John Davy in Leeds shares how his church is getting on with taking climate action.
John Davy is part of Gateway Church in Leeds. He shared with us how his church community has used the Climate Emergency Toolkit to take action on the climate crisis. This post was originally shared on the Tearfund website in 2021.
Tell us a bit about your church and its background in climate action.
Based in Leeds, Gateway Church has about 150 adult members. Our vision is to grow into a large, ‘all-sorts’ family impacting our local community, wider city and then the world! We are a community gathered around our love of Jesus Christ and his good news, and before 2020, we really had no focus on environmental matters. But early in 2020, our elders agreed that making a faithful, godly response to the climate and ecological crises should become an important priority for the church, that it was part of us loving Jesus.
What steps have you taken together since then?
We started with some activities to bring the congregation on board and find out who was already serving God in this area. In July 2020, we had our first Sunday service on this theme, after which we introduced a regular item in our online bulletin giving practical hints for lifestyle adjustments. In October, we signed up for A Rocha’s Eco Church scheme and planned a Creation Sunday event.
A friend drew our attention to Tearfund’s Climate Emergency Toolkit and suggested we could follow the steps to declare a climate emergency. Although we had only made a little progress on the Toolkit’s Prepare stage, we felt it was important to go ahead, taking advantage of growing momentum and appreciating the urgency of the situation. Recognising that subsequent actions might have financial implications, we consulted our trustees, who gave their approval. In November, we took the Declare step by making a formal ‘recognition’ of the climate emergency during a church service. Eco Church was then introduced as our primary framework for action.
After our ‘recognition’, a number of church members enthusiastically volunteered to join our eco-team, resulting in a team of 23 people! These were divided into subgroups covering the five Eco Church categories: Building, Land, Community engagement, Worship and teaching, Lifestyle.
What are some of the challenges you faced?
Making a ‘declaration’ is one thing – acting on it is another. All this has been happening during the Covid crisis, in which many people have little capacity beyond managing their own situations. There are limited opportunities to meet face-to-face, work together or engage with the local community on climate issues. After our ‘recognition’, we had two national lockdowns with a busy run-up to Christmas between them. Capacity to move forward was limited.
It was tempting to say, ‘Let’s wait until after Covid.’ But we couldn’t ignore the urgency of the crisis, the uncertainties of indefinite postponement and some of the new opportunities that have come with the pandemic. So we pressed ahead while trying to be sensitive to the often painful challenges faced by our members and the community as a whole. Realistically, all we could do before Christmas was form the subgroups and lay out guidelines for our work. We aimed to bring long-term recommendations to the elders by the end of June, in line with the Toolkit’s six-month planning process. We felt this was important to ensure a sustained approach.
How have you engaged with the wider community around creation care?
Alongside our long-term goals, it was important to take short-term tangible actions that were realistic during the pandemic. One example is a new project led by an artist in the eco-team, encouraging people to draw pictures of the creation they can see from their windows or garden, or while out walking. Each day has a theme, such as leaves or trees, introduced by a short video on Facebook, with the aim of focusing attention on the wonders of God’s creation that are accessible to us all. This has had good take-up, from children as well as adults, and contributes to well-being in the face of our current pressures. Drawings submitted are displayed online, fostering our sense of community. A later stage of the project will have drawings to show how human activity has damaged creation.
A key stage of the Toolkit is Impact: to ‘increase your impact by partnering with your local community and speak up for the scale of change we need’. Despite the limitations of the current lockdown, we are responding to that in various ways. We wrote to our local MP and councillors, informing them of our declaration, sending the actual text and offering our cooperation for community engagement. We later became active in a major local environmental issue – the expansion of Leeds Bradford Airport – with the elders writing formally against this project. We are planning local litter-picking projects when conditions permit, hopefully joining forces with existing neighbourhood initiatives, and we are looking into ways in which our grounds can ‘speak’ of caring for God’s creation.
What role has prayer played in your journey?
Perhaps the most powerful contribution Christians can make to the climate crisis is prayer. We have started a monthly Creation Care prayer meeting, supporting the work of our eco-team, responding to specific local or national issues and looking towards COP26.
In all of this, we want to preserve the unity of the Spirit while moving forwards. As the Toolkit says, we are ‘on a journey that helps us see responding to the climate emergency as part of our discipleship and worship’. Though the elders are united in their convictions and most of our members are supportive, that does not mean that everyone fully approves or has the same level of commitment to the journey. Thus we have the challenge of maintaining unity and being considerate to those who are less certain, while still making progress that matches the urgency of the situation. This becomes particularly important when praying together about potentially controversial issues. We faced this by encouraging requests on which we could all agree, praying for wisdom for local authorities and for God’s will to be done, while making space for everyone to pray out their own convictions privately.
How can we be praying for you?
We have started a journey, but progress seems very small compared with the needs of the earth, the widespread injustices that lie behind climate change, and the immediate pressures we all face from Covid. However, at one of our prayer meetings a member had a helpful picture: the mess, chaos and apparent slow progress of an early-stage building site were laying the foundations for great future progress. We are encouraged that our efforts are not in vain. We measure success not by what has been visibly achieved, but by whether we have responded faithfully to the Lord.
In looking at what has been done so far, five principles seem important: commitment from senior leadership, seeing this work as part of faithful discipleship rather than a secular agenda, being determined to keep making progress (with specific steps and not just talk), harnessing the enthusiasm and skills of our people, and seeking to maintain the unity of the Spirit.
Please pray for us to be able to keep making progress as we continue to navigate the ongoing Covid crisis.