Local inter faith organisations and environmental social action
The different faiths all call on their followers to care for the planet. Many faith-based organisations are taking part in environmental social action activities in response to growing concern about climate change. Some also have ongoing programmes of work
Environmental issues are also increasingly at the forefront of local inter faith group agendas. For example, Inter Faith Week last year saw a significant increase in local groups using the Week as an opportunity to get involved in social action activities relating to the environment and climate change. Activities included:
- Tree planting
- Talks on climate change policy, science and spirituality
- Climate change inter faith workshops
- Nature walks
- Practical conservation tasks including chopping down invasive trees, scything meadows and building bat boxes
One example was the 'Tread Softly' event organised by South Cardiff Interfaith Network at the Wales Millennium Centre on the theme ‘The responsibility that human beings have towards the environment’, with presentations from different faith communities, music, song, drama, reflections and poetry.
For more details see here.
Examples of environment initiatives by local inter faith bodies
Environmental social action is, of course, not only limited to Inter Faith Week. Here are a few examples.
Footsteps: Faiths for a low Carbon Future (Birmingham Council of Faiths)
The Footsteps project was set up by Birmingham Council of Faiths in the autumn of 2015, around the time of the Paris conference on Climate Change. It was inspired by the Lambeth Declaration on Climate Change 2015 – a document that was jointly written and signed by faith leaders. It brings together faith groups in Birmingham to respond to the challenge of moving to a low carbon future.
Since Footsteps’ inception, many events have been held. These have included a ‘plastic free iftar’ during Ramadan and a local summer walk for all ages, highlighting green projects and opportunities, for example by visiting the Low Carbon House. Footsteps’ main annual event is ‘Tread Lightly’ during national Inter Faith Week, held in a different place of worship each year. It is an opportunity to hear a range of presentations and to engage in round table discussions.
Inter faith canal walk in Birmingham Source: Footsteps: Faiths for a low Carbon Future (Birmingham Council of Faiths)
Footsteps has made particular efforts to engage with young people. For two years it ran a ‘Small Footsteps’ week-long summer programme for young people aged 8 – 14. Resources drawing on that are being written up so that they can be shared more widely online.
Footsteps was also involved in the campaigning that led to Birmingham City Council declaring a climate emergency in June 2019. Footsteps had initiated Birmingham City Council’s declaration through a letter from Birmingham’s faith communities that highlighted how each Birmingham faith community brings different wisdom, experience and resources to the climate crisis. Following that, faith group representation was built into the new Climate Task Force which was set up by the Council to make the changes needed in light of the climate emergency declaration.
Footsteps also provides speakers and display materials to a number of local organisations from Climate Action West Midlands to Aston University. This helps it continue to demonstrate that faiths are working together on climate issues.
For more information see here.
Devon Earth and Faith Network (Devon Faith and Belief Forum)
Devon Earth and Faith Network (DEFAN) brings together people in Devon from diverse faith and belief traditions concerned with green issues. Members hold regular events, share ideas and good practice, and seek to support each other in their common goal of developing a more sustainable world. DEFAN is supported by Devon Churches Green Action and Devon Faith & Belief Forum.
Events held by DEFAN include:
- Visits to places such as a renewable energy farm
- An inter faith pilgrimage on Dartmoor
- Regular ‘Earth Matters, Faith Matters’ inter faith conferences
- Inter faith discussions encouraging environmental social action
Harrow Interfaith (HIF)
Harrow Interfaith, OneJAIN, Harrow Council, Friends of Kenton Rec and Trees for Cities worked together to plant 1000 trees and flowering bulbs at Kenton Recreation Ground in Harrow to create an ‘Ahimsa Peace Forest’. This Peace Forest is intended to be a tranquil place of reflection for all to enjoy, as well as a gathering place for inter faith groups to mark important occasions.
This was part of a mass tree planting arranged by OneJAIN under the ‘Planting for Peace’ environmental initiatives launched by Shrimad Rajchandra Mission Dharampur UK to mark national Inter Faith Week 2019 and the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.
Redbridge Faith Forum
Redbridge Faith Forum has organised a series of workshops on religious perspectives on climate change and the environment, including Jewish, Sikh, Buddhist, Christian and Muslim perspectives. Events such as these are educational but also encourage different faith communities to come together to encourage and support one another to get their places of worship more engaged in climate and environmental action. They encourage them to take up and use the many faith-based resources that exist on climate change to raise awareness and action among people of faith.
