Environmental Initiatives by Church Groups in Ireland
A previous issue of Working Notes devoted to environmental questions (Issue 72, October 2013) included articles describing initiatives by four Church groups in Ireland aimed at protecting and enhancing the natural environment.
In this issue, we publish articles outlining the ecology work of a further six groups. The first article describes the work of the Presentation Sisters in Ireland. Following this, there are articles on four church communities (Carrigaline Union, Church of Ireland; Clonakilty Methodist Church; Fitzroy Presbyterian Church; Rathfarnham Quaker Meeting) which have received an ‘Eco-Congregation Ireland Award’, and on a fifth (Balally Catholic Parish) which is shortly to receive an Award. The Eco-Congregation Award is open to church groups throughout the island of Ireland which have been working on ecology issues for a minimum of two years. Applications are assessed on the basis of environmental work undertaken under four headings: spiritual, practical, community and global.
Eco-Congregation Ireland is an all-Ireland, inter-denominational project, which aims to provide information, resources and support for individuals and church groups wishing to become involved in awareness-raising and practical action in relation to environmental questions. The initiative is supported by the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Ireland, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the Methodist Church and the Religious Society of Friends in Ireland (Quakers) (see: http://ecocongregationireland.com; see also, Catherine Brennan, ‘Eco-Congregation Ireland’, Working Notes, Issue 72, October 2013 www.workingnotes.ie).
Presentation Sisters and Ecology
Although Presentation Sisters are primarily recognised in Ireland as educators in first and second level schools, we have, for many years now, been active in education of a different kind. Influenced by experiences gained through our own international networking, and challenged by the outcomes of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit and by the aspirations of the Earth Charter,1 we saw and responded to the need for education to promote ‘ecological conversion’. Pope John Paul II appealed for this kind of conversion in 20012 and, more recently, so has Pope Francis in his encyclical, Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home.
Founded in Cork by Nano Nagle in 1775, the Presentation Congregation now has members in 23 countries. The International Presentation Association (IPA) – consisting of the Union of Presentation Sisters, to which Ireland belongs, the Conference of Presentation Sisters of North America, and the Australian Society of Presentation Sisters – was established in 1989. The IPA works in partnership with others to promote a ‘more sustainable society based on universal human rights, economic justice and a culture of peace’.
As for many other organisations, IPA’s ‘special consultative status’ at the United Nations Economic and Social Council allows active participation in sessions of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development. In association with other non-government organisations (NGOs), we aim to influence global policies that promote justice, peace and sustainable development. We use our international network to bring experience from grassroots realities to the attention of decision-makers.
At the 2006 Congregational Gathering, the sisters of Presentation Union pledged themselves to commit to a ‘spirituality of being in communion that seeks God in the interconnectedness of the whole of creation and empowers active love for self, others and all of creation’. This spirituality includes awakening to the mystery of God in all of life, reverence and care for the cosmos, earth and its peoples, ‘particularly where these are most wounded’. The sisters undertook to reflect critically on the way power is used, including our own use of power; ‘move towards ways of living that enable justice and sustainable living’; and endeavour to challenge unjust systems at local, national and international level.
Presentation in Ireland
In honouring congregational commitments to ecological conversion, many sisters collaborate locally to promote this. The following are some examples of our current initiatives in Ireland.
Nano Nagle Centre: based in the birthplace of the foundress (Ballygriffin, Mallow), the Centre’s work has a three-pillar approach – heritage, ecology and spirituality.3 It offers workshops, spirituality programmes and retreats for all ages to promote deeper awareness of the ‘spirituality of being in communion’. The 32-acre organic farm at the Centre tries to be as self-sustaining as possible, using its own produce and modelling a more ecologically-friendly method of farming and living.
Presentation Justice Network: the Network collaborates with others in working to bring about systemic change for more sustainable development. Its Sustainable Living Programme – a training module originally published in 2007 – has been widely disseminated.4
The Network advocates and lobbies in collaboration with other NGOs. For example, it is a member of Stop Climate Chaos, a coalition of civil society organisations which has been campaigning for effective climate legislation in Ireland. It has been involved with the Comhlámh Trade Justice campaign regarding the potential social and environmental impacts of the EU–USA Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). It collaborated with Trócaire and the Debt and Development Coalition Ireland in lobbying in the lead-up to the Third International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa in July 2015.5
Challenge-to-Change: this is a development education programme for young people attending Presentation schools; it aims to raise awareness and bring about a greater understanding of global social and environmental issues.6
Presentation Ecology Officer: the work of the Ecology Officer focuses on environmental education, environmental advocacy and sustainable communities. In collaboration with Nano Nagle Centre, the Justice Network and Mount St. Anne’s Retreat Centre, the Ecology Officer advocates on environmental issues, facilitates workshops for community groups, young people, transition year programmes and runs a ‘Take Learning Outside’ course for primary school teacher training.7
Clann Credo: founded by Presentation Sister, Magdalen Fogarty, the initial investment capital for this programme was provided by the Presentation Sisters. Now involving more than twenty religious charities, Clann Credo provides affordable loan finance to community, voluntary and charitable organisations, community businesses and social enterprises throughout Ireland.8
Inter-Congregational Collaboration: through involvement in ‘The Future We Need’ group, the Justice Network collaborates with other religious congregations in Ireland, promoting awareness and lobbying decision-makers on environmental issues – examples include making submissions to the Environmental Protection Agency advocating against ‘hydraulic fracturing’ and to the UN Working Group on the sustainable development goals and climate change in the lead-up to Rio+20 in 2012. Currently, The Future We Need group is developing a toolkit on the extractive industries, which is intended as an education and advocacy tool.
