UK churches strive for an environmentally 'green' Christmas

By Jo Siedlecka
Posted Dec 28, 2011

[Ecumenical News International] As the concept of “going green” continues to gain traction among consumers and businesses, churches in the United Kingdom are using the Christmas season to highlight their role in improving the environment.

In early December, St. Luke’s, a Catholic church in the London suburb of Pinner, switched on its solar panels, while the Anglican dioceses of Gloucester, Exeter, Bath, and Wells launched an ambitious project to provide “green” electricity for most of their 300 churches, 200 schools, and other institutions.

“We want to take God’s gift of energy and offer it back in a way that does not damage the environment,” said Canon Adrian Slade of the Diocese of Gloucester.

A number of other green initiatives were implemented by churches this Christmas season.

“Don’t Stop at the Lights,” an Anglican handbook, provided material to help church leaders plan a year of environmental change in their communities, and offered themes that could be linked to services, as well as study materials on Biblical texts dealing with environmental concerns.

Practical suggestions for Christmas mentioned in the handbook included decorating churches by using greenery from gardens rather than florists, creating home-made decorations and gifts, and lighting candles instead of using electric lights.

The ecumenical campaign Operation Noah ran a “Reclaim Christmas” campaign advocating “putting the waiting back into wanting” throughout Advent, and urging people to buy less.

An Operation Noah statement says “Advent was traditionally a period of penitence and quiet anticipation. But now it seems no more than four weeks of frenzied consumption in which stress, needless debt, and damage to God’s creation have become its defining hallmarks…Countless unwanted ‘gifts’ will end up, at best in the charity shops, and at worst, in the landfill. If Jesus returned at Christmas, what would he make of us doing all of this in His name?”

The Climate Justice group at Our Lady Help of Christians in Kentish Town, north London, sold a book of vegetarian recipes collected from parishioners. “It’s much better for the environment not to eat meat, and the proceeds are going to support a community in Kenya who are being badly affected by climate change,” said member Bernadine Bishop.

Church leaders also emphasized the green message this year. On Dec. 8, Pope Benedict turned on solar-powered lights adorning the world’s largest Christmas tree in a ceremony near Assisi, birthplace of St. Francis, the patron saint of environmentalists.

“It is now clear that humankind has no productive future on earth if we do not educate everyone to be responsible for the creation,” said Benedict before the ceremony.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams would seem to agree. In a statement referring to the Church of England’s environmental campaign, he said: “For the Church of the 21st century, good ecology is not an optional extra, but a matter of justice. It is therefore central to what it means to be a Christian.”