Learn to Scythe your churchyard – 3 May 2014

Scything poster Oxford Scything poster OxfordOrganised by Caring for God’s Acre

Discover how to adjust, sharpen and use a scythe.

Saturday 3rd of May

10am-4pm at Chipping Norton Community Orchard

FREE to participants, only available to those managing burial grounds, limited numbers, booking essential

To book speak to Andrea at Caring for God’s Acre on 01588 673041 or andrea@cfga.org.uk.

Austrian scythes available to use but if you have your own scythe feel free to bring it along.

Funded by The Heritage Lottery fund as part of Caring for God’s Acre’s National Project

Causing a buzz at St Thomas’s

by Jo Duckles

First appeared in the Diocesan newspaper, The Door

THOUSANDS of honey bees have been given a home in a church yard in central Oxford.

Since last spring the sound of buzzing could be heard in the grounds of St Thomas’s Church. Priest-in-Charge, the Revd Jonathan Beswick, has wanted to keep bees since he was a boy and is delighted with the occupants of the hives. They were introduced last spring after a conversation with an enthusiastic PCC and advice from a local bee keeping expert. In their first season alone they produced 100 lbs of honey.

Environmental Bee Summit

Jonathan, who will be going to Oxford Friends of the Earth’s Bee Summit as Bishop John’s representative on 7 February, says: “The churchyard is like an acre of the most gorgeous countryside. It feels like a village churchyard in many ways.

“One of the figures in the glass at St Thomas’s is St Ambrose, one of the fathers of the church, holding a bee hive in his hands. When he was a baby in his cot a swarm landed on his face. When they left, they had just left a drop of honey on his lips, foretelling of the sweetness of his future teaching and preaching.”

Jonathan says the bees and the Christian faith go hand in hand in many ways, from the beeswax traditionally used to make church candles through to parallels with individual bees forming colonies to individual Christians making up the body of Christ.

“I lived in a monastery for five years when I left school. Some of the older brothers were committed to keeping bees. Over the years people who keep bees have interested or intrigued me,” he says.

2,000 eggs a day

In the right conditions, bee colonies can grow very quickly, with a queen laying 2,000 eggs a day at the height of the season. Jonathan, who describes keeping the stripy insects as a life changing experience, says: “One amazing moment was a friend taking a swarm and letting them out next to the hive, seeing them find their way into their new home, especially taking my glove off and putting my hand into the hive. Contrary to a lot of people’s expectations when bees swarm they are unlikely to sting anyone. They are not aggressive. If you put your hand amongst them they will walk over it without hurting you. It was an experience putting my hand into 20,000 bees and feeling all of those tiny feet tickling but going about their business.”

Another memorable moment last year was encountering a swarm of bees on Holywell Street. Jonathan was told that pest control were going to remove them, so offered to give them a new home in the church yard. “My beekeeping friend, who has done this before, very carefully broke them off the gutter into a box and we took them to St Thomas’s. I see them as Beckett’s Bees.Thomas Beckett, our patron saint, used to walk through the church yard. It’s good that our patron saint was familiar with the area.”

The Revd Jonathan Beswick is buzzing with enthusiasm for bee keeping.

The Revd Jonathan Beswick is buzzing with enthusiasm for bee keeping.

Jonathan admits to a few stings in his first few months as a beekeeper but believes the pain has been worth it. “Historically clergy have been beekeepers. Keeping bees speaks of a different pace of life in a society where we are encouraged to run ever faster on the treadmill.”

And the hives have attracted plenty of attention from people who use the churchyard as a short cut, with interested passers-by even leaving notes on the hives asking Jonathan to get in touch.

So, as Jonathan prepares to go along to the bee summit, he has been reading up on the plight of this declining species. Watching More Than Honey a 2012 film by Markus Imhoof, hammered home the sobering thought that if bees die out, a third of the world’s food supply will disappear. It highlights how in China, where bees have died out due to excessive use of pesticides, migrant workers collect pollen and have to go around with paint brushes, pollinating plants.

Another film on bees is 2009’s Vanishing of the Bees by George Langworthy and Maryam Henein. For more on bee keeping contact the British Bee Keepers Association, www.bbka.org.uk, 0871 811 2282.

Swifts and churches

Swifts nest under the eaves of St Etheldreda’s Church Horley.

Swifts nest under the eaves of St Etheldreda’s Church Horley.

Swift numbers in Britain have decreased by up to 40% in the last 20 years. There are several likely reasons for this, but one is the loss of nest sites. Swifts return to the same nest hole every year, and so when buildings need repair or are demolished, nest sites can be lost. Also, almost without exception modern buildings do not have the gaps and crevices which are essential for Swifts to nest. So largely it is older, less well-sealed buildings with a few gaps under the eaves or tiles or in the pointing, which are favoured by Swifts – like some of our churches.

