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Encouragement to get involved with eco community engagement

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By Paul Newman

Maybe you have talked, within your parish, about organising something to raise local awareness about the way that humanity seems to be treating God’s Creation. It is easy to feel daunted, particularly if, for example, you are struggling to make the case for participating in Eco-Church!

That is the way I felt last September when I was asked to join a working group, on behalf of St Peter’s Church, Sheringham which was being put together by our neighbouring Methodist Church. This was despite the fact that in the past I have been involved in (and even led) teams that have put on events across the UK for national and local Government, also with local community groups and even within another Diocese. You can always make a case for why “not me” and “not now”.

Faith to the rescue

Fortunately, Sheringham has a strong tradition of local Christian communities working together on a variety of initiatives within the town, so when I turned up for our first ‘get together’ there were people who I knew there, especially from the Quaker led team that have been organising and hosting monthly meetings for allcomers. Also, I met for the first time the person within Sheringham Town Council who is leading their initiatives, who would have been worth getting to know under any circumstances. However, I discovered to my concern, that the person who had convened this initial discussion had no previous experience of organising the type of large event that her fellow church members envisaged, no budget and, by her own admission, little knowledge of the subject. But we did have a venue.

What she does have is plenty of practical experience of working with and serving others, patience, and persistence. She is very good at asking sensible questions and listening to and interpreting the answers. This was immediately put to the test because she had been asked to put on an event in less than two months and so everyone on the potential working group told her that this was an impossible time scale!

So, the first decision was that any event should be held the following year, to allow for proper planning to get all potential participants involved. We also agreed that we should find a relevant date (we eventually settled on the Saturday before the start of ‘Earth Week’) and use it showcase and publicise existing initiatives and services. In this way the structure of what eventually happened was laid and people were drawn into the planning process, as they could see how it might help them meet their aims.

This did not mean that things moved smoothly from that point, far from it! We could never guarantee a consistent make-up of the working group, but our organiser and unofficial leader was exceedingly good at talking to potential participants. As we got closer to the day problems kept arising but also somehow being solved. For example, people do fall ill or have sudden external calls on their time, but these sometimes proved a fortuitous opportunity for someone else to ‘step forward’ and shine. This is exactly what I mean by insisting that faith does come to the rescue, thank God!

Do not shy away from searching for a path that is appropriate to your parish circumstances. If there is even a small amount of willingness to take that daunting first step, you may be surprised to find that you have greater support within your wider community and you may reach out to find an enthusiastic audience. It may also help within your own church family. When it was confirmed that St. Peters Church was to receive a silver Eco-Church award, this seemed to have little impact on the bulk of our regular congregation but, in the wake of the unexpected success of the Climate Change and Sustainability Fair, when we finally received our certificate, it was greeted very warmly.