Training Opportunities: over the years, Presentation Sisters have availed of education and training opportunities relating to ecology, including:
•‘Be the Change’: this programme, brought to Ireland by the Sisters of Mercy, trains facilitators to deliver modules promoting a more ‘environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling, and socially just human presence on this planet’.
• Diploma Course in Ecology and Religion in Dalgan Park.
• An Tairseach’s 10-week programme exploring spirituality in the light of Christian tradition, an evolving Universe and our endangered Earth.
We Presentation Sisters continue to respond to the challenge of protecting the environment by modelling methods of care of the earth, promoting sustainable living, lobbying for systemic change and supporting like-minded organisations. In particular, we focus now on the follow-up to the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda, which governments will commit to at the UN Special Summit on Sustainable Development in September 2015 and to the carbon reduction targets it is hoped will be agreed at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris from 30 November to 11 December 2015.
Days of reflection and discussion on Laudato Si’ are being sponsored for Presentation Sisters and their co-workers. The encyclical asks, ‘What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?’ This motivates us to continue to question the negative social and environmental impacts of unsustainable patterns of production and consumption. We envision a world where ‘no one is left behind’, where the principles of integrity, sustainability, equity, inter-generational solidarity, respect for nature and the common good are firmly established.
1. The Earth Charter, a product of a decade long, world-wide, cross-cultural conversation about common goals and shared values, is a declaration of fundamental principles for building a just, sustainable and peaceful global society in the 21st century. The Preamble to the Charter states: ‘Towards this end, it is imperative that we, the peoples of Earth, declare our responsibility to one another, to the greater community of life and to future generations.’
2. Pope John Paul II, General Audience Address, ‘God made man the steward of creation’, 17 January 2001. (http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/audiences/2001/documents/hf_jp-ii_aud_20010117_en.html)
4. See: Union of Presentation Sisters, ‘Sustainable Living Programme Downloads’ http://www.presentationsistersunion.org/resources/default.cfm?loadref=271
Sr Maureen O’Connell is Coordinator of the Irish Presentation Justice Network and lives in Mountmellick, Co. Laois.
Carrigaline Union, Diocese of Cork, Cloyne and Ross
This is an account of the ‘eco journey’ of one County Cork Church of Ireland parish – ‘Carrigaline Union’, which has two churches, St Mary’s, Carrigaline and St John’s, Monkstown.
As a Christian community, we believe that all are accountable to God for what is done with creation, and so we face the question of how we are to fulfil that responsibility in the light of our contemporary problems. At a parish level we must emphasise the need for justice for those places and people who bear the brunt of the damage and pain provoked by our human-induced climate change. For these places and people, a changing climate means droughts, floods, crops failing, and diseases spreading, with no resources to adapt to the changes. As we see the effects of climate change, we are forced to acknowledge the ‘carbon debt’ owed by the developed countries to the rest of the world.
However, even as we acknowledge the need to respond to the environmental crisis we can also feel overwhelmed by the scale of the challenge: we can experience a sense of helplessness and of being swamped when faced with problems of such magnitude. Yet we recall the words of the eighteenth century Irish statesman and writer, Edmund Burke, who said that: ‘Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.’
As a parish, an existing Christian community, we are already called to be ‘hope-filled’ and so we are ideally formed to actually do something about the threat of climate change.
At the heart of the covenant of God with his people is a call to ‘do justice’ and climate change is primarily a matter of justice. To do justice in this area is a call to change our lifestyles.
The Green Charter
As a vicar in Kilkenny between 2005 and 2011, I was fortunate to be working in a diocese (Diocese of Cashel, Ferns and Ossory) determined to do something about environmental issues.
We developed a Diocesan Green Charter1 which was rolled out to every parish in the diocese. This initiative ultimately led to a motion being brought to the General Synod of the Church of Ireland, in May 2015, proposing that an Environmental Charter be adopted by the whole of the Church as a way forward in environmental good practice. The motion was adopted by the General Synod.
The Environmental Charter commits parishes in each of the twelve Church of Ireland dioceses to:
• Identify areas of waste and excess;
• Encourage environmental responsibility in the broader community;
• Support the development of developing countries both spiritually and financially, by supporting fair trade and addressing the effects of climate change;
• Advocate policy change that is environmentally beneficial at both at local and national level.
