The Big Challenge: Having faith in an eco-friendly life

The UK's first air quality garden, containing plant species that are sensitive to ozone pollution, was planted in a dedicated area at the Sheffield Botanical Gardens in back in June. Three months on those involved in the project and the children from Porter Croft Primary who helped plant the garden are returning to study how the plants have been affected.

The UK's first air quality garden, containing plant species that are sensitive to ozone pollution, was planted in a dedicated area at the Sheffield Botanical Gardens in back in June. Three months on those involved in the project and the children from Porter Croft Primary who helped plant the garden are returning to study how the plants have been affected.

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“My ongoing aim is to get everyone to realise the size of the crisis that’s rapidly coming up behind, in front of and on top of us,” said Chris Lowry.

“I’d like to get everyone to appreciate that it’s a crisis which each one of us plays a part in solving, and also that many of the world’s current problems are inter-related.

Autumnal scenes on Psalter Lane in Sheffield.

Autumnal scenes on Psalter Lane in Sheffield.

“So, for example, if we care about poverty in the developing world, we also need to care about climate change.

“In recent years, I’ve noticed a big change in the words that big organisations like Oxfam, Christian Aid and Cafod are using in their campaigns, where they make this link very clear.”

Chris believes that, like all major world faiths, the responsibility of caring for the planet is important to Christian thinking. She attends St Andrew’s Psalter Lane Church in Nether Edge, which is applying for the eco-church award launched earlier this year by conservation organisation A Rocha, which has a religious ethos.

The accolade is the successor to the organisation’s eco-congregation award, which Chris’s church achieved twice during the last decade. Becoming an eco-church involves completing a survey, which gives a rating of bronze, silver or gold in five areas – worship, land and grounds, buildings, community and global, and lifestyle.

Chris explained that the worship section was ‘about why it is important that church congregations look after the world’, while the buildings section was proving to be the most challenging.

“Churches are not usually eco-friendly buildings, given their size, height and age. But we can consider things small and great; everything from low-energy light bulbs, cycle racks and Fairtrade coffee, to solar panels or insulation. The issues over what we can reasonably do – and afford – are the same as for all of us in our houses; we should honour sincerely our remit to consider seriously what is possible.”

Community and global was ‘about relating theology and practice to our relationship with our local and wider neighbours’, and the lifestyle category addressed ‘those decisions we all make about energy usage in our homes’.

“The process is affirming and encouraging. It’s helped us give ourselves pats on the back for things we already do well.”

She added: “If I had a magic wand, it would be a ‘reality wand’, so we would all see the climate situation as it really is. We all can see that the weather is very strange, and not just in the UK.

“Some of this changed weather is very pleasant at the time – like the beautiful autumn we’ve had this year – but, as a young man said to me recently, it’s not natural.”

But Chris questioned how society can change without individuals taking personal responsibility.

“Unless we each recognise the true price of our lovely lifestyle, we’re often told (loud and clear) about how the planet is doomed in the lifetime of our children and grandchildren.

“To ignore that is a huge responsibility! I feel that it’s generally easier for us to recognise our part in something when it’s personal.”

The renewed controversy over tree felling in Sheffield had helped to remind people of the ‘positive effects’ of greenery.

“We are very proud here of being a Green City – but we have areas where air quality is regularly very poor.

“Can we use some of our enthusiasm for trees, parks and nature to think beyond the particular tree we love walking past on our way to work/school/ the park, and think wider about all the reasons why trees are important to our lives? I love looking at trees, but I’m also aware how much trees benefit our air quality and how they ‘drink up’ rainwater.”

Chris reflected: “As an incomer, and someone who grew up in the northern Irish countryside, I love the almost rural feel of areas on the edge of the city centre, the variety of parks, the nearness of the Peak District and the general friendliness and camaraderie of my fellow Sheffield residents.”

* Visit Our Activities, Eco Church for details of the eco-church scheme.