The following Press Release was issued on Friday 6th December 2019.
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 Helen's 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 Helen's 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 Helen's 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 Helen's Church has demonstrated how rich the offering of the church can be in promoting environmental awareness and sustainable lifestyles within both the 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.