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General Synod: environment programmes debate


Enid Barron (London) addresses the Synod

Enid Barron (London) addresses the Synod

A DEBATE on environment programmes was begun but adjourned until February 2019.

Introducing the debate on a diocesan motion, Enid Barron (London) described how, 15 years ago, she had suggested at her PCC that the church should have an environment programme. “From the reactions I received, you should have thought I suggested we should all become pagans.” She thanked God that “things have changed enormously,” both at her church, and nationally: “much excellent work is being done to address climate change and other environmental issues.”

The London and Truro motion called for “an even greater commitment”. Central to it was the call to set up a national system for measuring the Church’s progress towards meeting its targets to decrease carbon-dioxide emissions. She regretted that the Secretary General’s paper showed “no enthusiasm for this, possibly the result of unfortunate experience of over-complex past attempts”. But measuring was “essential. . . If others can do it, why not the Church?”

The motion proposed a simple tool, and she drew attention to the system that had been “running successfully in London for a decade”, the parish burden “minimal”. The system would cost around £25,000 to set up, she said, and about £5000 a year in running costs. The proposals in the motion would enable the Church to “continue to give a credible lead to others on this critical issue”.

Andrew Yates (Truro) praised Mrs Barron for being at Synod on her golden wedding anniversary. The Truro elements of the motion sought to ensure that every diocese had a “clear environmental programme that is championed at the senior staff level”. This was not a new vision: “The Celtic saints of Cornwall were deeply aware of a closeness to God through the natural world. Julian of Norwich saw in her precious hazelnut a God loving and sustaining all creation.”

He had become social responsibility officer at Truro 15 years ago; things had changed since then. The Archdeacon of Cornwall now chaired the Environment Core Group, and a part-time dedicated environment officer had been funded. There was also an environment programme and an Eco Church Award scheme, and they were exploring using glebe land for renewable energy generation. It was up to dioceses to decide how to deliver their own programmes, at a cost of around £15,000. “As a Church we have a unique opportunity to lead our communities to make the necessary changes required. It needs dedicated workers to deliver such a programme.”

The Revd Dr Benjamin Sargent (Winchester) agreed that climate change was a problem, but suggested that the solutions set out in the motion were “not the right tool for the job”. His premise was that climate change was “religiously motivated”. This religion was consumerism; its key doctrine was “that we are autonomous consumers of things; that we find out true purpose and identity in acquiring things; that the more we have, the more valuable and meaningful our lives.”

Its sermons offered youth and beauty. Consumerism was “fundamentalist; it cannot be questioned”. It was the reason that so many people were in debt, and that so many people “scarcely know their families, they are so busy working”. Climate change was “a symptom of religious extremism”, and the solution was “not so easy as appointing advocates to advise, and working hard at heating churches in a way that is sustainable”.

The “ultimate fix” was the gospel: “Consumerism is spiritual and needs to be outclassed by a better story of life in all its fullness.” Christians needed to show contentment and simplicity in their daily lives, giving up glamorous international holidays and taking public transport. “Let us use the right tools to fix this, and think bigger than the proposal offered today”.

Canon Ruth Newton (Leeds) spoke of under-resourcing: resourcing environment programmes could be seen as “one priority among many”. But it was “the priority for us. It is core business: a question of survival, of justice, of advocating for the poorest in our world, and ensuring intergenerational justice.” She told the story of her church’s churchyard biodiversity project, “an ark for vulnerable species” that had enthused young people. “I would like to see our money where our mouth is, in resources as well as investment.”

Canon Catherine Grylls (Birmingham) said that her amendment was designed to ensure that the environmental working group, which she chaired, could achieve what was being outlined in the motion. While the diocese of London should be applauded for its work, scaling it up to all the dioceses was not straightforward. She urged the Synod to vote for both her amendment and that of John Spence of the Archbishops’ Council, which was being asked to resource the motion.

Mrs Barron said that she and Canon Grylls were on the same team, but the amount of resources required to carry the work outlined in the motion had been exaggerated. “We need deadlines, and we do not have them for measuring our carbon footprint. We need one tool that needs to be run consistently and annually.”

Canon Giles Goddard (Southwark) was also on the environmental group and supported both amendments. The London scheme worked well, he said, but it would still cost about £50,000 for the first year, he guessed. “We need to be careful about committing more resources to a project we are not sure of.” He was conscious of how much traction Eco Church was getting.

William Seddon (St Albans), on the environmental steering committee, said that if the dioceses were to be serious about their carbon footprints, they needed to know their starting position; so measurement was important. The costs might be greater, and the Archbishops’ Council’s priorities might have to be changed. He supported the “pragmatism” of both amendments. He suggested that the Synod’s footprint be measured as a “symbolic gesture” to make a small difference.

Julie Dziegiel (Oxford) was an “enthusiastic” parish treasurer, but providing the church electricity bills for Shrinking the Footprint was a step too far for her. She was in support of the amendment, because it suggested that there might be another way, other than adding to the burden of treasurers.

Canon Grylls’s amendment was carried.

John Spence (Archbishops’ Council), moving his amendment, said that he had debated in Church House how the NCIs could reduce their carbon footprint, by, for example, conducting video meetings. It would be “disingenuous” to call on the Archbishops’ Council to “accept, assess, and furnish” the resourcing of the proposals now. “Until we assess, we don’t know how much it will cost.” He suggested that measurement would stretch beyond that of utilities, which could be built into the budget if his amendment was carried.

Tim Hind (Bath & Wells) said that the amendment did not add anything to the wording of the motion, which was not prescriptive and did not include timescales.

The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, suggested that it was “logical and synodical” for the motion to be brought back in February 2019, after assessments.

Susannah Leafe (Truro) said: “I would love if we doubled our energy consumption because more people were in church.”

The Revd Stewart Fyfe (Carlisle) was grateful for the amendment because it addressed the concerns of smaller dioceses. Bishops’ staff had struggled with resources and demands, and the village churches were being burdened with less support and more expectations. “We cannot lob good resources at our churches without thinking about the extra responsibilities of our officers.” The burden would have an impact on mission.

Mr Spence’s amendment was carried.

Adrian Greenwood (Southwark) proposed adjourning this item until February 2019, and the procedural motion to do so was carried.


Read a report of every General Synod presentation and debate from York 2018, here

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