I arrived in my new parish of Carrigaline Union, Diocese of Cork, Cloyne and Ross, in December 2011. Initially, we set about becoming a ‘Fairtrade Parish’ which we achieved in August 2012, and then we began our journey towards applying for an Eco-Congregation Ireland Award. We received the Award in November 2014.
We see our work in the area of ecology as an ongoing process, and the Eco-Congregation website has many more resources and ideas which we hope to tap into in the coming years as we continue our work.
Our initiatives over the last three years have included:
• The Select Vestry of the parish voted unanimously in February 2013 to support the concept that environmental issues and caring for God’s creation form part of our parish’s life and mission. This is important as it recognises the fact that a concern for the environment needs to be a ‘whole parish’ initiative.
• In our parish’s page in the diocesan magazine we have a section called ‘Green Matters’ where we let people know what has been happening and indicate that we are continually looking out for suggestions as to what we can do to become a greener parish. We also have items on environmental issues in our weekly ‘Pewsheets’.
• We stopped buying plastic cups and cutlery and began using the delph we already had in the cupboard. We sourced ‘green’, 100% compostable, cups, plates and napkins for use at events attended by large numbers; these materials are composted in the rectory compost bin.
• We bought new bins and began separating recyclable items.
• The Sunday School children were all given sunflower seeds, courtesy of Christian Aid, in 2013 and they ‘saved’ seeds from this original stock in 2014; we hold a competition to see who can grow the tallest sunflower and awards are made at the Harvest Service.
• In 2013, major work was undertaken on the rectory garden which had been left to its own devices for many years. We began by felling some trees which were in a dangerous state; the logs were sold within the parish to bear some of the costs of the renovation and the remainder of the logs were used in the rectory during the winter of 2013/14. We planted bee-friendly scrubs, hedging and fruit trees. The entire garden usage was revised and two separate ‘allotment’ type areas were developed for growing vegetables. A composting area was set up. The rectory now has a lovely and productive garden, buzzing with bees and butterflies and the members of the rectory family are enjoying the ‘fruit of our labour’.
• The surplus from the rectory garden is left in a box at the back of Carrigaline Church with a poster encouraging people both to take produce from the box and to add their own surplus to the box for others to take. This has proved very popular as people put in what they cannot use and then take home other types of produce.
• The wider parish is benefiting from the rejuvenated rectory grounds as the parish picnic is held there in June and the parish barbecue is held in September.
• An initiative which has not yet been implemented but has been passed by the Select Vestry, and has a subcommittee assigned to get it established, is to use our parish hall as a ‘community market’ each Saturday morning, encouraging local producers to ‘take a table’ and sell their wares, in particular items such as ‘ugly vegetables and fruit’ which supermarkets will not buy from them. (We have a number of farmers and market gardeners in the parish, as well as, for example, honey producers, bakers, egg producers, soap makers). The Rector has already met with the local Environmental Officer to expedite this project and now, with their approval, we are negotiating with our insurers and hope to be up and running in 2016.
• We have boxes at the back of the churches to collect clothes, shoes and blankets for Cork Simon Community. We also collect food for Cork Penny Dinners and cosmetics and other items for the Women’s Refuge.
• We arrange creation-themed special services in the church (for example, Saturday Service on 9 February 2013 launching the parish’s ecological initiative; Harvest Festival Service in 2013 and 2014; Rogation Sunday Service in 2013 and 2014).
• Billy the donkey joins us for our Palm Sunday Service in Carrigaline each year and the entire congregation walks out of the church, down the road, through a housing estate, into the rectory grounds for an outdoor reading from the day’s lectionary and then through the graveyard back into the church.
• On Easter Sunday in 2013, 2014 and 2015, we joined with our sister church in Monkstown for an ecumenical dawn service which celebrated the Risen Christ out of doors by the sea.
• We hold an Animal Blessing Service in Carrigaline on the Sunday nearest the feast of St Francis of Assisi.
• We are involved in our parish school’s Green Flag initiative.
• Since 2013, we have had an annual sponsored ‘parish and school walk’ which joins up with An Taisce’s National Spring Clean initiative. All of the participants pick up rubbish as they walk. Rubbish bags are then collected free of charge by the local council.
• We had a Flower Festival at Pentecost 2013 in Carrigaline, celebrating the wonderful diversity of flowers. The theme was ‘The Fruit of the Spirit’. Plants were sold at this event and we advertised the availability of allotments in our local community.
• We have planted daffodil bulbs (a gift from the local Tidy Towns committee) in our properties to enhance the look of the area for the Tidy Towns competition.
• The Rector organised a Dawn Chorus event in Currabinny Wood within the parish boundaries in May 2015. This was an ecumenical event, with the Roman Catholic parish priests from Carrigaline and Monkstown joining in. Over 50 people took part in what we hope will now be an annual event.
The parish supports several global charities, some of which are involved in mitigating the effects of climate change on vulnerable communities (these charities include: Christian Aid, United Society and Feed the Minds).
