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

Credit: Caring for God's Acre

How wild is your churchyard?

Manage, don’t mow your churchyard and give space to endangered plant species. That is the message from Shrinking the Footprint, the CofE’s national environmental campaign, which has signed up to the United Nations’ International Year of Biodiversity (IYB).

Credit: Caring for God's AcreIn many urban areas the churchyard is often the only ‘green lung’ for the community and the rural churchyard can often be a haven of biodiversity surrounded by acres of chemical-drenched monoculture.  If all our churchyards were placed side by side and end to end they would form a huge national park open for all to share producing a festival of wildlife and nature rightly being celebrated in this very special UN International Year of Biodiversity.

Churches across the country celebrate Cherishing Churchyards Week every year in June as part of the nationwide project  run by Caring for God’s Acre (CfGA) and supported by Shrinking the Footprint. There are an estimated 12,000 CofE churchyards throughout the country and around half of them already run biodiversity projects, while remaining respectful to their users, particularly family and friends of those buried there.

During Cherishing Churchyards Week we are encouraging churches to run events to raise awareness and celebrate the treasures of their churchyard, and encouraging churches to submit wildlife discoveries as part of a new central database which will list all the biodiversity churchyards are holding in store for the country.

In St Albans diocese, St Peter & St Paul with St Andrew Flitwick Bedfordshire has recorded more than 100 species of wildflowers in the churchyard. All Saints, Odell also in Bedfordshire has won an award from the Campaign to Protect Rural England as an example of what churchyards can do with its community-led conservation project, including ‘adopt a grave’. St Andrew’s Fulham Fields in London diocese has a dedicated section to its churchyard called the Fulham Fields wildlife garden where most of the hardware, including material for the “wildlife tower”, and the herbaceous plants, have been either donated or found locally.

Judith Evans promoter of the Living Churchyard scheme for St Albans says: “Churchyards are a precious resource which can make a huge contribution to the biodiversity of the country and at the same time engage and educate the wider community. They often support species of plants and animals which have disappeared from the surrounding area, or are capable of so doing. Many churches in the diocese and nationally are managing their churchyards in an environmentally-friendly way, often with the help of their local wildlife trusts, but they are still in the minority. In the International Year of Biodiversity we hope to make them the majority to demonstrate that the church really cares about God’s creation.”

For more information visit: http://www.caringforgodsacre.org.uk/

Guest post by David Shreeve – Church of England’s national enviornmental adviser

How could you better manage your churchyard? How might you be able to celebrate Cherishing Churchyards Week (18-27 June)? Share you ideas and events in the comments section.

Further information: UK’s International Year of Biodiversity | Shrinking the Footprint | Caring for God’s Acre | Living Churchyards | Fulham fields wildlife garden | Ss Mary & John Churchyard Oxford

See also Supporting biodiversity in a churchyard – Case study

Feeding Oxford

Join speaker Mark Winne for this event entitled ‘Feeding Oxford: Investing in a Food Supply Fit for the Future’.

Author of ‘Closing the Food Gap’, Mark has been a pioneer in the development of just and sustainable food systems in New England for over 30 years. At a time when people are looking for more control over their own food supply, the event is being held to to spark a new debate about how we should feed Oxford.

Date: Tuesday 4th May 8pm
Venue: Vaults and Garden, Radcliffe Square, Oxford

Admission is Free, but space is limited.
To book a space or for further information RSVP to: Ruth West on info@CampaignForRealFarming.org

Earth Day – Connect with your patch of earth today

Originally uploaded by basswulf

Today (Thursday 22nd April) is Earth Day. A day celebrated around the world (although not very widely in the UK), and designed to inspire awareness and appreciation for the Earth’s environment. With the sunny weather putting a spring in our step and helping people venture into their gardens or nearby parks, why not take an opportunity today to mark Earth Day by connecting with your local patch of earth?

Head outside and appreciate creation where you are. You could even walk outside barefoot, like Francis did, so he would experience no disconnect between himself and “Sister Earth”. You may like to use the following Garden Blessing from Christine Sine. Whatever you do take some time to enjoy connecting with your little patch of earth today.

