More Inspiring Stories
To read more about what churches around Australia are doing for the environment, download our Church Greening Stories booklet:
Also, due to a lack of space, we had to cut these two great stories of hope Jessica collected for UnitingJustice’s World Environment Day Resource this year (2016).
We thought we would publish them here instead:
A Ministry for All of God’s Creatures
By Rev Barbara Allen
All creatures deserve to be accorded dignity and respect, because all are created by God. I hold to this; indeed it is probably my mantra, along with ‘love one another.’
In 2006 I was appointed as the first chaplain to an animal hospital, the Lort Smith Animal Hospital, in Melbourne. There was a lot of publicity surrounding this event, because it was a ‘first’, at least in Australia. In the 5 ½ years I was there, I was witness to many amazing things: stories which broke my heart, events which changed my life, and miracles which restored my faith in human beings. The majority of my work was dealing with grief and loss. Each year, I spoke to/supported over 1500 people whose animal companions had died or been euthanased. This is a large congregational base, a huge arena for pastoral care. Severity of grief is not determined by species; but by the depth/bond of love.
One of the most important contributions I made was informing the grieving owners that the way they were feeling was normal (they were not being over emotional, or too sentimental); to grieve the loss of a pet is normal; they were part of the family, part of a relationship. Several people phoned me soon after I began. They had been unable to share their grief with another human being, afraid of what might be their response (“It was only a dog”, “You can always get another one”, or “It wasn’t a human being, so get over it.”). Grief is not a commodity that can be weighed (one cannot say that the death of your father was greater than the death of your 21 year old cat; the parent may have been brutal, or absent, and the cat may have loved you unconditionally for 21 years, always there for you).
Deep theological questions were raised, by both religious and non-religious: “Will my dog go to heaven?” (in other words: “Is there a loving God?” “Will I be re-united with my loved animal companion when I die?” “Is there life after death?”)
During the past 10 years, I have had the privilege of conducting many Blessing of the Animals services, and providing resources to assist others to carry out similar services. I prefer to use the word ‘Animals’ rather than ‘Pets’ to include all of God’s creation. I always make the point that animals do not need to be blessed; they were never evicted from the Garden of Eden! The service is to remind humans how animals have blessed, and continue to bless, us. (These are often community events, wonderful opportunities to invite non-church people to attend. Please don’t conclude with a barbeque; let’s remember all creatures, and serve vegetarian/vegan food if possible).
Now I am in a new role, that of Creation and Spirituality Project Worker (looking at animal issues) for the Synod of the Uniting Church in Victoria and Tasmania. The position has several components:
-grief and loss (providing pastoral care for those who are grieving the loss of a pet; running seminars on grief and loss)
-looking at the bond between the aged and their pets; why animals are good for them, how to include pets in institutional care, how to look after both human and non-human if living independently.
-advocacy: drawing attention to areas that deserve justice, such as grey-hound/horse racing, puppy farms, duck-shooting, etc.
-writing an animal compendium, which also serves as a multi-faith resource. The book is divided into 52 weeks, each week featuring a religious text (from various traditions), a consideration of a particular animal, the role of that animal in myths/legends/religion, a prayer that can be used in a multi-faith setting, then a section, Action, which considers the vulnerability of that creature, providing advice on ways to help (directing the reader to particular organisations/websites).
I feel blessed to have been surrounded by animals all my life, and humbled by the call to minister to them, and to their human companions. I help care for God’s creation, the creatures, but I do find it odd that not everyone understands why non-human animals deserve attention. One of my favourite quotes is by Anna Sewell, the writer of Black Beauty:
‘There is no religion without love, and people may talk as much as they like about their religion, but if it does not teach them to be good and kind to other animals as well as humans, it is all a sham.’
I have also written several books about animals:
Picture book I Was There (St Pauls Publications: 2009) is about a dog following Jesus
Pigeon (Reaktion Books: 2009)
In July: Animals in Religion (Reaktion Books: 2016)
Pelican will be published in the near future.
Saint Saviour’s Anglican Church Boyup Brook, WA: The Journey to Our Eco-Award
St Saviours’s serves the community and surrounding areas of the small town of Boyup Brook in the south-west of Western Australia, 269 kilometres south-southeast of Perth. They recently became the first church in rural Western Australia to receive an award from the Five Leaf Eco-Awards, a national ecumenical environmental change program for religious organisations. Adrian Price, St Saviour’s Parish Warden, tells the story:
“An article in the Anglican Messenger in 2014 by Claire Barrett-Lennard (Anglican Eco-Care Commission) suggested that churches and parishioners could do much more to address the fifth of the Anglican ‘Five Marks of Mission’ “To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth”. Assistant Bishop of Perth, Tom Wilmot had published a strong letter requesting WA and Federal Governments to do more to minimise climate change. These statements have inspired the ongoing sustainability journey of our church.
St Saviour’s has become a greener, more environmentally friendly church in a range of small steps. Our old globes were replaced with low wattage bulbs of appropriate brightness. A second refrigerator was turned off until required for special events. Lawns are watered less frequently without causing degradation and any new gardens were planted with plants of low water requirements. The large areas of lawns are mowed with a 24volt battery mower which can be solar recharged. Lawn clippings, leaves and other suitable materials are composted with the compost being used within the church/rectory grounds.
Each month the church service concludes with a brief update on mission activities and in many cases the talks touch on communities having to live with extreme weather conditions.
On the Sunday closest to World Environment Day, we had a talk on caring for creation and hymns expressing that emphasis are sung. Environmental suggestions are included in our pew sheets.
During the Boyup Brook Country Music Festival the combined Boyup Brook Churches conduct a half day second hand book sale in the Anglican Church grounds. Last year we raised $1,100 towards a National Council of Churches – Seeds for Self Sufficiency Project. This year the book sales raised $2,055 which was donated to BlazeAid to provide tools while volunteers were helping farmers to re-fence their properties after the disastrous Waroona-Harvey bush fires in January 2016.
When, as a Parish Councillor, I heard of the Five Leaf Eco-Awards, I realised that the Boyup Brook Anglican Church already met more than half of the Award requirements and that it would only take awareness and effort to complete the rest. This could be achieved without any expenditure, indeed it has resulted in cost savings. The Parish Council agreed to participate, and we started on the final steps towards our award application.
By October 2015 we were finished and had earned our Five Leaf Eco-Awards Basic Certificate. We celebrated with a visit and awards presentation by Five Leaf Eco-Awards founder and director Jessica Morthorpe at the St Saviour’s Spring Garden Festival. The festival was themed “Caring for Creation”. We had over 21 stalls selling local food or arts and crafts, or providing gardening or environmental information. Guest speakers spoke of native bees and composting. It was a great event, with lots people from the church and community joining us to enjoy the shopping, food and lovely weather.”