1. For the text of the Charter, see website of the Diocese of Cashel, Ferns and Ossory. (http://cashel.anglican.org/?page_id=14650
Clonakilty Methodist Church
In Clonakilty Methodist Church we began our Eco-Congregation journey in 2004 when members met together to undertake an ‘environmental check-up’. We started by noting down the existing activities of the church and to what extent the environment played a part in these activities. We chose the following five areas to concentrate on as we worked towards achieving an Eco-Congregation Ireland Award:
• Creation and Christianity – in our regular and special church services we highlighted our stewardship of God’s creation and included prayers for environmental issues; we held a children’s summer club titled, ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’.
• Financial Matters – we switched to a greener electricity supplier and worked on reducing the amount of electricity used, including low energy lighting options in the church. We also reduced the number of lights used and the length of time they were in use for services.
• Care of Church Grounds and Land – we cleared the back yard to make a garden (in which we no longer use synthetic chemical weed-killers); we planted trees to commemorate special services such as baptisms and confirmations. At Christmas, we have a living Christmas tree in the church, and then we transfer the tree into the garden for the rest of the year.
• Personal Lifestyles – we encouraged church members to reduce, reuse, recycle and compost, to use long-life shopping bags; to plan better for car-journeys, including using car-pooling as a option; to use eco-friendly cleaning products; to purchase L.O.A.F. products (that is, products that are locally produced, organic, seasonally available and fresh); and to join local groups such as ‘Sustainable Clonakilty’ and ‘Grow Your Own’).
• Global Neighbours – we encouraged church members to purchase Fairtrade products; we fostered links with asylum seekers in Clonakilty Lodge; we created an awareness of the impact of climate change on developing countries and hosted an annual charity craft fair (to raise money for Tearfund, Christian Aid, and CAPHA, Centre for Artists Handicapped Physically, Ivory Coast) to which we invited speakers from developing countries and at which we served Fairtrade products.
Thanks to our then minister’s championing of the cause, the mindset of the congregation changed over time and we all became more aware of local and global environmental issues. In 2008, we were the first church in the Republic of Ireland to receive an Eco-Congregation Ireland Award.
Towards our Second Award
We were aware that this was an on-going project and there was still much to do so we appointed a member of the congregation as an ‘Eco-Champion’ to keep us on our toes! He encouraged us by including an ‘Eco-Tip’ in each Sunday Service and displaying it on our new notice board (made locally with local timber) outside the church so that passers-by could see it throughout the week.
In the church buildings, we continued to make changes so that we as a church community would be kinder to the environment. We began to turn off the lights in the church on the brighter days during spring, summer and autumn. Solar lamps were installed on the pulpit and beside the organ. When our old boiler broke down we replaced it with a new, more efficient, one and reduced the length of time it is running. We reclaimed more waste space at the back of the church and re-designed the garden (with more trees, eco-friendly gravel pathways and raised flower beds including plants to attract bees, butterflies and insects). The garden is now a wonderful facility and is used to host outdoor events.
In the church and at home we began to use a wider range of green cleaning and Fairtrade products and recycling facilities. We purchased a compost bin. The plaster on the wall outside the church was stripped to reveal beautiful natural stone.
In 2013, we were the first church in Ireland to receive a second Eco-Congregation Award. Representatives of Eco-Congregation Ireland came to present us with our wooden plaque (made from recycled church pews) and a bag of bio-charcoal for our garden! After the ceremony, members of the congregation, along with local organisations involved in environmental projects, joined together for a L.O.A.F. meal. We received national recognition when RTE Six One News included a short piece on our eco achievements.
Since 2013, we have continued to look for ways to reduce our use of resources – for example, installing a data projector which is operated through a reconditioned laptop: this reduces printing and paper usage. We have installed timers on the water heaters. We encourage all those who decorate the church with flowers for Sunday Service to use what they have in their own garden and/or use what is in the church garden first before buying imported expensive flowers. We have spoken about the possibility of installing solar panels or a wind turbine in the future. We have discussed purchasing a water butt to save rain water, using water hippos to reduce the amount of water used in toilets and installing aerators for taps.
We also continue to encourage members of the church to find ways to ‘reduce and re-use’ in their own lives – for example, to consider their heating options and reduce the use of fossil fuels; to use non-peat firelighters; to consider where and how the clothes they buy are produced and when finished with them to donate them to charities, to consider more fuel efficient models as options if purchasing a car.
The journey is not over – we plan to keep environmental issues in the minds of the congregation, to continue the work we have done to date and endeavour to come up with new and fresh ideas. We will continue to encourage one another to take care of the beautiful planet which God provided for us, remembering the words of the Psalm: ‘The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it’ (Psalm 24:1; New International Version).
Fitzroy Presbyterian Church
Fitzroy Caring for Creation
The environmental work of Fitzroy Presbyterian Church in Belfast city emerged from Fitzroy’s existing work with Clonard Monastery, under the ‘Clonard/Fitzroy Fellowship’. As part of the programme of activities of the Fellowship, we asked Sr Catherine Brennan of Eco-Congregation Ireland to speak to the group on the theme of the environment and reconciliation. This excited the interest of a number of members of the group, so they spoke about it in the wider church circle and from this emerged a desire to expand the Fellowship’s work of reconciliation to include the environment.
