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Environment top of the agenda for church-goers in this British university town

Honorary Canon candidates stand with the Bishop of Oxford and Archdeacon of Oxford.
Honorary Canon candidates stand with the Bishop of Oxford and Archdeacon of Oxford.   -   Copyright  Steven Buckley
By Maeve Campbell

Christians in the Oxford district of England are being asked to take a very specific pledge to protect the environment.

From now on, those who undertake confirmation or baptism ceremonies at the large Church of England diocese - which spans the counties of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire - will also have to commit to climate action.

The Bishop of Oxford, Rt Revd Dr Steven Croft, recently approved a revision to the formal liturgy which includes the following lines,

‘Will you strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth? With the help of God I will.’

The addition to the usual lines of public worship is thought to be the first of its kind in the UK.

Revd Steven Croft says he hopes “many others will take notice [of] the need to care for creation now.”

Oxford Diocese | Steven Buckley
Rt Revd Dr Steven Croft.Oxford Diocese | Steven Buckley

This church in Oxford is leading the way on climate action

The Oxford diocese declared a climate emergency in March 2020 and, ever since, it has made its own ambitious green targets.

Bishops and church-goers created an Environment Task Group (ETG) which oversees their ‘programme of change’. As part of the plan, the diocese is investing over £200,000 (€233,332) over seven years across its church buildings, in order to reduce its carbon footprint.

And just this month, it approved a £10 million (€11.7m) investment into clergy housing. The aim is to improve both the energy and heating efficiency of vicarages. Solar panels have already been fitted on over 50 properties.

The Oxford diocese declared a climate emergency in March 2020.

As one of the largest dioceses in the Church of England, the Oxford clergy housing portfolio emits 2,815 tonnes (tCO2) per year. So the programme is about making a major dent in that, but it’s just one part of the equation.

The diocese completed its divestment from fossil fuels in 2021 but there are still 284 church schools, 800 churches and 60,000 parishioners that will have to work together if it is going to achieve net zero.

Currently 153 churches in the diocese are registered with the eco-church scheme. There are five areas a church must demonstrate environmental engagement with to receive this award:

  • Worship and teaching
  • Management of church buildings
  • Management of church land
  • Community and global engagement
  • Lifestyle

Lifestyle changes might include travel habits of the clergy, as well food choices, recycling and sustainable clothing.

“The Church of England can play a key part in the journey to net zero through example and leadership, but this must be through actions as well as through our words,” adds Revd Steven Croft.

“The target of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees is already slipping away from us. Society has only a limited time to act but we should be in no doubt whatsoever that there is a strong and deep possibility of change if we act now.”