We are trying to encourage people to notice Swifts and where they are nesting. If local people know where the nest sites are, it’s easier to look after them, and to encourage Swift-friendly building work.

This is as relevant to churches as to other buildings, because churches are still important nesting places for Swifts. There are at least 10 churches in the Cherwell District which have nesting Swifts.

Swifts nesting in a church can easily go unnoticed. Parties of screaming Swifts may be obvious, but they are extremely adept at entering their nest holes; add the facts that nests are not visible from the outside and that Swifts leave no mess, and it’s not surprising that the nests are often overlooked.

There are several ways in which parishioners, PCCs and church authorities can help.

One is by being alert to the possibility that Swifts may be using the church for nesting.  Screaming parties of Swifts seen regularly near the church, are an indication that they are nesting in the building or very close by.

In the period when Swifts are actually nesting, the nest hole it is illegal to disturb it. The same applies to all birds. At other times the ideal solution is to leave the particular space alone if at all possible. If this cannot be done, advice should be obtained about Swift-friendly building work and about providing alternatives (see below*).

Also if Swifts are found to be using the church for nesting or if screaming parties are seen nearby, it may be possible to install a nest box behind the louvred windows in the tower. This would need the support of the PCC and approval from the Diocese, but it is relatively cheap and simple to do, and it does not involve drilling into the masonry. It has been successfully done in several churches in Cambridgeshire and local churches in Oxfordshire are now following their example.

The Cherwell Swifts Conservation Project has these aims:

  • to protect Swifts’ nesting places
  • to encourage the creation of more nest places and
  • to raise awareness of the reasons for Swifts’ declining population and what people can do about it

*For more information see the following websites:



or in Oxfordshire contact Chris Mason (mason@cando.eclipse.co.uk)

From tiny seeds in the dark…


A couple of weeks back I spent a Saturday afternoon with forty other people of all ages in the beauty of Wytham Woods. It was the first gathering of the Oxford Forest Church group, and we’d come together to explore nature and connect with God.

On that clear crisp afternoon we spent time both together and alone, with space to be and to breathe in the woods. Amongst the fallen leaves we reflected on the coming darkness of advent. Our surroundings gave us much to reflect on. From the way the leaves were being shed so that the tree can survive the winter; to the way those same leaves provide essential nourishment, protection and darkness for the tiny seeds from the tree to find life in the spring.

Research has started to attribute certain health and behavioural issues, at least in part, to a growing absence of time in nature. John Muir, the Scottish-born American naturalist, is credited with saying, “I’d rather be in the mountains thinking of God, than in church thinking about the mountains.” And for many of us time outside enjoying nature is good for our souls, as well as our minds and bodies. Wonder and awe are important sources of our spiritual growth, and such transcendent moments, when we feel deeply connected to something bigger than ourselves, often occur in nature. This nature connection can also have a positive impact on wider environmental issues – after all we don’t protect what we don’t care about, and you don’t tend to care about what you’ve never experienced.

That afternoon in the woods was a chance for us to mindfully engage with nature and prepare for the darkest part of the year, and the busyness of the pre-Christmas rush. It was food for the journey, engaging us spiritually in fresh ways. Of course none of this is new or restricted to the concept of Forest Church – it draws on much older traditions when sacred places and practices were outside, and it is just one expression of perhaps a wider thirst for a deeper connection with nature and something bigger than ourselves.* But it could be part of what we need to be physically, mentally and spiritually healthy – as well as respond well to the signs of our times.

As we embraced the falling darkness in the woods at Wytham we reflected on what we wanted to take into this time of advent. Like the tiny seeds beneath the fallen leaves all around us, it might be little and fragile – but making space to participate with nature this advent may be just what we need for mind, body and soul, and enable us to hear the familiar story in a fresh way.

This article first appeared in The Oxford Mail

* Nor, for that matter, is it restricted to Oxford – groups are springing up all over the country – see www.forestchurch.co.uk.

For more information about Forest Church and groups in the Diocese of Oxford see www.earthingfaith.org/forestchurch

Environment and Hope – latest edition of Anvil Journal

Revd. Margot Hodson tells us about the Environment and Hope project…

Serious issues about the environment seem to be in the news on a regular basis. This combined with the lack of progress on international climate change negotiations, have led many people with environmental concerns to lose hope.