A meeting open to people from both churches was arranged to see what interest there was in pursuing this issue and what they would like to do. Everyone who attended shared experiences and perspectives and indicated the issues that interested them. Out of this, Fitzroy Caring for Creation group was set up in 2009; all the members of the group were from Fitzroy Church.
Inspiring Principles and Core Features
Fitzroy Caring for Creation (FCfC) started out as a small group of people who shared a passion for creation and a concern for its well-being. Initially, we had a core group of about six to eight, with links to others who also had an interest in creation. This core group met monthly to monitor progress in current projects and to start work or research on any future projects.
From the beginning, an important feature of the group has been that it is led by ordinary members of the congregation – it is not a top-down group initiated by the Kirk Session. After it was set up, the group wrote to the Kirk Session to seek its support; this was given, but the driving force remained the members of the group itself, and it was left to them to decide the direction the work of the group should take.
The group is based on co-operative values without an individual leader. Having various skills and talents, we co-operate and we complement each other. We try to meet each month and tend to arrange our meetings via emails; our minister and Clerk of Session are also included in any relevant emails, as are members of the congregation who have registered an interest in the group but are unable to attend the meetings because of other commitments.
Activities and Award
We used the resources of Eco-Congregation Ireland website to get us started, compiling the suggested ‘audit’ to identify where we were strong and where there were gaps. This showed up several gaps in our eco-awareness and practice.
We decided not to be a group that focused inwardly on Fitzroy but, rather, we would go out and visit other churches in Belfast, as well as individuals, we knew had similar interests. And so we spent time building relationships with other groups and churches – we visited St Molua’s parish in East Belfast (this was first church on the island of Ireland to receive an Eco-Congregation Ireland Award) and other churches and church groups to see what they had done and to get ideas for how we could start becoming more environmentally-friendly. We were keen also to network with other churches and groups to promote an eco-congregation approach. In addition, we sought to address the wider Presbyterian community in south Belfast through meeting with the South Belfast Presbytery.
Following our self-assessment through the audit and the initiation of a number of eco-friendly initiatives, the group submitted an application for an Eco-Congregation Ireland Award. The subsequent visit and assessment by Eco-Congregation led to Fitzroy becoming, in 2011, the first Presbyterian Church in Ireland to gain an Eco-Congregation Award.
Some of the practical changes that Fitzroy Caring for Creation has been part of include:
Flowers: We spent time getting about 20 large troughs built to place around the church premises. These troughs were filled with soil and we then planted them with annual flowers. Fitzroy is located in a rather bleak urban setting – there is little of the natural world evident in the vicinity. Having 20 troughs filled with flowers and shrubs really helped to soften the look of the area, brought along lots of insects and bees to feed off the flowers, drew the attention of passers-by to the church and improved the look of the church grounds.
Cleaning: We switched to using eco-friendly hand soaps, cleaning products, and toilet rolls.
Energy Saving: We changed all of the light bulbs in the main church to energy-saver bulbs (most of the bulbs in the halls were already energy-saving).
Recycling: We started weekly recycling of paper, plastic and tins in the church and church halls. Three separate bags are now available beside the main bin, so that people can appropriately dispose of council-recycled products.
Environmental Message: We had a notice area in the corridor of the church to promote our message and provide information on new initiatives. We have also led a Harvest Service on Caring for Creation themes, as well as other environmental slots in services throughout the year.
Reduce: We have tried to reduce the size of our Order of Service printouts each week. The front page is no longer just a presentation page but also contains the start of the Order of Service. The words of all hymns/songs are no longer printed in every Order of Service handout: instead, there are now just a few copies of the words printed for people who struggle to read the words from the screen at the front of the church. We have reduced the quantity of paper used by 50%, although there are some larger print versions for those with a visual impairment.
Fairtrade: We have maintained our Fairtrade status, encouraging the use of Fairtrade tea and coffee throughout the church. We use ceramic mugs and cups after church services on Sundays and try to use biodegradable paper cups at other meetings.
Nature: In 2010 there were five Sunday afternoon church walks with an emphasis on being aware of our surroundings – and some practical recycling! Each walk examined a different eco-system, for example, woodland, wetland, coastline. In 2011, four walks were arranged: Carnmoney Hill (April); Helen’s Tower, Conlig (May); Cavehill (June); Scrabo Country Park (September). These walks were led by a member of the congregation who is a keen amateur botanist.
Eco Network: As stated previously, we are interested in the wider community outside the doors of Fitzroy. To this end, we initiated the setting up a wider network of churches and groups to promote environmental/creation work across Belfast – networking laterally. This group meets every six months or so with representatives from about eight different churches and is a forum for individuals and churches/church groups to meet and hear from one another. Our discussions have ranged from practical matters (such as environmentally-friendly cleaning products) to more structural issues, such as the struggle to persuade church authorities and members of congregations to give more serious attention to the issue of care for creation. The support of Eco-Congregation Ireland in promoting these events has been very helpful.
