Environmental concerns are often assigned low priority at many parishes as congregations cope with the immediate needs — light, heat, maintenance — of church buildings and grounds. The diocese of Ottawa’s ecology and theology working group would like to change that and has produced a handbook called Renewing our Relationship with the Earth: A Guide, What You and Your Church Can Do.
Written by Kate Davies, an environmental consultant and member of the working group, the handsomely-produced 48-page book notes that stewardship of land, water and air are not only a matter of self-interest, but also a matter of faith.
In the booklet’s introduction, Bishop Peter Coffin, diocesan bishop of Ottawa, wrote that “in recent years, ‘environmental concerns’ by faith communities seem to have diminished, though happily not everywhere.” He added, “our Scriptures continually hearken back to the covenant with God to be stewards.”
The book defines the challenge, citing an increase in global warming, a decline in biodiversity, problems with land and water use and a rise in the production of toxic chemicals. However, individuals can make a difference at home and at church, it says.
For instance, the booklet lists environmentally-safe cleaning products for church buildings and recommends using live plants instead of cut flowers since plants can be re-planted in the garden.
The ecology and theology working group, an eight-member committee, was started about three years ago, said Cynthia Steers, the committee’s convener. “A group of us were at a Celtic retreat and we were discussing the environment and decided we couldn’t leave it there, or just make a report; we had to do something about it,” she said.
The group initiated the diocese’s Green Church Awards, given to parishes that demonstrate concern for the environment. So far, eight churches have been designated “green,” she said.
The inspiration for the booklet was that “we don’t seem to be doing much about the environment in the church and we should be,” said Ms. Steers. The group produced the booklet for less than $10,000 after receiving some support from the diocese and a $5,000 grant from the TD Bank’s Friends of the Environment Foundation.
The book includes a brief section on increasing environmental education and awareness: “Talk to the clergy about including ecology in church services. You could ask to pray for the earth or perhaps a sermon on ecology might help people to reflect on the need to protect the earth,” it reads. Subsequent chapters give practical suggestions for environmental stewardship at church, at home, in the garden and while shopping and using transportation. There is also a list of resources for further information.
About 500 copies were printed, said Ms. Steers. About half have already been sent to each parish in Ottawa, all 30 Anglican dioceses, other denominations and to General Synod, the church’s national office. On May 31, there will be a day-long workshop at St. John’s church in Richmond, Ont., near Ottawa, to discuss using the booklet, said Ms. Steers. Cost is $15 and further information is available from Ms. Steers at (613) 746-9927.
Renewing our Relationship with the Earth is currently available free from the parish and diocesan services office in Ottawa at (613) 233-6271, ext. 222. If a second printing is needed, Ms. Steers said, a charge might be levied.