Eco Church Gold Award

Thursday last week was a BIG day for the Haven benefice, when St Helens Church received a visit from Simon Brown from A Rocha UK. The occasion was the assessment of our Gold Eco Church Award. A group of parishioners met with Simon, and his wife Elaine, in the church and talked about all the different projects and plans we have underway to promote environmental awareness and encourage sustainable living. We explored the churchyard, walking the labyrinth together, and then shared a lunch in church. Simon announced to the group that this was no longer an assessment but a CELEBRATION: we had ACHIEVED THE GOLD AWARD!

Out of 2000 churches enrolled in the Eco Church scheme across the UK we are only the tenth to achieve the Gold award. This is the result of Ali’s inspirational leadership and her insistence that the climate emergency is not a peripheral matter for churches, but a central concern of the Christian faith. Ali’s infectious enthusiasm has led to a wonderful year of creativity in the benefice, as new ideas and events have sprung up from members of the congregation.

We now look forward to being a beacon for other churches on the Island and in the diocese, who are interested in getting involved in the Eco Church scheme.

Thanks to everyone for their commitment and hard work over the last year. There is still much to look forward to as our ongoing plans come to fruition, and new ideas continue to emerge! Thanks especially to Ali, for getting us all motivated and inspired to begin this Eco Church journey.

We have put out a press release, for the church press, which you can read below:

St Helens Church receives their Eco Church Gold Award.

At the beginning of November, the Church of England’s Environmental Working Group chaired by the Bishop of Salisbury, Nick Holtam, urged that the Church must move much faster in its response to climate change. He said. “The church needs to recognise this is a climate emergency and speed up its actions . . . . We ought to ensure every church is an Eco Church, and that in every congregation every Christian is asking questions about how we can live more lightly.” In response to this, dioceses all over the country have been signing up with A Rocha as Eco Dioceses and Portsmouth is following this lead. At present there are fifteen registered churches and four bronze awards in the diocese. In the whole country, throughout all denominations, there are over 2000 churches signed up to the scheme and just ten churches have the top award of Gold. St Helens Church, in the rural parish of St Helens on the Isle of Wight, is one of those and one of just four churches in the South of England to have achieved this. The other Church of England churches are St James’s, Piccadilly and Hillfield Franciscan Friary. The third is a United Reformed church in Edenbridge. 

Although a small rural parish with seemingly limited resources, the St Helens congregation has demonstrated passion and commitment in response to the climate emergency, under the leadership of Revd Ali Morley. Ali’s enthusiasm for Eco Church has been infectious and one project has quickly led to another. Surveying the flora and fauna of the churchyard over the year led to plans for the construction of a pond, for tree planting (with help from a free pack from the Woodland Trust) and the protection and monitoring of the resident glow worm population. A disused labyrinth in the churchyard was lovingly restored and is used for prayer and contemplation. Assessing the congregation’s individual carbon footprints led to a desire to promote sustainable living. The need to reduce single-use plastic consumption led to the setting up of the plastic bottle refill station: the church buys eco-friendly products such as shampoo and household detergents in bulk and sets up a stall at church coffee mornings to enable the community to refill their empty bottles. In order to reduce plastic consumption at Christmas, an afternoon craft workshop was organised to make sustainable Christmas gifts.  The pressing need to plant more trees led to a seed-planting project with St Helens Primary School as part of a long-term commitment to the village’s children. Ali has also worked with school and youth groups on plastic reduction with the aid of a large dolphin named Trashy, who collects crisp packets.

These and other projects have been devised and put into action at monthly Eco Church Sunday afternoon gatherings – which always include environmentally-themed worship and a shared LOAF (local, organic, animal friendly and fairly traded) meal.  A monthly steering group helps to keep all the projects progressing and shares the organisational workload.

The principles of Eco Church are embedded in the worship and spiritual practices of St Helens Church, with a monthly Eco Communion service and quiet times to refresh and meditate at the weekly Thursday Contemplative prayer gatherings.  A book club and theology group provide opportunities to reflect on the theological implications of the climate crisis and the church’s response.

St Helens Church has demonstrated how rich the offering of the church can be in promoting environmental awareness and sustainable lifestyles within the both congregation and wider community. Resisting fear and paralysis this little church, embedded in a three hundred year history, insists that we can make a difference, empowers and encourages others to take action with confidence and joy and looks forward with hope to a more sustainable future for all the Earth.

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