We in Fitzroy are coming towards the completion of a large extension of our premises; this work has meant that many of our facilities have not been in use over the last year. We have tried to include a number of environmentally-friendly and cost-efficient ideas in the new build – for example, zoned heating and movement sensors to turn lights on and off.
Like all groups, we have lost some members over the years, and with the church facilities not available during the past year we have not been very active. With the new premises opening in autumn 2015, it will be a time to renew our activities, so we are hopeful for the future.
Rathfarnham Quaker Meeting
Are you concerned that man’s increasing power over nature should not be used irresponsibly but with reverence for life and with a sense of the splendour of God’s continuing creation?
Try to live simply. A simple lifestyle freely chosen is a source of strength. Do not be persuaded into buying what you do not need or cannot afford. Do you keep yourself informed about the effects your style of living is having on the global economy and environment?
These are the words of two of the Advices and Queries on which members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) are encouraged to reflect from time to time. Quakers, who in the early days were known as Friends of the Truth, have ‘testimonies’ which point to the way we attempt to lead our lives by putting faith into action. The testimonies have changed over the years, according to the times in which Quakers have lived. At one time, there were testimonies with regard to slavery, capital punishment and taking oaths, but in the past century the focus has been primarily on the testimonies of peace, simplicity, equality and integrity.
In 2009, two members of Cork Quaker Meeting visited Rathfarnham Meeting and delivered an informative and challenging talk on environmental care. Denise Gabuzda linked creation care to the testimonies, emphasising especially those of simplicity and peace. She shared with us also how some Quakers, especially in America, were beginning to talk about environmental care as an emerging testimony. Natasha Harty, who at that time was the Quaker representative on the Eco-Congregation Ireland committee, shared how Cork Quakers had undertaken practical steps to incorporate earth care into the life of their Meeting, including planting an orchard in the grounds of their graveyard and promoting locally-grown fruit and vegetables.
Natasha and Denise’s presentation struck a chord with many members of Rathfarnham and prompted several of us to form an Eco Committee for the Rathfarnham Meeting to consider what steps we could take to incorporate creation care into the life of our Meeting.
One of our first actions was to complete Eco-Congregation Ireland’s ‘Church Check-up’, which is the first section of its online resources (www.ecocongregationireland.com).
We found this an encouraging exercise as it helped us identify what we were already doing – for example, recycling, using low-energy light bulbs, and using delph rather than disposable cups. We met with the warden of the Meeting to work out a plan to take further steps and we found that working through the check-list had already given us plenty of ideas.
In order to save water, we put water containers into the toilet cisterns and, to support renewable energy, we switched to Airtricity. We made a commitment to buy only eco-friendly soap, washing-up liquid, toilet rolls and cleaning products and to purchase Fairtrade-labelled tea and coffee.
In the garden of our Meeting House, we dug a herb garden and planted four fruit trees. All members of the Meeting – from toddlers to people over 90 – got involved in digging, wheelbarrowing, planting and nurturing. Our gardening was a small step towards local resilience, to be sure, but also a great way to strengthen bonds of friendship in the Meeting. It was hoped too that by growing herbs and fruit in our garden, members of the Meeting would be encouraged to grow produce at home, thus reducing food miles to food metres.
In order to encourage biodiversity, we allowed some of the lawn to grow into a natural meadow and in 2011 this became home to three bee-hives. Given the precarious position of bees in the world today and how essential they are to the balance of nature, it is satisfying to be able to accommodate bees in this way and to enjoy the fruits of their labour – including natural lip balm as well as delicious honey. We also installed a water butt, which is convenient for watering the herbs and trees.
From time to time, Junior Meeting sessions with our children and teenagers focus on environmental topics – covering everything from fair trade and recycling to the importance of rainforests. They joined in Stop Climate Chaos’s ‘Ring the Changes’ action in 2009 and over the years have organised fundraising events for environmental charities such as VITA and Rainforest Concern. One year, the children and young people made an Easter Garden using natural materials and, more recently, they made a climate change ‘love tree’ on which they hung hearts with pictures/words depicting things they love which are currently under threat from climate change – including their families, favourite beaches, and chocolate.
We have found too that environmental care is a great way to engage with members of the local community and other churches. We have invited local people to join us in a number of initiatives, including litter picks and candle-lit vigils to mark Earth Hour on the last Saturday of March. We hope the vigils will become an annual event: there is something powerful in joining with people locally and across the globe in switching off lights to save energy and, in so doing, promoting awareness of the urgent need for carbon reduction.
In December 2011, we were delighted to become the first Quaker Meeting in Ireland to receive an Eco-Congregation Ireland Award. Since then, we have continued to strive to keep earth care in our sights. For example, in summer 2014, we held a Plant-a-Seed Day for the children and in the autumn they planted 100 daffodil bulbs. In autumn 2015, they will make lavender bags, using lavender from the herb garden, and they are also intending to make pictures for a 2016 calendar with a ‘Save the Earth’ theme. We are also planning an eco-stall for the Open Day we will be holding on 4 October 2015 where we will invite visitors to write carbon-reducing pledges on footprints; these we will use to make a giant collage, which will be displayed so that it can be seen by all the different groups who use the premises.