God bless this garden

Through which your glory shines

May we see in its beauty the wonder of your love

God bless the soil

Rich and teeming with life

May we see in its fertility the promise of new creation

God bless our toil

As we dig deep to turn the soil

May we see in our labour your call to be good stewards

God bless each seed

That takes root and grows

May we see in their flourishing the hope of transformation

God bless the rains

That water our efforts to bring forth life

May we see in their constancy God’s faithful care

God bless the harvest

Abundant and bountiful in season

May we see in God’s generosity our need to share

God bless this garden

As you bless all creation with your love

May we see in its glory your awesome majesty

Amen

Garden blessing prayer from Christine Sine’s ebook To Garden With God

What happened at the Living Hope Conference?

The Living Hope Conference in Great Missenden in early March saw 130 people turn out to explore environment and climate change issues around the themes of churches and schools. There were a host of speakers and organisations represented. The opening panel included Paula Clifford (Christian Aid), Chris Sunderland (Earth Abbey) and Dave Bookless (A Rocha) exploring ‘Reasons for Hope’, and was followed by workshops from greening school buildings to liturgy, the practicalities of ground and air-source heating, to the latest climate science. The day finished with a session with David Lidington, the local MP.

The opening panel discussion is now available online. You can listen to the opening panel discussion using the player below – or you can download the mp3 file directly:

Joanna Laynesmith has written a summary of the panel discussion on her blog which we quote below – and Bishop Alan Wilson has also written his thoughts on the day here:

Paula Clifford argued that Living Hope begins with being thoroughly informed in the face of increasing climate change denial, living a low carbon lifestyle is not enough because we must also be prophetic. ‘Climate change kills’ – committing ourselves to act is to give hope to people in the global south. In the run up to the general election she reminded us ‘politicians are a renewable resource’. She suggested three ways to live hope:

1. Re-establishing the importance of community. Church, as the body of Christ described by Paul, is the community par excellence but it is also an elusive ideal. Locally, nationally and internationally we need to re-establish community.

2. Recognising interdependence, which enables us to relate to those outside our community.

3. Seeking new ways of doing mission: what does mission look like in a carbon neutral world?

Chris Sunderland argued that climate change is a symptom of a wider malaise that cannot be cured with technical fixes. With half of the easily available oil having been used in his lifetime and the world population having grown from 2.5 billion to 6.7 billion in that time, we need to re-imagine human culture in a radical way, a way that is inevitably spiritual. He pointed out that the Biblical narratives come out of an agrarian community and that only 200 years ago most of our ancestors were agricultural labourers, whereas now 80% of the UK population live in towns and cities, as do 50% of the world’s population. Without romanticizing the harshness of rural life in past centuries, we need to recognize that something about humanity resonates with the land. Professor Edward Wilson has used the term biophilia to describe the human propensity to love the natural world. Chris pointed out that there exists a radical lifestyle movement today in which people are opting to work fewer days in order to be active in their community but that much of this is outside church community. Earth Abbey sees itself as part of this radical lifestyle movement. Working together is hugely important because it rejects the enlightenment idealization of the individual.

Dave Bookless began by saying that the context of hope has never looked worse, in the light of the failure at Copenhagen, concern about climate change slipping down the political agenda and the huge missed opportunity of the financial crisis when the world community could have radically rethought the system. He too sees climate change as a symptom of the real crisis: a crisis of consumption and population ‘we are the virus species on planet earth . . . the environment has a human problem’. He referred to Lord May’s suggestion that we need to call on the fear of a divine punisher to make people act on climate change – a suggestion he recoils from. Rather Dave argued that, like St Francis, we need to undergo a triple conversion, to

1. God: In conversion to God we recognize our fallenness in our idolatrous attitude to possessions (and remember that Jesus said more about money than anything else). The first great commission in scripture was to look after the earth and its creatures.

2. Earth: We need a Copernican revolution in understanding that the earth does not revolve around us – the earth was made for and by Christ. We need to reconnect with the earth, take up Rowan Williams’ challenge to go for a walk, get wet, dig the earth.

