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Eco Churches exchange ministers to learn more about green initiatives

04 August 2023

St John the Evangelist, Hurst Green/Facebook

St John the Evangelist, Hurst Green

St John the Evangelist, Hurst Green

TWO churches in Blackburn diocese — one urban, one rural — drew from each other’s experience of Eco Church, in an exchange of ministries on Sunday.

St John the Evangelist, Hurst Green, in the Ribble Valley, is regarded as an environmental pioneer. Its three consecutive Eco Congregation awards before the present A Rocha UK scheme were the result of ten years of practical projects, Creation-themed worship, and community involvement.

The Priest-in-Charge of Hurst Green and Mitton, and Rector of Ribchester with Stydd, Canon Brian McConkey, said on Tuesday that, when he went to the parish seven years ago, “‘eco warriors’ hadn’t been part of my diet, but I grew to adore what we were doing.” Hurst Green had been one of the first to install a composting lavatory.

Among many initiatives, the fifth Sunday in the month is dedicated to a service for Creation, a theme that informs the church’s worship and prayer life. There is a focus on linking the managing of the churchyard for environmental purposes and biodiversity with the preferences of people visiting the graves. The church scored highly in the Nature Count undertaken by Eco Churches in June, “which seems to show it’s working”, Canon McConkey said.

He went to take the morning service at Christ Church, Lancaster, while its Vicar, the Revd Carol Backhouse, went with a team of two to St John’s. Both churches now have Silver awards. “Because we have the experience we have in very different contexts, we could learn from one another and celebrate all the work that has been done so far,” Ms Backhouse said.

Christ Church has been working since 2016 on initiatives related to worship and teaching, the management of buildings and land, community and global engagement, and lifestyle. “We were able to spread encouragement around recycling initiatives for things you can’t put in your green bins up here, and around churchyard initiatives,” she said.

“It is mainstream for us. Green issues run through all we do. Because we have the experiences we have in very different contexts, we could learn from one another and celebrate all the work that has been done so far.

“We had a very warm welcome from the Hurst Green congregation, with many lovely conversations about people’s individual struggles in what can be an overwhelming situation, but with the knowledge that the ripples and influence a church community can spread is more important than individual action.”

Canon McConkey enjoyed the experience of learning more about what green initiatives in “gorgeous country parishes” looked like in an urban setting. “Everything visible at Christ Church shows that they take all this very, very seriously.” He affirmed in both contexts the value of committed people “who will keep reminding us of what it’s about”.

The diocesan environmental officer, Canon John Rodwell, said: “This is just the kind of sharing of experience we need to make progress in our care of Creation across the diocese. Linking our rural and urban worlds, their people, their landscapes, is crucial in sustaining one environment and telling one story of God’s generosity.”

The Bishop of Blackburn, the Rt Revd Philip North, congratulated both churches on the initiatives and the work that they were doing as Eco Churches. “We are hearing more and more stories of how, thanks to the prayers, efforts, and generosity of his people, our churches are making a real difference when it comes to looking after God’s creation,” he said.

“Increasing the number of Eco Churches is an important tool in allowing us to mark our progress as we become a more environmentally friendly church, as part of our work towards being a Carbon Net Zero Diocese by 2030. I encourage as many parishes as possible to explore the Eco Church concept.”

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