Members of the Rathfarnham Meeting will also continue to take part in events and campaigns organised by Eco Quakers Ireland and Stop Climate Chaos. We believe it is crucial that we continue to work together with other groups – locally, nationally and internationally – especially in the run-up to the crucial UN climate talks taking place in Paris in November-December 2015.
Ciara Harrison is a member of the Rathfarnham Quaker Meeting Eco Committee.
Nurturing Creation in Balally
Balally Parish Environment Group
Over many years, there has been a growing awareness in Balally Parish of the threat to humankind posed by climate change; of the reckless way we humans abuse the natural environment and of the fact that the people who suffer most from the effects of climate change are those who live in developing countries, i.e., the people who have contributed least to the problem.
People in the parish began to recognise that, as Pope John Paul II said in 1990, there is a new consciousness throughout society ‘that world peace is threatened, not only by the arms race, regional conflicts and continued injustices among peoples and nations, but also by a lack of due respect for nature, by the plundering of natural resources and by a progressive decline in the quality of life’.1
Some parishioners were motivated to come together to seek ‘to recover the gift of the Spirit in creation, in the earth, in each other, and in our Christian communities so that we may together be inspired and empowered to heal a planet in peril.’2
For many years, strong leadership on environmental concerns has been given by the parish team led by Monsignor Dermot Lane, the Parish Priest of Balally. Monsignor Lane has a long history of presenting a Christian theological understanding of humankind’s role in the continuing act of God’s creation in his homilies, liturgies, lectures and writing. He encouraged the parish affiliation to the Three Rock Churches’ Environment Group, an ecumenical grouping of seven church communities located in the shadow of Three Rock Mountain.
Since 2008, the Parish Pastoral Council has included in its objectives a determination to increase awareness of climate change; to engage actively with other local Christian communities in developing a Christian response to climate change and to engage actively with the Eco-Congregation Ireland programme.
Balally Parish Environment Group
Encouraged by this parish leadership, a parish environmental group became active. We participated in the Eco-Congregation Ireland bell-ringing initiative on 8 December 2007 (in connection with the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali); we marked Earth Hour in March 2008 and mounted an exhibition in the church on the effects of climate change; with Eco-Congregation and Three Rock Churches’ Environment Group we hosted an Ecumenical Prayer Service.
The group was formally launched in October 2010 as BEG (Balally Parish Environment Group).
The Group adopted the following mission statement:
• that as Christians we have a role to play in God’s continuing work of creation;
• that our lifestyles are causing immeasurable damage to the natural environment;
• that we are placing in jeopardy the future of generations as yet unborn;
• that vulnerable people in the developing world are currently suffering from drought, flood, famine, illness and dislocation as a consequence of our lifestyle choices.
We intend to act on our responsibility as Christians to care for God’s creation by:
• making appreciation of and care for God’s creation an integral part of our parish liturgies;
• participating in ecumenical environmental initiatives;
• informing ourselves and our parish community of the ways in which we can participate in initiatives to promote sustainable living, both local and global;
• promoting awareness of our duty to future generations as well as towards the poorest people of the world who are suffering the adverse effects of the unsustainable lifestyles of richer countries.
Responding to its mandate from the Parish Pastoral Council and its own mission statement, BEG engages in a range of activities with the aim of raising awareness of the environmental crisis, and awareness of how we as Christians together might address the situation.
• We contribute prayers on an environmental theme to be regularly included in the Prayers of the Faithful at Sunday Masses.
• We organise special ‘Creation Masses’, in consultation with the parish liturgy committee, on significant dates each year (for example, World Environment Day) when the homily, the offertory procession, the hymns, the Prayers of the Faithful and the Communion Reflection are all chosen to reflect an environmental theme.
• With Eco-Congregation Ireland and Three Rock Churches’ Environment Group, we hosted an Ecumenical Prayer Service for the success of the Durban Climate Change Conference in December 2011. We attend similar liturgies organised by other church groups.
• To coincide with the Summit on Climate Change in September 2009, we organised a climate change lunchtime prayer service accompanied by the ringing of the church bell.
• To mark World Environment Day in October 2010 we erected in the church a simple structure made of light branches, bamboo, and garden netting, and covered it with leaves, flowers, fruit, and Fairtrade items. The inspiration for this initiative was the Jewish feast of Sukkot, marking harvest time and the wandering in the desert of the ancestors of the Jews (Lev. 23:42–43). Our aim was to draw attention to the plight of so many Africans today who are being driven from their land by advancing desertification.
• After our Creation liturgy in October 2012 we organised a public talk, ‘Treading Lightly on the Earth’, by environmentalist and broadcaster Éanna Ní Lamhna, followed by a question and answer session.
• We distribute bulbs to all members of the congregation as they leave Mass on ‘Balally Plant a Bulb Day’. We encourage people to plant the bulb at home as a symbol of our appreciation of the beauty of creation and of our belief in the future flourishing which will result from hopeful seeds sown in darkness. This project commenced in 2010 and our purpose was to lift spirits at a time of deep depression in our country. In 2014, people had the option of planting the bulbs in a new flower bed which had been prepared for this purpose outside the church. In 2015, they were encouraged to plant the bulbs at home.
