AFTER we first ran our Green Church Awards in 2007, we thought we would give churches time to prepare the next generation of entries. Ten years was a little longer than we had planned, perhaps — though we are well aware of the time that it takes to see changes through to fruition in church circles. Once again, we were looking for innovative and inspiring examples, and we found them in abundance. There were worthy winners: a clever pairing between a church and a school in Cornwall; a piece of waste ground brought to life in Oxfordshire; a town in County Durham converted to gardening; and a church hall to be made of straw bales in south London. It was also a privilege to pay tribute to a few of the individuals who make these things possible. But the number of entries overall was the greatest encouragement, suggesting, as the Bishop of Salisbury said, that “the local church is deeply engaged in the care of God’s creation.”
The greatest reward for those entering the competition would be for other churches to learn from their experience, so that, for example, those looking to place solar panels on historic roofs can point to the example of Gloucester Cathedral, and its innovative way of fixing the panels with minimal contact. Or those looking to save money on a new building can tell people of the cost-savings made by Holy Trinity, Tulse Hill, where the straw bales are not only energy-efficient but also relatively cheap. There are many wheels among the entries that will not have to be reinvented — or, more to the point, re-argued with planners and advisory committees.
KT BRUCE/CHURCH TIMESGreen Champions: left to right: Victoria Gilbert, Judith Allinson, Brother Hugh SSF, Suzanne Dalton (absent: Martyn Goss)Reading through the entries from churches that, this time round, did not make it on to the shortlist was gratifying, too. There were enough new, clean heating systems to make us think that, perhaps, environmental awareness is at last becoming mainstream. If nothing else, we hope that coverage of the awards, and the inspiring work being done across the country, will ensure that the question “What about the environment?” will be repeated, and confidently, whenever any change is planned to church property.
There was just one area that we found disappointing. Shrinking the carbon footprint of a church building, or introducing biodiversity on to church land, is commendable. But just as a church can be defined as a group of people rather than a building, so the opportunities to make a difference to the environment extend far beyond one small piece of holy real estate. Perhaps it simply didn’t occur to people to tell us what the individuals in their congregation were doing to save energy and campaign for climate justice; but we detect more room for growth in this area. The Church’s voice will be heard with more respect as it demonstrates that it is putting all its houses in order.