FOR the Green Awards Green Champion category, the Church Times asked for examples of “special people, often unsung heroes, who have done great things for the environment by example and inspiration”. The nominations did not disappoint.
HE director of church and society in the diocese of Exeter, Martyn Goss, has worked on environmental and social-justice issues in the diocese for almost 30 years. In 2010, he helped to found EcoChurch Southwest, a partnership that brings together seven dioceses and the renewable-energy provider Ecotricity. It has resulted in more than 400 renewable energy installations and more than 100 church buildings using green electricity and gas only.
“Whether it is community energy, food waste, climate change, land use, carbon footprints, or global justice, he is at the heart of ensuring that we live, speak, act, and learn in ways which promote the integrity of creation not just in the churches but across the whole of the south-west,” the Bishop of Crediton, the Rt Revd Nick McKinnel, wrote in the nomination. Activists from other churches and denominations paid tribute to the support he had given them.
Mr Goss dates his interest in the green movement to his student days: he applied to study ecology, before swapping to theology. In 1987, he set up the Devon Christian Ecology Group. “In those days, the number of Christians and churches interested in the environment was much smaller than today, and that engagement was fairly limited,” he recalls.
“Today it’s much more of a mainstream activity, which is more helpful in some regards, but our depth of understanding around being green Christians is not always as sharp as I would like it to be.” Over the course of the past six years, he estimates that work to rescue food from shops, farms, and companies in Devon and Cornwall has saved £1 million of food from being destroyed. It is redistributed to community groups. The diocese has also trialled heater cushions to warm parishioners (News, 8 November 2013).
He considers himself a “critical friend” of the national Church, which “could and should do more” in its use of land “in relation to sustainability and resilience for the future”, among other things. Beyond the Church, he is concerned about the direction of travel in Britain: “We have a national political system so focused on itself and not on communities or families, or biodiversity or habitat.”
Low carbon footprint: Brother Hugh CobbettBrother Hugh Cobbett SSF
“HIS own carbon footprint is so light that you can hardly see it,” Brother Samuel SSF wrote of Brother Hugh Cobbett SSF of Hilfield Friary.
Brother Hugh is described as a “walking Laudato” — a reference to Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment — his contributions to life at the friary include setting up, maintaining, and explaining the renewable energy that powers it. These developments include the solar panels and a biomass boiler (News, 1 October 2010).
He also undertakes education work, from teaching children about where the minerals in their phones come from to campaigning alongside charities. “He is the happiest and most humble activist we know,” Brother Samuel wrote.
“Rather than allowing himself to get frustrated and despondent at the state of the world . . . he patiently and quietly continues, finding purpose and satisfaction in knowing that he is doing all that he can, and assisting others in their own ecological journey. Though very politically active himself and enthusiastic about bringing other people on board, he is never judgemental or unkind to those whose opinions and lifestyles differ to his own.”
Having grown up on a farm in east Kent, Brother Hugh was conscious of the onset of “big agriculture” from a young age, and was deemed “a bit unusual” at school for having a bicycle rather than saving for a car. After studying theology and working in Kenya, he arrived at Hilfield, which was the first recipient of the Eco Church Gold Award.
He is conscious that “if you get too apocalyptic, you turn people off,” but believes that you can “debate all night” about the right balance between alarm and hope. It is important to “be actually on the street in public liturgy” occasionally, he thinks.
Taking young people to gather outside Parliament before the Copenhagen climate summit — entailing a 4 a.m. start — was of “great importance”.
First church winners: Victoria Gilbert (second from left) and the team from St Catherine’s, BurbageVictoria Gilbert
UNDER the leadership of Victoria Gilbert, St Catherine’s, Burbage, in Leicestershire, obtained two Eco-Congregation Awards and now has an Eco Church Gold Award — the first parish church in the country to have one (News, 11 November). The Rector, the Revd Andrew Hall, describes her as an “inspirational person” who has spent the past 30 years “working tirelessly both in the local community and church community. She practises what she preaches and in a very understated manner, just getting on with the job.”
Ms Gilbert, who has led the eco group at the church for 14 years, says that the chief achievement of recent years has been the installation of underfloor heating, which required a huge fund-raising effort (News, 22 October 2010). Other changes include the establishment of a wildflower garden, the use of recyclable materials in church, and eight green fairs. The team is explaining its learning to other churches, through presentations and visits, and the next goal is to install a “green roof”, made of sedum, which will offer both insulation for the building and a home for wildlife.
Biodiversity: Dr Judith Allison climbs a limestone cliff to look at her favourite limestone grass, Blue Moor grass
Dr Judith Allison
THE ecumenical efforts of Dr Judith Allison, the web editor of Green Christian, were singled out for praise in an application submitted by the Minister of St John’s Methodist Church, Settle, the Revd Stephen Normanton.
“Our church benefits from Judith’s passion, but equally so do the Churches Together in Settle and District,” he wrote.
“I have never met anyone who is more worthy of the title of a Green Champion. I am confident that Judith will have been involved in virtually every project and campaign concerning environmental and social justice both in the UK and often in Europe. She will be appalled at me for entering her for this, as she would not want to seek any personal attention focused on her.”
Dr Allison’s first job after obtaining a Ph.D. in botany was teaching students. “I treated it as science,” she reflects. “Then you realise the responsibility is to look after the world, as well as showing it to people.”
People are “a lot greener” than they were 25 years ago, she thinks. “Most have gone beyond recycling envelopes. Individually, a few people are doing quite a lot; but it’s very difficult to bring it together in church and do it as a corporate thing.” She believes that “you’ve got to be optimistic.”
The project she is currently most passionate about is the Rainforest Fund Project, which she set up to enable churches to raise money to protect an acre of habitat under threat. She remains keen to show people the biodiversity that exists within their own locality. “I just really like showing people what they actually have got, even in some of the most boring churchyards.”
“Patience, determination, and positivity to change”: Suzanne DaltonSuzanne Dalton
UNTIL moving to Oxford in November, Suzanne Dalton had chaired the Green Team at St Chad’s, Far Headingley, since its inception in 2001 (News, 2 November 2007). Under her leadership, the church won three Eco-Congregation awards and an Eco Church Silver Award. “Quite simply, without Suzanne, the Green team would not be what it has grown to become to today,” a team member, Dr Mike Willison, wrote. “Suzanne’s patience, determination, and positivity to bring about change continues to be a huge source of inspiration.”
She dates her interest in green matters to her childhood, when she lived on the edge of Wolverhampton in a house that backed on to rolling fields; she went on to study zoology at university. It was a workshop run by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust which drew her attention to the potential of her own churchyard.
“It was little tweaks like not cutting the vegetation right up to the stone of the church, because that environment is a really good habitat for mini-beasts and amphibians,” she explains.
She is now delighted to have “beautiful, delicate Yorkshire hay meadow grasses” in the yard, and
to observe the enthusiasm that has taken hold in the congregation.
“That is the one thing I am most proud of,” she says. “It’s not just the Green Team battling away: practically everyone is involved.” The youth club has made bat-, bird-, and hedgehog-hibernation boxes.
“If you lose touch with the environment, you don’t know what you are protecting,” she observes. “We are trying to get people to link in with the natural environment and appreciate it as a churchyard in a very suburban area and a wonderful resource for the whole community.”