• For Creation Time in 2014 we held an evening of music, poetry, and prayer to accompany a PowerPoint presentation of the many wonderful facets of our natural world.
We recognise that, in order to make a meaningful contribution to environmental protection, we and our parish community need to keep abreast of changes and proposals for changes that have the potential to impact on the environment for better or for worse. There is, therefore, an information element in all of our input to liturgies and community projects.
• Individually, we attend conferences, seminars, public meetings; we visit relevant websites and read books and articles on environmental issues.
• We regularly publish climate change material in the weekly Parish Newsletter and also in the monthly Three Rock Panorama Community Magazine (circulation 1,700 in the area from Dundrum to Enniskerry and from Leopardstown to Glencullen).
• We display posters relating to nature, the environment and climate change in the church from time to time.
• We display notices in the church to inform parishioners of events and activities of environmental interest.
• In the lead-up to the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference in December 2009, we organised a petition, which was presented to the then Minister for the Environment, urging that the Irish Government representatives at the Conference would press for a meaningful agreement on climate change. A book for signatures to the petition was available in the church over a number of weeks to give parishioners an opportunity to be associated with the initiative.
• We publicise and support initiatives by agencies, such as Trócaire, which work for climate justice.
• Each year, as our Lenten priority, we adopt the theme of that year’s Trócaire campaign and plan our initiative around it.
• We engage our schools in a variety of ways. Surplus bulbs from the annual ‘Balally Plant a Bulb Day’ are distributed to the schools to assist them in the greening of their school.
• Following the building of our Parish Pastoral Centre we worked with a group of children from Queen of Angels School in planting a flower bed outside the church/pastoral centre in preparation for the visit of the President of Ireland for the official opening of the Pastoral Centre, in January 2013. Subsequently, at a school assembly, a member of BEG presented each child who had participated in the work with a certificate signed by the Parish Priest and the Chair of BEG.
• Our two parish schools partnered us in our Lenten project, ‘A School Child’s Environmental Pledge for Lent in 2013’. The children were asked to select a simple task from a list and pledge to do that selected task for the week, then select another task for the following week, and so on for each week of Lent. Different lists were prepared for the younger and older children. The lists also contained a gentle reminder, to those who could afford it, to put a little money in the Trócaire box that week.
• We worked with residents of Wedgewood Estate in a clean-up of the area surrounding the local Scout Den and in preparing the ground for planting.
• On an ongoing basis, we collect used batteries and used stamps in the church porch. The batteries are delivered to the Laura Lynn Foundation and the used stamps to a local school. Both batteries and stamps are used for fundraising.
• We have been represented on Three Rock Churches’ Environment Group (TRCEG) and have participated in its activities over the years. In summer 2008, our church was the venue for a dislay of posters created by children from seven local primary schools who participated in the TRCEG-organised ‘Make a Poster’ initiative, the theme of which was ‘Cherishing Creation’. Two ecumenical Eco Services were held in Balally Church under the auspices of TRCEG and more recently some meetings of the group were held in our new Pastoral Centre.
Practical Parish Arrangements
• Use of paper is kept to a minimum in the parish office, by employing alternatives such as texting and emailing where appropriate. When printing is necessary, it is done on both sides of the page, if feasible. Waste pages are used when preparing machines for print runs and for testing before printing commences.
• BEG encourages the use of Fairtrade products by providing the Pastoral Centre café with Fairtrade tea and coffee.
• A member of BEG was actively involved in the planning and overseeing of the development of the new Pastoral Centre. Sustainability was a key consideration in its design and construction. Heating is provided through the use of solar panels.
Current BEG Activities
• In late spring 2015, Balally Parish applied for a Eco-Congregation Ireland Award, and in the subsequent assessment was successful. This Award will be formally presented in autumn 2015.
• For Earth Day 2015 (Wednesday, 22 April 2015), fourteen posters, one for each Station of the Cross, and containing relevant (climate change related) quotations by a variety of well- known philosophers were mounted on the walls of the church, and remained there throughout the summer months.
• BEG was involved in supporting Balally Parish in hosting a conference in Balally Pastoral Centre (18–19 September 2015) on Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home.
1.Pope John Paul II, ‘Peace with God the Creator, Peace with all of Creation’, Message for the Celebration of World Day of Peace, 1 January 1990. (http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/messages/peace/documents/hf_jp-ii_mes_19891208_xxiii-world-day-for-peace_en.html)
2. Dermot A. Lane, ‘Discerning the Holy Spirit in the Life of Creation’, Doctrine and Life, Vol. 62, No. 2, February 2012. The article is the text of Fr Lane’s sermon at an ecumenical service organised by Eco-Congregation Ireland in the Church of the Ascension, Balally Parish, 1 December 2011, in the context of the UN Climate Change Conference, Durban, South Africa.