Covid restrictions did not deter Theology student Hugh Reid from taking up his placement with Borderlands Rural Chaplaincy (BRC). With several planned events postponed, and scheduled meetings occurring online, the Chaplaincy ensured that Hugh's itinerary was nevertheless varied. Through Herefordshire Food Alliance he looked at food poverty within the county, the carbon footprint produced by the food eaten locally and steps the Alliance and partner organisations are taking to reduce it. Under the guidance of Chaplain Nick Read, who oversaw the placement, Hugh saw how Hereford Council working actively with the Anglican and Methodist churches, is addressing Climate Change as a cohesive endeavour through the Diocese collaborating with Herefordshire Green Network in its objective towards achieving carbon neutrality by 2030.
As well as visiting a South Shropshire farmer and an environmental consultant to discuss land use and the direction farming will take over the next twenty years, Hugh also accompanied Chaplain Sue Williams and Isaac Wills on a visit to Hereford Livestock Market.
The opportunity arose for him to meet Church Stretton Methodist Church's Jon Cooke and learn about A Roche UK's Eco Church Award Scheme. With Hugh's interest in environmental issues and rural ministry already piqued, he was keen to hear more from one of the Circuit's original eco warriors.
Jon, the founding chairman of Stretton Climate Care, has spearheaded the church's environment campaign since Care for God's Earth was established through the Methodist Conference ten years ago. Since then, Church Stretton Church has achieved Bronze and Silver A Roche awards. The extensive work required to reduce the energy consumption of the church building, including double glazing, insulation of its 120-year-old roof and solar panelling, currently render the prospect of achieving a Gold award impossible.
Nevertheless, the church eco-group is motivating individual members to embrace the Carbon Footprint concept and practice reducing their own both at church and at home. Jon explained that prior to Covid, there were plans for a church lunch where a Carbon Footprint talk was to take place. Despite it being cancelled, online communication and socially distanced meetings have allowed members to learn how to quantify their footprints and become more environmentally aware. Faced with those who, stating, "In twenty years I won't be here", distance themselves from the climate crisis, Jon's stock response is "What about your grandchildren and their children?" he said.
Revd. George Heinz who has pastoral oversight of Church Stretton Church and was also present at the meeting, shared some of what the church has incorporated as Environment Worship where on some Sundays the environment is the main focus. He stressed the importance of discussing climate change as a Christian, spiritual and theological subject and of access to resources such as the York Course* Caring for Creation which church members studied during Lent. According to Jon, members are addressing the issues, having "Climate Conversations", praying, and fasting for the climate and supporting ecumenical environment schemes.
Hugh's visit coincided with the reopening of BRC's Butty Van and he was able to meet several of the chaplains at their Mucky Boots meeting, where they gathered informally, for the first time since Covid pandemic restrictions were implemented.
Assessing the placement, Nick Read commented that despite the restrictions Hugh had witnessed a variety of aspects of agricultural chaplaincy and that the work encompasses a good deal more than providing pastoral care.
York Course*: https://www.yorkcourses.co.uk/product/caring-for-creation/