduction message.

ORCC and Climate-X-change can offer guidance and ongoing support on setting up an action group, offering a toolkit to showcase the variety of approaches to helping stop climate change, providing facts and figures, and signposting to useful organisations and information sources- saving time in getting new groups off the ground.

As part of the new project, a Carbon Challenge shall be launched later in 2010. This competition shall measure carbon reductions in home energy and transport usage, and ask entrants to devise a climate action plan for their community. Watch this space for more information!

If you are interested in setting up a group we’d like to hear from you! You might be a church group, a youth club, or simply a group of concerned individuals. The main thing is that you want to help fight climate change in your community.

For more information on how we can help you get your group started, contact Tom McCulloch at ORCC (tom.mcculloch@oxonrcc.org.uk) or call 01865 883 488.

Tom McCulloch is a Community Development Worker with Oxfordshire Rural Community Council. He works with communities to help deliver rural affordable housing and undertake climate action strategies.

Growing Organically Conference

How can church land management make a difference for environmental change? Growing Organically – Using church land as a model for environmental change will be the topic for a conference organised by A Rocha and Ecocongregation on 18th September 2010. The day will look at practical examples of projects and open up opportunities to see what conservation potential church land may hold.

The main speakers will be Professor Sir Ghillean Prance and Bishop James Jones, followed by interactive workshops, which will cover:

  • Environmental Management Plan
  • How to attract wildlife
  • Alternative uses of church land
  • How to use church land to engage with the wider community
  • Theology of creation care
  • Practical case studies

Venue: Carrs Lane Church Center Birmingham, B4 7SX

Times: 10:00am 10:30am 12:30pm 4:40pm

Prices: £10 (concessions £5)

Please book in advance. For further information visit here, a Booking Form may be downloaded here, or email: kajsa.brittsjo@arocha.org

Living Lightly

Guest post by Ruth Valerio

What gives you the most amount of pleasure in life? Maybe it’s playing with your kids, watching the hum of city streets, planting some seeds, creating something in your workshop, walking with God in the fields, seeing a friend step closer to Jesus…

Whatever those things are they are likely to be based on the relationships we have: the relationships with God, with other people and with the natural world around us. Yet, too often, our lives get taken over with stuff: we work long hours, get distracted by consumer gadgets and don’t have time to spend on those relationships that matter, including our relationship with the rest of creation.

Living Lightly is a project from A Rocha that I coordinate, that is designed to help us live more lightly in God’s world through every area of our lives, from our own day-to-day choices through to campaigning and what happens in our churches and workplaces. Living Lightly is based around a website that is there with no other purpose other than to resource you. It is full of ideas of things you can do and it gives further information on key issues, links to useful websites and resources, and an on-line community that you can share your thoughts and questions with. In addition there are regular Guest Articles from interesting contributors and, if you subscribe, you will receive a monthly Eco-Tip from my good self, giving you a helpful idea each month of something practical you can do.

So please do have a look at www.arocha.org.uk/livinglightly and be inspired to see what you can do to live rightly in this amazing world.

Guest post by Ruth Valerio

Ruth is doing her doctorate in London, chairs her local community association and runs the Living Lightly programme for A Rocha.

Ruth spends much of her time speaking and writing on the issues of justice and the environment, and her books include, L is for Lifestyle: Christian living that doesn’t cost the earth (IVP:2008).

Ruth is also involved in the leadership of Spring Harvest. Ruth lives in Chichester with her husband and two daughters and is part of Revelation Church.

For further information see: www.arocha.org.uk/livinglightly and www.lisforlifestyle.com.

Greening your church building

As Christians it is our duty to care for the world with which we have been entrusted. It is now clear that our modern, energy-hungry lifestyles are changing the planet for the worse. If we do nothing, simply allowing carbon emissions to continue at current levels, by 2100 the average annual temperature will have risen between 1 and 5°C. There will be 50% less precipitation in the summer months, but 30% more in the winter months. Extreme weather events such as storms and floods will become more common and sea levels could rise by as much as 80cm. Drier summers will increase the risk of wildfires and drought. Stormier winters will increase the risk of wind and flood damage. We must act now to ward off these threats to God’s creation.

What can we do?

