All Saints' church in Mendham held a ‘Greening the community’ exhibition just before the beginning of the first lockdown in 2020. This was part of the church’s journey to becoming a bronze Eco Church, which was awarded on 18 March 2020. By becoming an Eco Church, the community is being inspired to engage with wider audiences in its mission and as it aims to reach Silver Eco Church status.
The Revd Diane Ekins says; “Holding the exhibition just before lockdown gave everyone a boost. It wasn’t seen as the church doing something on their own, but as the church getting involved in the community. We made great efforts to be inclusive and reached out to as many people as possible in our local community from local cattle and dairy farmers to local schools, Suffolk Wildlife Trust, retailers, small businesses and the Women’s Institute group. It helped the whole village focus on being green”.
It all started following Diane and her husband’s return from working in Kenya in the 1990’s which led to their interest in living an eco-friendly lifestyle. As Diane started to train as a priest she wanted to incorporate the environment into her mission and linked the creation of the ‘Greening the community’ exhibition with becoming a bronze Eco church.
The exhibition in Mendham church was well attended, as people came to enjoy Fairtrade and local farmers’ products, find out more about ways of recycling, including making firelighters from teabags, a beehive demonstration and local places to buy green items, including organic vegetables and natural soaps.
The Waveney Trust also joined in by working with children from the local primary school to make a bug and hedgehog hotel for the churchyard as well as putting up bird feeders.
During lockdown the churchyard became a haven for locals to walk in, watch the birds and explore the churchyard looking for the latest signs of wildlife.
Diane says, “Members of the community were surprised that the church was interested in the environment and responded positively to our involvement. We were pleased to work with many not linked with the church, for example the writer of the nature page in the local magazine and a parish council member who was re-energised to make the village a hedgehog friendly village!”
Lockdown over 2020 obviously slowed down the project work. However, now a team is focusing on what remains outstanding to gain silver Eco Church status.
The PCC have already switched to eco electricity tariffs and Diane has told the nativity story to the reception class of the local primary school in the churchyard. She plans to offer a family friendly outdoor service and activities in the future.
Suffolk Wildlife Trust have supported with a churchyard environment survey, discovering an unusual number of different types of grasses there. There are plans to have swift boxes installed as well as toilet-twinning a new toilet.
Diane is continuing to learn more about management of the Suffolk countryside, working with the Diocesan Lightwave Rural Chaplain Graham Miles, recently visiting the A Rocha nature reserve, Foxearth Meadow, near Long Melford, which offers support and education to churches wishing to be Eco Churches. As Diane and the team develop their knowledge of what is possible, they are also sharing their ideas with other churches in their and nearby benefices.
Overall Diane says, “The project has really opened up the church to the public in a different way and I hope to continue this over the coming months as we focus on our Silver Eco Church award.”
To find out more about the Diocese and the environment click here.