3. Other: As climate change causes millions of would-be migrants to our shores we need to put ourselves in their shoes and work out how to respond.

This summary of the panel first appeared on Joanna Laynesmith’s Blog – www.greeningstjohns.blogspot.com

Grow Zones – reconnecting with the land

Guest Post by Chris Sunderland of EarthAbbey

It is not yet widely recognised that there are spiritual issues at stake over climate change. Many people seem to consider it all as a technical or political problem. They look anxiously into the future for a piece of geo-engineering that will save us, or campaign furiously to get politicians to act. Yet the environmental issues that we face are so serious and so multi-faceted that they demand nothing less than an inner transformation.

There are lots of paths in to the spirituality of climate change. We could talk about finding a proper humility about our abilities to manipulate and engineer the earth. We could consider the transformation of our wills so that we are truly able to live differently. But I would like to focus in this article on another problem, which is simply that we have lost touch with the creation.

More than 50% of humans in general and 80% of the people in the UK now live in towns or cities and, across the world, the great exodus from country to town continues. City living has great benefits in terms of easy communication, opportunity for development and change and some say that it is even ‘greener’ in terms of carbon footprint. But one thing it tends to lack. And that is a deep, heartfelt connection with nature.

I have recently been involved in the formation of a new Christian community known as EarthAbbey, whose members simply commit themselves to encourage one another to journey towards a life more in tune with the earth. It is a neo-monastic community, open to all people everywhere, with a strong focus on practical living. Here in Bristol, where it began, we have been trying to find meaningful ways to reconnect with the land and we came up with a very simple idea we have called Grow Zones. What we did was this.

A small group of us teamed up to turn each other’s gardens over to growing edible produce. Some of us were gardeners already. Many were not. We were particularly interested to learn something about Permaculture in the process. Permaculture is about designing growing systems so that they work in harmony with the local ecosystems rather than against them.  Permaculture has a strong fit with EarthAbbey’s aims. So, the way we did it was that each person spent some time thinking about what they would like to grow and then we met on a series of Saturday mornings, once at each garden, and did the business. The host would produce a list of jobs, we would choose what we wanted to do, and we then spent the morning working. The host then provided us all with a lunch based on fresh local produce.

Now at one level you could see this as a simple carbon reduction strategy. We each produce more of our own food, reducing fossil fuel use from industrial scale agriculture with its irrigation, fertiliser, pesticide and food miles. Yet strangely this was rather far from our minds. We found that we just loved doing this. There was something about working the land itself. A contact with reality, a stillness, the seasons, the hope of fruit. We found ourselves friends, somehow joined in a deep way through our work together. And I think we sensed something of God in it all, a sort of being blessed that is hard to describe, but very powerful to experience.

Last year saw an astonishing resurgence of interest in growing food across this country. Seed manufacturers were overwhelmed at the demand. I know that others have experienced that same sort of joy that we encountered and likewise discovered how powerful working land is as a means of creating community. David Hughes of Eco-Congregations sent us in a great story about a project on the land around  his home ( see the article here)

Receiving this and hearing other similar accounts has made me wonder whether it is right to call this a movement of the Spirit of God? The result of our surprising joy at Grow Zones is that EarthAbbey is now developing a whole range of projects on the land in Bristol and we are very keen to encourage others around the country to try Grow Zones. Our aim is to get 50 or more teams of people around the country turning their gardens over to edible produce and having great fun in the process.

If you would like to host a Grow Zones, please get in touch with us through www.earthabbey.com/growzones . It is all very easy and unburdensome.

If you would like to understand more of the biblical basis for EarthAbbey and what it is doing, try ‘The Dream that inspired the Bible’ by Chris Sunderland available from www.earthabbey.com/publishing for more on the experience of Grow Zones see ‘We have been grow zoned’ and ‘A short film_about_grow_zones.

Chris Sunderland Feb 2010

Contact Chris through www.earthabbey.com or phone 0117 9574652