Some of the most effective ways to reduce the carbon footprint of your church are also the simplest. Conventional fossil fuel fired power stations emit around 9 000 000 tonnes of carbon each per year in order to satisfy our demand for electricity. Reducing that demand therefore lowers emissions, as well as saving you money. Make sure that your use of energy is as efficient as possible by following these simple steps:

  • Heating should be tailored to the nature of the groups using the building rather then set at default levels. Remember that an active group (such as a playgroup) will require less heat than a sedentary one (e.g. a Sunday congregation). Use timer and/or thermostatic controls to prevent overuse.
  • Lighting should only be used when it is needed – low tech printed “Switch off” signs by light switches right through to motion activated lighting can help you achieve this. New lighting and heating systems should be sectional, allowing parts of the building currently in use to be lit and heated whilst other areas are not. Where possible install energy saving light bulbs – these can reduce energy consumption by up to 80%.

Combating climate change is about minimising use of all the planet’s resources, not just fossil fuels:

  • Reduce water use by using spray fitting taps, dual flush WCs, and harvesting rainwater.
  • Make sure products used in the church are recyclable or long life
  • Where possible, carry out repairs to the church building in sustainable, environmentally friendly materials, and ensure that additions to the building are “green by design”.

Should we be generating our own power?

Clearly it is impossible to do away with the need for power entirely. It is therefore important that our sources of power are clean and sustainable – that they do not put any additional carbon into the atmosphere. In most cases it will not be possible for churches to generate their own power on site, whether due to the capital costs of such an installation or planning restrictions. For example, the installation costs of systems such as photovoltaic cells are significantly higher than for other renewable energies, with standard installations costing around £15 000. The installation of such cells on historic churches can be detrimental both to the appearance and fabric of the building, and it is important to note that this technology is not carbon neutral due to the amount of energy required to make the cells. For churches that cannot meet such capital costs or that do not have a site suitable for microgeneration, switching to a green energy provider is the best way to ensure that the energy you are using is not harming the planet. For churches that can afford the initial cost or need to replace their current heating systems in the near future, systems such as ground source heat pumps and particularly biomass may be worth investigating as they are particularly well suited to the energy demands of church buildings.

There is no “one size fits all” solution for the provision of sustainable energy. The best solutions are tailored to the specific needs and resources of your church.

Further information

For further information and guidance on climate change and your church building in the Diocese of Oxford, contact natalie.merry@oxford.anglican.org or see the following websites:

The Centre for Alternative Technology (www.cat.org.uk) has fact sheets on all the major types of micro-generation, has an online shop selling the parts required, and can offer consultation on individual projects.

The Energy Saving Trust (www.est.org.uk) has information on the different types of renewable energy, as well as on how to use energy more efficiently, and on funding/grants for micro-generation equipment

The Church of England’s Shrinking the Footprint initiative (www.shrinkingthefootprint.cofe.anglican.org) has advice on how to measure the carbon footprint of your church, and how to reduce it.

Eco-congregation (www.ecocongregation.org) has a wealth of practical information on the green management of your church, and on introducing green issues into worship.

Remember that all alterations to the church building that are not covered by de minimis will require the permission of the Chancellor through the usual faculty process. You should contact the office of the DAC Secretary for advice on such alterations.

Natalie Merry is the Secretary to the Diocesan Advisory Committee for the care of churches in the Diocese of Oxford.

Eco-congregation Award

Guest post by David Hughes of Eco-congregation

Another 85 species became extinct today. Do you think God cares? I do. Genesis 24 says “God spoke: ‘Earth, generate life! Every sort and kind: cattle and reptiles and wild animals – all kinds.’ And there it was: wild animals of every kind, cattle of all kinds, every sort of bug. God saw that it was good.” (The Message) Pretty clear isn’t it?

So what should Christians be doing about it. Well, a good place to start is with the church itself. What does your church believe about creation. Do you pray for the environment? Do you preach about our mandate to care for it? Do you consider your impact on it as individuals and as a congregation? What messages are you sending to the community in which you live by the way the church land and building is managed, or by your involvement in local and global projects to look after the environment?

Some churches are beginning to understand that what is good for the heating bills is good for the environment. Others have gone beyond that and realised the impact of our carbon footprint on the world’s poor. The most thoughtful churches have come to the conclusion that care for creation is absolutely core to the church’s mission.

Eco-congregation is an Award scheme that recognises and encourages churches which are taking our God given mandate to care for creation seriously and are doing something about it. The website at ew.ecocongregation.org is full of resources and examples of what churches are already doing as well as details of the award scheme. St Mary and St John’s in east Oxford was an early winner of the award and is described elsewhere on Earthing Faith. If you were inspired by their story why not join them and become an Ecocongregation. It doesn’t cost a penny but it may cost the earth if you don’t.

Guest post by David Hughes – Co-ordinator for Eco-congregation England and Wales (Eco-congregation website)