Tuesday, 11 August 2009

A Cheltenham church leads by example

This Press Release came my way today: an inspiring story!

After almost two years of intensive planning and fund-raising, Bethesda Methodist Church in Cheltenham is about to install a major array of photovoltaic (PV) solar panels on its south-facing roof. Almost invisible from the street, these 40 solar panels will generate upwards of 6,000 kW hrs of electricity a year and any surplus not required by the church will be exported to the national grid.

Funds for the £39,000 installation, which is being carried out by SolarSense, Bristol, have been raised from the UK Government Low Carbon Building Fund, the Methodist Church District Advance Fund, Cheltenham Borough Council, The Summerfield Trust and the Bethesda congregation.

Bethesda is part of the National Eco-Congregation Scheme - an ecumenical programme helping churches make the link between environmental issues and the Christian faith, encouraging them to respond by practical action in the church, in the lives of individuals, and in the local and global community. The church has received two national eco-awards – one of only a dozen or so churches throughout England to have been so recognised. Since its first award, presented by Jonathon Porritt in 2003, Bethesda has become a FairTrade church, sold more than £14,000 worth of fair-trade goods, distributed more than 1000 low-energy light bulbs, operated an extensive recycling scheme, and launched its own carbon offset programme, funds from which have just helped to install a solar hot water system for an AIDS orphanage in South Africa.

Following its second award (presented in 2007 by local MP Martin Horwood during a Sunday morning service), the independent review team commented: “Concern for issues of environmental stewardship and sustainability seem to permeate all aspects of church life”. In their letter of recommendation, independent reviewers concluded: “From any perspective, the Bethesda environmental programme is first class. It should in our view receive maximum publicity. Other churches and indeed secular organisations should be encourage to visit and learn from their example.”

In a recent widely-distributed publication from the Environment Agency, a panel of experts drew up a list of the most important things needed to “save the planet.” The second of their 50 recommendations read as follows: “It is time the world’s faith groups took a lead in reminding us that we have a duty to restore and maintain the ecological balance of the planet.”

Bethesda has been doing this for the last decade, is actively encouraging other churches to do likewise and is now involved in sharing its concerns with the wider community.

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