Go Green and eco for God
A parish in the Diocese of Johannesburg is considered an eco-congregation when it has made a decision to take the journey mapped out in this document and thereby become aware of environmental issues facing us and the moral and ethical challenges to taking action towards addressing these issues. Any religious grouping anywhere in the world can and should commit itself to such a process, and many have already responded to the environmental and social justice issues they see around them and have taken on some form of environmental or sustainability programme. This is good.
However, in order to become a JAEI eco-congregation, a parish in the Diocese of Johannesburg needs to express an interest in the process, submit an eco-congregation data form, establish a leadership group and commit to achieving a number of objectives, as set out below. You will then be joining us and other parishes as we make the journey together.
How do we start?
We are indebted to the UK based Eco-Congregation Project and that website has many very useful resources that you can download (www.ecocongregation.org/englandwales), in fact we encourage you to download them and use them as part of your process. However, we will benefit if we collaborate and share insights and resources. For this reason we encourage parishes interested in becoming an eco-congregation to contact JAEI (www.jaei.org.za) and become part of the larger process. [Note: paper copies of documents can be made available to you if you don’t have easy access to the internet.]
Step 1: Indicate an interest
You need to contact JAEI to indicate interest in becoming an eco-congregation. Download the eco-congregation data form from the JAEI website for this. Note that the form needs to be signed by an authorised member of the parish council. It is important that the parish council and the rector are part of this process. We are in the process of identifying and gathering resources (and placing them on the website). These are one of the ways we will try to assist you to meet your objectives.
Step 2: Establish a leadership group
A key part of becoming an eco-congregation is to have a leadership group (it can go by whatever name you choose to call it). This group should consist of committed individuals rather than attempting to be representative of the various groupings in the parish. However, it is important to avoid having a small, isolated group of zealots doing their thing without any linkages or impact on the wider parish community, or outside of the authority structures of the congregation.
Submit the names and designations of your leadership group members to JAEI.
You are now a JAEI eco-congregation. But your exciting journey has only just begun!
Step 3: Carry out a parish eco-audit
The eco-audit, (which we can think of as a kind of check-up to assess your parish’s environmental status) is a required first step for your eco-congregation journey. We recommend that you use the booklet Creation Care (available on the JAEI website) which was developed for South African churches by Kate Davies. It draws on the UK project’s Module 1 – see their website, www.ecocongregation.org).
Creation Care is a resource to assist you to conduct an eco-audit of the main aspects of church and parish community life. The eco-audit should not be done by one small group on behalf of the parish, but should ideally be done by as many groups as possible, according to the specific category being examined. It would be especially effective if relevant sections were also done by home groups. The eco-audit should have an influence, not only on the church property and activities, but on what parishioners do in their homes and even their places of employment.
Once you have completed this audit you can develop a plan of action to take you further on your journey and towards a possible Eco-congregation Award. You should revisit the eco-audit periodically (at present we are suggesting an annual review, but this may be too onerous – time will tell). The review of your eco-audit will help you to monitor and assess progress.
Keep the results of your eco-audit and reviews. After a period of time (perhaps two years – this is still to be decided) you become eligible to apply for an Eco-congregation Award. Your eco-audits and reviews will need to be submitted as part of your Award application.
Step 4: Develop and implement a programme
Use your eco-audit to plan actions to improve your parish’s environmental status. This plan could consist of many different activities and projects. These are up to you, but should maintain diversity across the three main areas described two paragraphs down and also take into account the Award criteria at the end of this document. At the beginning you will feel all at sea and may be wallowing around a bit. That is normal. Once you have developed a plan of action, you will also find that it changes as you go. That is also normal. Importantly, keep it simple and don’t take on too much. You can get more ambitious as you gain experience. Keep your eco-audit results and reviews as well as your planned programmes for submission to JAEI in case you decide to apply for an Eco-congregation Award.
At this early stage of our journey together, and in addition to the all the other activities you plan, we are recommending that JAEI eco-congregations make use of Modules 2 to 12 on www.ecocongregation.org to help them work out their programmes. You could elect to work through all of the modules over a three year period, or just a selection, as you feel is appropriate. These modules are free resources and we have been encouraged to make use of them by the Eco-Congregation Project. Please note, though that we are not in the UK, but in a very different part of the world, with major developing world challenges. Our own responses to environmental issues should take account of our context, so while using these modules, do contextualise them and adapt them as necessary. In time we will develop our own material. We will give recognition to parishes who assist us in developing contextualised materials.
In your planning, bear in mind that you need to maintain a diversity of activities across the following main areas:
- worship and teaching – linking environmental issues with the Christian faith e.g. through services, children’s work or home groups. (UK Modules 2 – 6)
- practical – practising what is preached e.g. an energy, churchyard or recycling project. This includes personal and home lifestyle changes leading to reductions in ecological footprints of the parish and the parishioners. (UK modules 7 – 9)
- reaching out – working with or through your (i) local community on environmental issues e.g. a local conservation, water management or water quality project, a clean-up campaign, a project with a school or other community group, gaining positive publicity; (ii) national or global community e.g. advocacy for more sustainable energy options, fundraising and direct support for development projects, advocacy or direct involvement in sustainable and affordable housing. (UK Modules 10 – 12). Where possible, build partnerships with other congregations and eco-organisations.
Your programme should be planned with a long-term view in mind, and sustainability of effort and results. In order to apply for an Award (see below) you will need to have been a registered JAEI eco-congregation for [2?] years. So high intensity, short-term (and usually low-gain) efforts on their own are not encouraged. The criteria that will be used to assess eco-congregations for an Award are listed at the end of this document. Use them to guide your planning.
Step 5: Apply for an Award
After being active as an eco-congregation for a period of [2?] years you are eligible to apply for an Eco-congregation Award. The application form is available on the JAEI website.
Parishes must have undertaken one reasonably substantive piece of work or a number of smaller projects in each area. For their first Award, parishes may submit information on projects undertaken both prior to and since registering with JAEI. It is important that the parish is able to show that their environmental concern and activity is sustainable and ongoing. For this reason, the Award is renewable every [2?] years. With your application you will also need to submit your eco-audits, your plan(s) of action, reports of activities, newspaper articles if possible, photographs etc. – anything that provides evidence of a job well done.
These are some criteria that JAEI will use in assessing Award applications:
- Established a leadership group
- Conducted the eco-audit
- Developed a programme of action. Guidelines can be found on the JAEI website.
- Carried out a local project that involved significant numbers of people and had links with local community groups. Ideally this should have long-term impact and/or duration
- Held environmentally-related liturgical events at least twice per annum (e.g. linked to church or world environmental calendar)
- Held an annual educational event (e.g. educating parishioners or the local community)
- Evidence presented of sustained changes in lifestyle choices / commitments
- Environmental notice board / newsletter / communications mechanism
- Mission / outreach.
These will not be applied rigidly, and each eco-congregation will be assessed within their local context and in terms of available resources. As much as JAEI will be guided by these criteria, so should you use them to guide your planning.