Local inter faith environmental activity – some practical ideas
Local inter faith groups can have a positive environmental impact both through how they run their regular meetings and also through arranging special meetings and practical projects.
Getting together to promote and actively get involved in environmental social action is a great way to promote shared values between faiths and can leave a lasting symbol of inter faith cooperation in your area.
Practical environmental activities can also be enjoyed across different generations and, as well as greening your local environment, can provide an opportunity to spend some quality time with your friends and neighbours of all faiths and none, while also taking a positive action in greening your local environment.
Some ideas for local inter faith environmental actions
- Think about how you can make your meetings more sustainable by eliminating the use of single-use plastic and using recycled/ recyclable materials
- Think about how you can make the venues for your inter faith meetings and events as environmentally friendly as possible – does the venue require a lot of heating and energy? Are people who come to meetings able to travel to the venues by public transport or on foot?
- Get in touch with the local authority or Wildlife Trust to see how you can get involved with conservation work in the area
- Consider having a ‘green action’ section in your group’s newsletter or on social media to share tips on living sustainably or different teachings on the environment from different religions
- Partner with a local individual faith-based initiative (see under Resources).
- Share resources and readings on faith-based or inter faith environmental action within your group
Holding special activities
- Join or create a local litter group. CleanupUK is a group helping anyone in the UK form a litter-picking group to strengthen their community.
- Host a speaker or a film screening at one of your group’s meetings as a way to promote understanding and discussion about the environment
- Join in with non-faith-based groups and organisations working on climate change, such as Friends of the Earth.
- Arrange local projects to make a practical difference locally. If you are doing that a few points are to:
- Assemble a small planning group.
- Involve from the outset people of different ages and from a range of backgrounds.
- Decide the purpose of your activity and what you want to achieve. For example, might it be to: raise awareness of environmental issues; make the group’s meetings and projects more environmentally friendly and sustainable; or care for your local environment through practical conservation work?
- Talk through the shape of the project or event and who you would like to invite to contribute.
- Choose a time for the event or activity that enables participation from members of particular faiths that you hope to involve – check that it does not clash with any times of worship or other observance.
- Clarify your aims and objectives and think about how you will monitor and evaluate whether they are achieved.
- It is important to ensure that everyone has clear instructions about what is required on the day of the activity, as well as what equipment is needed to complete whatever task you have decided to undertake
- Check you have insurance if needed and also that any safeguarding requirements are met.
For a more detailed event organising checklist see IFN’s Inter Faith Week Toolkit – written with national Inter Faith Week in mind, but with practical guidance and links to further information that are applicable to events held throughout the year.
The Inter Faith Network for the UK, in partnership with Near Neighbours, has produced a ‘Faiths Working Together Toolkit’. This toolkit includes practical pointers for making contact and for planning and publicising initiatives, as well as advice on key principles to consider, such as the importance of looking for shared values and experiences while working well with difference.
This resource can be found here.
Faith for the Climate is a network of over 150 faith-based organisations and individuals working on climate change. It exists to encourage, inspire and equip faith in their work on climate change. Its website lists many faith-based campaigns and resources that inter faith groups can use and encourage their members to engage in. The network also distributes a monthly e-news bulletin to its members, which is free to join via email.
Find out more about Faith for the Climate here.
The Climate Coalition links 140 organisations of many different kinds. Its vision is of a future where the UK no longer contribute to climate change. Every February it encourages people to get involved in conversations about climate change through its Show the Love campaign.This includes ‘faith packs’, faith-based resources created to enable greater grassroots faith participation in tackling climate change.
Find out more about the Climate Coalition here.
Faiths 4 Change is an environmental charity working across the north west of England to harness the common values of caring for the environmental across all faiths. It works to build include relationships, deepen connections, and develop and share skills to ensure that both people and the environment flourish.
Find out more about Faiths 4 Change here.
Mitzvah Day is an annual day of faith-based social action led by the Jewish community. For 2019 Mitzvah Day had the new theme of Going Greener, offering a range of new projects as well as ideas and ways to make current projects more environmentally friendly.
A number of tips on how to run an environmental project are available from Mitzvah Day here.