Three years ago Margot Hodson and Ruth Valerio met up and realised that their hope was also running a little thin. As speakers, their hope had become less proximate and more eschatological. In other words it had changed from “we can fix it” to “it will all work out OK in the end”. Thus began the “Environment and Hope” project. They first gathered a small group of theologians, scientists and activists in Oxford in October 2011 to thrash out some ideas.

In May 2012, they held a much larger meeting called “Communicating Hope” at High Leigh Conference Centre, with 60 people, many of whom are involved in communicating the news about climate change and other environmental problems to Christian audiences. The keynote speakers included theologian Richard Bauckham, and Andy Atkins, the Executive Director of Friends of the Earth. We then needed to publish all this material, and it was Richard Bauckham who suggested that it could go into a special issue of Anvil, the theological journal.

The “Environment and Hope” volume was published online on 5th September 2013, around three years after Ruth and Margot Hodson began the process. All the papers are open access and are FREE to download at the journal website: www.anviljournal.org

Anvil (Volume 29, Issue 1, September 2013, pp. 1–129) contains the following articles:

  • Margot R. Hodson: Editorial: Discovering a Robust Hope for Life on a Fragile Planet.
  • Martin J. Hodson: Losing Hope? The Environmental Crisis Today.
  • John Weaver: Exploring Hope. Richard Bauckham: Ecological Hope in Crisis?
  • Archbishop Thabo Makgoba: Hope and the Environment: A Perspective from the
  • Majority World.
  • Andy Atkins: Communicating Hope in the Real World.
  • Bishop Geoff Davies: Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI).

Revd. Margot Hodson is author of Cherishing the Earth and Vicar of the benefice of Haddenham

Time for Creation: Climate Change Report

Written by Maranda St John Nicolle – CCOW

 Last week, after a final round of negotiations, Working Group I of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the “Summary for Policy Makers” of its report on the scienctific basis for climate change (full summary; headline statements).

The report is clear and concise:

  • “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.”
  • “Human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident from the increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, positive radiative forcing, observed warming, and understanding of the climate system.”
  • “Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reductions in snow and ice, in global mean sea level rise, and in changes in some climate extremes. This evidence for human influence has grown since AR4 [the last report, published in 2007]. It is extremely likely [= 95 to 100%] that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.
  • Looking to the future, the report offers four emissions scenarios, representing possible concentrations of carbon dioxide by 2100. Current concentrations breached 400 ppm in 2013, up roughly 80 ppm in 55 years. The most optimistic scenario, which would require significant cuts in emissions, places 2100 concentrations at 421 ppm. The remaining scenarios place it at 538 ppm, 670 ppm, and 936 ppm by the year 2100. 

Under all but the first of the emissions scenarios, “Global surface temperature change for the end of the 21st century is likely to exceed 1.5°C relative to 1850 to 1900”; it is likely to exceed 2°C for the two highest emissions scenarios and more likely than not to exceed 2°C for the second lowest. Warming will continue beyond 2100 under all scenarios except the lowest.
  • Sea level rises of between .25m and .63m (about 1 to 2.4 feet) over and beyond the level from 1986 – 2005 are predicted by the end of the century (the worst-case emissions scenario would offer a higher rise), and seas will further acidify. Heat will also affect ocean circulation.
  • “Extreme precipitation events over most of the mid-latitude land masses and over wet tropical regions will very likely become more intense and more frequent by the end of this century, as global mean surface temperature increases.”
  • “Cumulative emissions of CO2 largely determine global mean surface warming by the late 21st century and beyond”  To have a 66% certainty of limiting the warming caused by manmade CO2 emission to less than 2 degrees centigrade, we need to limit the cumulative manmade emissions to between about 0 and 1000 trillion tonnes of carbon (or 800 trillion tonnes to account for other non-CO2 forcings). We had already emitted roughly 531 trillions tonnes by 2011. Assuming no change in our trajectory of emissions, we would have used up our “carbon budget” within two to three decades. (see this post for a good explanation)

There are no surprises in the general gist of the message: global warming and changes in the climate system are real; humans are the dominant cause of recent warming; and we have a choice – we can either limit our emissions or keep the earth on a trajectory towards ever more dangerous impacts. The level of certainty about human influence is greater than in past reports, though. And the emphasis on the total amount of CO2 emissions as the vital factor is also new to an IPCC report, as is the presentation of a “carbon budget.” (It is not however, “new” generally – see the work of Myles Allen here, here, and here)

How as Christians can we respond to this report? CCOW will have more on actions in their forthcoming weekly emails. But in terms of prayer, please pray:

  • in thanksgiving for the God-given intellectual gifts that have enabled scientists to understand the natural world and our impacts on it. Give thanks for the many scientists involved in writing and reviewing the IPCC report and for the truly global reach of their research.
  • in thanksgiving for the clarity of the report’s warning. Pray that more and more people will be prepared to engage with the scientific evidence
  • for all those who have already been affected by changes in climate systems
  • that the report may foster genuine and productive discussion among individuals, businesses and governments on mitigation (reducing risks by means such as reducing emissions) and adaptation (managing the impacts of climate change)
  • that this discussion will be informed by godly values and will aim to work out ways of j living within the capacities of creation that will be joyful, sustainable and equitable. At present the risk is that those who have contributed least to emissions will be left to deal relatively unaided with the worst of the impacts. Pray for climate justice.
  • that discussion will lead to action and to genuine change at all levels. Give thanks for recent moves in the US to reduce coal plant pollution.
  • that comfortable Christians in both wealthy and less wealthy countries will take the challenges of global warming as an inspiration to greater faithfulness in living the Gospel. Pray that:
  • we will live our lives in ways that express thanksgiving for God’s gifts and are determined by love of God and neighbour.
  • we will call for equitable frameworks that ensure that all people have enough to live with dignity
  • we will learn contentment and challenge the prevalent materialism that leads to overconsumption and to exploitation of both people and planet.

Further Reading: The excellent Guardian blog of  the report’s release and responses to it, CAFOD/CARITAS responses; What does the IPCC report mean for businesses and investors? (Guardian); Reporting from “Dot Earth” blog  with a focus on gaps between science and policy (New York Times),  Le Monde (which suggests IPCC may be too conservative), Wall Street Journal (good summary, and significant as the paper has been historically fairly cautious), Times of India, Nature.

Written by Maranda St John Nicolle – CCOW

Church energy audit scheme launched

St. Peters Church

  • Does your church struggle to keep the heat in your building during the chilly winter months?

  • Would you like the building to be warmer, more welcoming AND cost less money to run?

The Diocese of Oxford and the Trust for Oxfordshire’s Environment (TOE2) have developed a grant scheme to provide churches with expert energy efficiency advice tailored to their building, aiming to help PCCs to save money and run buildings more sustainably.

The scheme is restricted to 24 churches in Oxfordshire, and churches are invited to apply for the first round of the grant scheme by the end of October 2013.

“This scheme is such good news! Increasing energy efficiency in church buildings can seem a daunting project. We need to juggle the different comfort levels for a variety of users with the historic nature of our buildings, whilst keeping costs down.

“Now, thanks to this joint scheme, we can offer churches in Oxfordshire access to expert advice, tailored to their buildings and use, which will make them more comfortable and energy efficient, and reduce not just the carbon footprints of our church buildings, but also energy bills.”

Bishop of Dorchester, the Rt Revd Colin Fletcher

Further information

* Update – Nov 2013: The scheme is now full and we are currently closed to new applications. Register an interest by contacting TOE2 and the Diocesan Environment Officer, using the details below, and we will alert you when the scheme re-opens for new applications. *

The scheme is adminstered by TOE2. To apply complete the application form and return it to Fiona Danks at TOE2.

For further information contact Fiona Danks at TOE2 on 01865 883488 (Wed and Thurs only), email toe@oxonrcc.org.uk or visit www.trustforoxfordshire.org.uk.

To discuss audit options for churches outside Oxon contact Matt Freer, the Diocesan Environment Officer.

How the scheme works

The scheme will provide a grant towards the cost of an energy audit that will be carried out by qualified staff from Sustain (www.sustain.co.uk), who will make a site visit and then write a report with detailed recommendations of ways to improve energy efficiency and reduce costs.

Sustain is a carbon reduction company which advises on practical ways to reduce energy and carbon emissions. They have extensive experience of carrying out  energy audits on a wide range of buildings and have particular experience of working with listed buildings and historic places of worship. Sustain will work with the DAC to ensure recommendations are in line with current guidelines.

The total cost of each audit is £660. The available grant is £540 – and so the church is asked to provide the balance of £120.

In the case of very small churches (Electoral Roll below 30) an additional subsidy will be given by the Diocese of Oxford to halve the cost (ie the church only pay £60).

Following an audit, churches may apply to TOE2 for a grant of up to £5,000 to support any of the recommended improvement works.

> Printable version of this information

This grant scheme has been made possible thanks to the support of: the Patsy Wood Trust, the Beatrice Laing Trust and Charlie Laing.

www.oxford.anglican.org/environment | www.trustforoxfordshire.org.uk

Photo: St. Peters Church by JonoTakesPhotos, on Flickr