SAFCEI: Eco-congregations in South Africa
It is easy for individuals to forget the enormous resources of organised religion. No other movement motivates and gathers so many people to meet regularly with a shared purpose. This devotion is increasingly being used for the good of the planet – as shown by the success of SAFCEI, the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute.
Faith groups take part in a township clean up in South Africa Picture: SAFCEI
'Sadly, we have not done a great job of taking care of God’s good gifts. Instead, all too often we bring about lasting damage. These resources remind us that with God’s help, we can rediscover his vision for living in harmony with the world in which he has placed us.' – Thabo Makgoba, Archbishop of Cape Town
SAFCEI unites congregations across South Africa and encourages them to harness their huge membership in three directions:
A concern for the Earth is common to all religions. Eco-congregations are encouraged to make this concern a central part of worship. Activities can range from prayers for the Earth to special liturgies, music and meditation.
Many churches have environmental days, hold selective walks or sermons on environmental topics, or explore references to creation in sacred texts.
Custodianship of God’s Gifts
Most faiths state that naturally resources are gifts from the Almighty. Eco-congregations can make this more explicit by highlighting how water, energy and food are all scarce, and working to conserve all natural resources. Activities include programmes to take better care of land, plants and animals to making ethical choices about investments.
Eco-congregations can set an example to the rest of the community if their places of worship are sustainably and ethically run and if people are treated with dignity and respect. Actions take include installing rainwater management, reducing energy use or use of polluting transport, or using faith-owned land for wildlife or growing food.
Community Action, Partnerships and Networks
Congregations are always part of their community and are often part of other networks too. They can get involved in community projects and lobby environmental action or higher standards. They can call on politicians to put green words into action, and campaign against environmental damage such as pollution or fossil fuel extraction. They can also call for the highest sustainable standards in agriculture, and in all kinds of investment.
The South African experience shows that almost any local faith group can become an eco-congregation. Typical steps include forming a working group, assessing what green activities are already being supported by the congregation, and making plans for new sustainability activities.
The eco-congregation programme runs along similar lines in the US, Noway, Canada, Hungary, and the nations of the British Isles – England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
Congregations can draw inspiration from publications produced by the Anglican Church of South Africa covering six key ecological themes from a Christian perspective: biodiversity, land, water, climate change, need not greed and stewardship. Each theme has liturgical material, background information, fact sheets and practical ideas for worship. The books can be downloaded at the SAFCEI website.
Find out more about …
• SAFCEI’s Eco-Congregation programme at safcei.org.za
• Measure your congregation’s carbon footprint at shrinkingthefootprint.cofe.anglican.org
• The Johannesburg Anglican Environment Initiative, jaei.org.za, has details of church environment projects and briefings for theological reflection.