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Greener by the month

31 October 2007

Julia McGuinness talks to more on the Church Times Green Awards shortlist

St Philip and St John’s, The Hague

AN INTERNATIONAL congregation representing about 40 countries has united to make 2007 “12 Months of Green”. St Philip and St John’s, in The Hague, challenged the rest of the Church to care for creation in 12 month-long initiatives directed at changing lifestyle.

The church’s initials formed the basis of its campaign slogan — STand for Justice and STamp out Poverty. This was printed on specially made cotton shopping-bags launching January’s drive to “Ban the bag”. Churchgoers were encouraged to buy a bag and cut down on plastic packaging.

The congregation is one-third Dutch, a nationality that already has a high level of eco-awareness. Anastasia Hacopian, a member of the 12-strong green group spearheading the project, says: “Recycling is normal in Holland, and people ride bikes all over the place.”

She says that what makes the church’s campaign distinctive is its connection to social justice: “It’s not about becoming ‘tree-hugging’ hippies. We want to support needy communities.”

In June’s challenge to “Turn off the tap”, church members pledged a number of Eurocents per “water-consumption event” at home e.g. lavatory flushes and showers. The money was given to a project providing an African village with four wells and a rainwater harvesting scheme.

Ms Hacopian says it has helped to communicate the campaign’s theological basis to a congregation unused to a creation-conscious approach to faith.

She is seeing attitudes change: “People come and tell me when lights have been left on in the church hall. They never noticed it before. Now they suggest putting up stickers to stop it happening again.”

February’s “Print it once” initiative to reduce paper consumption has transformed the church office, and April’s “On yer bike” focus had entire families riding to church. The number of cyclists was recorded on the church hymn board each week.

More than 200 people have participated: “It’s got people on the green bandwagon,” says Ms Hacopian, “but there’s been no pressure on those not joining in.”

Churchyard treasury: St Chad’s, Far Headingly

A PASSION to pass on a love of the countryside has fired up one worshipper’s involvement with a biodiversity project in a churchyard in a Leeds suburb.

Suzanne Dalton, on the “Green team” at St Chad’s, Far Headingly, says: “Unless you can understand and appreciate wildlife, you won’t look after it.”

The three-acre Victorian churchyard is a wildlife habitat. It stands on former grazing farmland, historically free of chemical fertilisers. Mrs Dalton says: “Some unusual Yorkshire meadow-grasses grow here. The Yorkshire Wildlife Trust got quite excited. And the Mid-Yorkshire Fungus Group say it’s a good churchyard for fungi.”

Enlisting outside help has been one way to teach about the care of creation. The church has hosted speakers on subjects from lichen to bats, and a retired geologist has produced a geology-trail leaflet linked to the types of stone in the graveyard.

St Chad’s has opened up to the public as part of the “Treasures revealed” initiative of churches in Leeds, making the event special with bird-watching and tree identification walks; bird-box making, and wildlife treasure-hunts.

Apart from mowing the grass, the green team oversees the volunteer work parties who lend a hand with looking after the area. “We work alongside these teams,” says Mrs Dalton, “so we can explain why we are doing particular tasks. It’s crucial to open people’s eyes to what’s around them.”

St Mary’s digs deep for heat: St Mary’s, Welwyn

HEAT FROM down below now keeps parishioners of St Mary’s, Welwyn, warm in the winter months, through an environmentally friendly heating system that draws up heat from underground.

HEAT FROM down below now keeps parishioners of St Mary’s, Welwyn, warm in the winter months, through an environmentally friendly heating system that draws up heat from underground.

The ground-source heating pump system (or GSHP) circulates water through thermal boreholes drilled down into the churchyard. The heat picked up by the water is compressed to raise its temperature and sent round the pipes in the Grade-II listed Victorian church and its adjoining newly built church hall.

By installing a GSHP, the church has eliminated its former annual 44 tons of carbon emission, and is saving about £2500 on fuel.

Because the system cost £40,000 to install, there is no immediate financial benefit. But Stephen Jupp, one of four engineers in the congregation who championed the project, says: “This is about Christian stewardship, and making a long-term investment in environmental care.”

GSHPs are already used in the United States and Europe, and when plans were being drawn up for a new church hall, Mr Jupp says, “It was now or never. We were already spending £750,000 on a building. It made sense to incorporate the new system into this project.” When it was switched on in January this year, the GSHP became the first system in the UK to heat both an old church and a new building.

Mr Jupp says that the technology is compatible with the Victorian set-up. “It mirrors the original intention of the coke-fired system to provide a consistent low-level heat. The four-foot-thick church walls act as a storage heater. We now heat the church to only 18°C, not 22, but people say it feels much warmer, because the temperature is constant throughout the buildings. Continuous heat is better for the church’s fabric, too.”


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