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Parish priest has ambitions for Suffolk to become an Eco Diocese

PUBLISHED: 15:57 03 June 2018 | UPDATED: 16:16 03 June 2018

The Rev. Sandie Barton in the churchyard at St Andrew's in Freckenham

The Rev. Sandie Barton in the churchyard at St Andrew's in Freckenham

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The churchyard at St Andrew’s in Freckenham is a wonderful sight with its meadow of daisies - it is peaceful and unspoilt, and just the place for wildlife to flourish.

St Andrew's bronze award from A RochaSt Andrew's bronze award from A Rocha

Parish priest Canon Sandie Barton is at the gate, enjoying the serenity and waiting to talk to me about just that subject.

As well as looking after four churches in this lovely part of west Suffolk near Mildenhall, Sandie is the environment officer for the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich and she is on a mission to make Suffolk’s churches more environmentally-friendly and to help the county become an Eco Diocese.

This involves encouraging churches to look at different aspects of their activities – from managing churchyards for wildlife and switching to renewable energy suppliers to using green cleaning products and organising litter picks.

Good footing

It all started when Sandie was asked to develop a new environment policy for the diocese. As part of this process she joined the Eco Church scheme run by Christian charity A Rocha – if 10% of Suffolk’s 478 churches sign up, and half of these qualify as Eco Churches, then the county can become an Eco Diocese on the scheme.

So far 20 churches are signed up and six have awards – and Sandie hopes to get to her target of 48 churches by the end of the year.

“The Eco Church scheme is only a small part of the environment policy as a whole but it will help the diocese get on a good footing,” she tells me.

St Andrew's at FreckenhamSt Andrew's at Freckenham

“My overall aim is to get some joined up thinking on environmental issues.”

As well as St Andrew’s at Freckenham, Sandie personally looks after churches at Worlington, West Row and Barton Mills - all of which have or are working towards bronze awards through the Eco Church scheme.

Worlington, for instance, is well-known for the 42 swift boxes installed in its tower, which last year helped almost 70 chicks fledge.

At Freckenham, the rain is saved in water-butts for people to tend the flowers they place on their loved-ones’ graves while a composting toilet has also been installed. Its eye-catching churchyard has been pretty much untouched by pesticides and weed killers for generations, and so is perfect for encouraging wildlife. Wild flowers are left blooming, and bird feeders are installed near the church too.

“Churchyards provide great habitat for all kinds of creatures and are beautifully spread across the county - there is one in every village and hamlet and all over towns so they offer wonderful wildlife corridors,” added Sandie, who hopes the initiative will go beyond the awards and encourage more people to engage with church activities.

Engaging

“Some of the issues the church talks about are not necessarily the things that the wider society is too bothered with but the environment is something people are concerned about,” she continued.

“It’s a perfect opportunity to invite people to help us with the management of our church yards or help us install swift boxes or put up insect hotels.

“We are finding we are able to engage with the community in quite a new way – people who wouldn’t dream of coming to a church service on a Sunday are wanting to support and work with us.”

Many of the environmentally-friendly projects at Freckenham and other churches were started long before the A Rocha scheme was launched but Sandie says the initiative has helped her see the bigger picture and the importance of promoting sustainable living.

“I’ve always been interested in conservation and our churches have been doing work in the this area for many years but I hadn’t seen the potential,” she said

“We have been good at talking about the poor and people in the developing world affected by natural disasters but we hadn’t made the link very well that often poverty is closely linked to climate change.

“Often things we do in the developed world are having a really bad impact on the developing world and as Christians that’s something we should be passionate about.”

Well-informed

She continued: “By talking about it and showing how many churches are involved we can encourage other churches that haven’t got on board yet.

“If you read the Bible the first job God gave us to do was to look after the Creation and by and large we haven’t done a brilliant job over the years. It’s sad that the church has sometimes lost sight of the fact that that is part of their mission in the world. “We talk about ‘God, so love the world’ and we almost translate it in our minds to ‘God, so love people’.

“God doesn’t just love people, God loves the whole world, and the whole of Creation and it’s absolutely our job to be looking after it and being well-informed.”

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