Lucy Foster, Eco Church officer for the north of England

The gospel is good news for all creation. If we engage people of peace who care about the environment, we witness to the love of God in word and action. Like every Christian, I want more people to know that God loves them. If we don’t talk to people outside our churches, they’ll never know.

I’m not a scientist or environmentalist by training. I did my degree in film and drama, and my MA in cultural studies. But I worked for Natural England for 14 years, with amazingly committed, passionate, and knowledgeable people, and now in the Church of England; so I know lots of people, and when I don’t know an answer, I usually know someone who does.

Eco Church is an award scheme to help churches integrate creation care into their life and individuals’ lives. I support and encourage churches to get involved in A Rocha UK’s Eco Church programme, and encourage environmental engagement across the north of England. The role is funded by a grant from the Benefact Trust. I work four days a week, and I’m a self-supporting curate in Carlisle diocese for two more.

On one day, I’ll deliver a workshop for local churches on the west coast of Cumbria; on another, I’ll be talking with a diocesan environmental officer about how A Rocha UK can help Eco Churches flourish in their area. Or I’ll assess a church on the Wirral for its Gold Award. Some days, it’s lots of emails and planning on my laptop.

Not every church can fully insulate, or install solar panels, but every church can do something. Eco Church is a holistic approach to church-life and faith — covering worship and teaching, land, community, and global engagement and lifestyle as well as buildings; addressing biodiversity loss as well as carbon reduction.

There are tiny Gold Award churches in rural Cumbria, and large ones in central London. Each Eco Church looks different: it all depends on what is possible in your place with your people.

The Eco Church journey is an ecumenical one. Most denominations have committed to rightly ambitious carbon-reduction targets. It’s fantastic to see churches of disparate traditions acknowledging that Christ’s act of salvation embraces all creation.

Christ Church, in Higher Bebington, on the Wirral, has almost reached its Gold Award, working towards reducing heavy traffic locally and improving cycle routes with local groups, which will improve health and reduce carbon. They’ve got a community orchard in their grounds, and the produce goes into an open larder, where people can also bring gluts from their own allotments and gardens, giving access to cheap, healthy food.

Christ Church, Toxteth Park, with a big, old, stone building looked at heating, and fuel costs, and they couldn’t insulate it; so they put up big tents inside the building to use as their worship space and children’s work. It’s been really popular, and looks absolutely fabulous. That wouldn’t work for everybody, but it works for them.

The first thing I do is help people in any church recognise and celebrate the good stuff they’re already doing — harvest festivals, jam-making, plant stalls, food shares, getting Fairtrade status, encouraging churchyard wildlife.

Then I encourage them to work across boundaries, with neighbouring churches, other denominations, groups in the community. We can’t do it all alone. Together, we can all do something to make a significant difference.

Eco Church is a good tool, structure, compass, to get you on your way, but it’s fundamentally about building a living network of communities; so it has momentum and mutual support built into it.

You could simply give your local wildlife trust a ring and ask them to help you survey your churchyard. People in that sector are massively, passionately committed, and want to share that; so they’ll be delighted. A church in Carlisle held a church camp and nature week, and loads of people came from the local community because they were interested and wanted to learn more. It started new conversations and relationships.

Most churches are keen to engage with young people. Asking young people for help says to them that the Church and God care about the same things as they do. Don’t tell them “We’re going to do this.” Say, “We need help with this. What do you think we should do?” — and properly listen to what they’re saying. Quite often, they’re the experts, and come with a fresh eye.

If you have a church school, say: “We pray for you. Can you come and help us?” Your congregations may have children or grandchildren you could ask. Or contact some through Fridays For Future.

There are currently five Gold Award Eco Churches in the north, out of 27 nationally. I’m looking forward to helping that number grow; but, beyond that, I hope that creation care will be a more widely accepted, natural part of churches’ and individual Christian lives.

If I could change one thing now, I’d relieve congregations from financial responsibility for their amazing buildings. They’d be able to do so much more with their time and resources to celebrate and share the love of God with their communities.

Individual lifestyle is one of the five key strands of Eco Church. If a church has the other four strands deeply embedded in its culture and life, individual behaviour should follow. But we live in — we’re even trapped in — a broken, sinful system created by human greed. None of us can achieve ethical perfection in that system. We can only do our best, and demand that people with the power to make significant collective changes do so, and hold them to account. They must also make meaningful international pledges — and keep them.

We ourselves do what we can to live simply. We’re a small household in a small house, and we don’t drive. We have a diet that’s 80 per cent plant-based. We do need to improve the insulation in the loft.

I grew up as the youngest of five children in north Kent. My dad was a coal merchant, mum was a homemaker with a love for culture and politics. I’ve lived in Kendal for 22 years with my husband, Jonathan, and our cat, Piggle.

My mum taught me to pray when I was very young. One of the prayers we prayed together was “Immanence” by the Anglican mystic Evelyn Underhill: “I come in little things saith the Lord,” and it’s stayed with me since then.

Throughout my discernment and formation for priesthood during lockdown, St John of the Cross and the Carmelite tradition have helped me explore the apparent silence of God in times of spiritual and emotional darkness.

I love reading crime fiction over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine: M. W. Craven, Claire Askew, Val McDermid, or Peter Laws. Or rewatching The Sopranos and Gomorrah — which is a depiction of a world in which sin is inescapable. It’s unrelenting and brilliant. I’d love to write the definitive crime/faith/horror crossover novel.

I’m angry when people with power and influence choose not to use it for the common good.

A good meal and a good book in companionable quiet, possibly followed by a nap, makes me very happy. And I love the sound of cats purring.

I’m hopeful because of young people’s commitment to justice and change. And the vision of all things being made new by Christ in Revelation, and the garden-city of the New Jerusalem.

I pray most for justice, equity, and healing for the world; for governments to be guided by the wisdom and passion of the Holy Spirit.

I’d choose to be locked in a church with my nephew, who died ten years ago from cancer when he was 18. He was such a joyous person. We’d have such fun, catching up and joking. I don’t think we’d be too worried about being locked in, so long as we had enough to eat and drink. Or a dog to play with. We’d be too busy laughing.

The Revd Lucy Foster was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.

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