So, how was the Irish Churches Creation Care Conference? Reports by Canon Andrew Orr and Rev Trevor Sargent

Rev Trevor Sargent

On Friday, April 8th, the Church of Ireland Church and Society Commission hosted a well-organized and fully booked conference called the Irish Churches on Creation Care, at Dromantine Conference Centre, near Newry, Co. Down. Rev. Canon Andrew Orr, one of the organizers, and Chairperson of Eco-Congregation Ireland, welcomed all those attending, citing two reasons for the Conference. Firstly, creation care is one timely way of following Christ’s mission, ‘through whom all things are made’, (John 1:2). Secondly, the latest United Nations International Panel on Climate Change Report states that, while technically it is still possible to maintain global temperature rise to the 1.5 – 2 degree celsius safe limit for a liveable planet, that window of opportunity is closing fast.

Attending the conference are, the Right Rev. George Davison, Bishop of Connor, the Right Rev. Andrew Forster, Bishop of Derry & Raphoe, Rev. Canon Andrew Orr, organizer, and the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, the Right Rev. John Mc Dowell.

What can Parishes do to Practically Care for Creation?

Dr Ruth Valerio, Director of Global Advocacy and Influencing at Tearfund, (pictured below), gave a workshop drawing on her wide experience of working with organisations such as Eco-Congregation internationally. Dr Valerio, who is also a Canon Theologian at Rochester Cathedral in England, observed that projects to care for creation can transform churches and communities in many good ways.

Examples:

A church in Brighton uses some parish land for a vegetable garden.

Gateway Church in Leeds, held a Climate Sunday Service, which led to an Eco-Team being formed to  improve building efficiency, and land biodiversity, using the Tearfund Climate Emergency Toolkit.

The Eternal Faith Church in India has set up a community garden.

A church in the Mansioni District of Tanzania, which had no electricity supply, has set up a ‘self-help group’, to develop photovoltaic (PV) power generation, and a poultry enterprise.

A church in Portadown has planted one acre of parish land with a mixture of sunflowers, linseed and flax, with the objective of providing food and habitat for birds, as well as generating income from sales of cut sunflowers. The profits will be used to install PV solar panels on the south facing church roof, to reduce heating and lighting costs in the future.

Four Church Leaders made Presentations

Rev. Dr. Sahr Yambasu, (pictured below,) President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, and Superintendent of St Patrick’s Waterford Circuit, spoke about the hidden human costs of mining for resources which are needed for technologies which help us transition away from fossil fuels.  He suggested that the Fair Trade certification, currently on some food products, be extended to metals and other raw materials, so that workers in Africa, for example, could be guaranteed fair wages, good conditions, and proper rehabilitation of  mined lands.

Rev. Dr David Bruce, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland spoke about listening well, and working in partnership with to the stakeholders in the work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, thinking especially of those working in food production.

Bishop Martin Hayes, Laudato Si’ coordinating bishop for the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, spoke about training up ‘animators’ to work with local parishes (of any denomination) on projects to make parish life more sustainable.

Archbishop John McDowell, the Church of Ireland Primate of All Ireland admitted that the churches have been ‘late to the party’ when it comes to eco-action, but ‘we are here now’! ‘Our job’, he stated, ‘was ultimately to change the unsustainable culture we have, rather than tinkering with the rules’.

Young People Appeal for Less Talk and More Action

The conference heard from secondary school and college students from both Ireland and the United Kingdom.

Tori Trower and Isabella Rowden-Kelly from All Saints’ Parish, Mullingar, and Wilson’s Hospital School, inspired all at the conference with their climate action project called, ‘Lighten our Darkness by Numbers’. Separately, they also run biodiversity enhancing projects across twelve churchyards in County Westmeath, called, ‘God’s Gardens of Hope’.

Hannah Malcolm, a Church of England ordinand, asked the question of each of us, ‘How will our young people know that the Church loves them?’

Rosalind Skillen, a young journalist who works with Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful and the Belfast Telegraph, noted that, from the number of climate action demonstrations she has attended, it would be encouraging for her as a Christian, if more Christians turned up.

Tori Trower and Isabella Rowden-Kelly from All Saints Church, Mullingar, are warmly applauded after their presentations.

The Irish Churches Creation Care Conference also featured case study from Shankill, Co. Dublin, presented by Mr Justin Kilcullen, who led the Irish development agency, Trócaire, for 20 years. Mr Kilcullen now works with various denominations under an umbrella organisation called S.A.G.E. (Shankill Action for a Green Earth).

Actions by S.A.G.E:

Hosted three election hustings for political candidates.

Affiliated SAGE to the Stop Climate Chaos organisation.

Engaged the Sustainable Energy Authority (SEAI) to carry out an energy audit on church buildings, and cost the improvements needed. Ceiling fans have now been installed in churches which retrieve the rising hot air in church and return it to where people are sitting!

Devise eco-actions for Lent, under the headings, energy, care for the earth and biodiversity. Parishioners are invited to pick one eco-action and to undertake this during Lent.

SAGE runs educational ‘biodiversity walks’.

Churches host the Eco-Congregation special Climate Candle.

Below, enjoying a chat are Rev. David White, Rector of the Carlow Union, and Mr Justin Kilcullen, of St Anne’s Parish, Shankill, Co. Dublin.

Christian Aid Launched a Campaign to Help Victims of Climate Chaos

In advance of the next COP 27 meeting to be held in Egypt next November, Christian Aid, is calling for a realistic increase in financial support for poorer developing countries, and the creation of a new international fund for climate-related loss and damage.

To find out more, email dublin@christian-aid.org or phone 01 4967040. Below is a slide from the Christian Aid presentation.

Canon Andrew Orr

The Irish Churches Creation Care Conference was held in the wonderful surroundings of Dromantine Retreat House, Newry. It was organised and sponsored by The Church of Ireland’s Church and Society Commission but had a diverse range of speakers from many different denominations.  The day was booked out several weeks in advance with over 100 people taking part.

The day began with a recorded welcome from Prof Katharine Hayhoe, one of the world’s leading climate scientists who works with the Us Nature Conservancy. The keynote speaker was Old Testament scholar Dr Chris Wright who took us on a deep dive into the Hebrew scriptures’ texts, showing how care for creation is seen as honouring the creator, and that biodiversity demonstrates “the fullness of God”.

 Workshops followed from Christian Aid’s Bob Kikuyu and Tear Fund’s Ruth Valerio reminding us that “Forget making poverty history: climate change will make poverty permanent”. 

After lunch, a panel of Church leaders: Archbishop John McDowell, Dr Sahr Yambasu, Dr. David Bruce and Bishop Martin Hayes spoke about what the churches should do next, with really positive messages of Commitment and urgency.  However, They were upstaged by two teenagers from Meath and Kildare, Tori and Isabelle, who spoke of their plans and initiatives to improve biodiversity and fight climate change in their local area.

Two more workshops followed on practical action from Justin Kilcullen, and from Hannah Malcolm on young people and climate justice. A final plenary quiz and closing remarks from Archbishop McDowell brought the day to a close.

With stands from Tear Fund, A Rocha, Christian Aid, Trocaire and the RSPB among others, there was plenty for participants to browse during the refreshments. And of course Eco Congregation was well represented in a ll the talks.

All in all, it was a great day, with a mixture of theology, practical action and a wide range of voices. Huge thanks to all the organisers for their behind the scenes work.