The 2018 Parish Outreach & Greening Survey was launched in May to gain insight into the outreach, advocacy and environmental efforts of parishes in our diocese and how diocesan staff and volunteers can best support them. At the time of writing, 71 responses have been received from 67 parishes in all four episcopal areas – from large urban parishes to multi-point rural parishes, and parishes of every size and description in between.
It is clear that our parishes are active in direct outreach ministries, especially in providing food and shelter: 86 per cent of responding parishes either host or collect for a food bank program, and more than half host or contribute to a community meal program; 30 per cent have community vegetable gardens, and over 20 per cent host or contribute to an Out of the Cold program; 60 per cent have engaged in refugee sponsorship over the past two years.
Other forms of outreach include clothing exchanges; ministry to seniors, youth, hospitals and shelters; partnering with local organizations; and raising funds for FaithWorks’ ministries and PWRDF. Half of respondents are involved in five or more forms of direct outreach.
While participation in advocacy activities was generally lower, diocesan efforts to raise awareness and engagement have borne fruit. Fully 90 per cent of responding parishes present the Diocesan Social Justice Vestry Motion at their annual vestries, and one-third are involved in meetings with elected officials on justice issues. Several indicated growing interest in Indigenous justice and reconciliation.
In terms of creation care, many parishes are doing the best they can with aging buildings and limited budgets. The vast majority of parishes (over 85 per cent) participate in low-cost conservation measures such as recycling (especially paper) and keeping lights, appliances, and taps turned off when not in use. Nearly two-thirds use reusable jugs and china rather than plastic bottles and disposable cups. More than 60 per cent have upgraded to energy-efficient lighting and programmable thermostats, while a sizable minority (40-50 per cent) have taken measures such as improving insulation, upgrading heating systems, installing low-flow toilets, using non-toxic cleaning materials, and choosing landscaping that needs less water. Several respondents indicated that they would like to do more in terms of energy and water conservation but lacked funds for upgrades. Participation in a free energy benchmarking program, such as that offered by Faith & the Common Good, could help such parishes prioritize measures that will have the greatest impact for the lowest cost.
Some parishes get creative when it comes to creation care. The Church of the Ascension, Port Perry has partnered with Kawartha Conservation to regenerate Williams Creek, located behind the church property. In this project, professionals have begun removing invasive Japanese knotweed from the creek and volunteers will help replant the banks with native species and reinforce it with boulders to reduce erosion and improve wildlife habitat. Ascension’s property chair, Cliff Moon, a freshwater limnologist, describes it as a very practical way for the church to help “safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.”
Most parishes surveyed build awareness of justice issues by bringing social justice and creation care into prayer and preaching, as well as through use of bulletin inserts and other print resources. Nearly half make social or ecological justice the focus of specific Sundays, such as Earth Sunday or National Indigenous Sunday, while 46 per cent hold special events on justice issues. Unsurprisingly, the most common request for support was for print resources such as bulletin inserts, advocacy toolkits, lectionary reflections and prayer resources. However, more than half indicated a desire for diocesan staff to visit their parish to preach or make a presentation on social and ecological justice.
While only 44 per cent of responding parishes have a formal outreach committee, 40 per cent said their whole parish is involved in outreach and advocacy in various ways. Only 18 per cent indicated that the incumbent did most of the work in this area. A small but growing number of parishes are starting green committees as well.
Overall, the survey indicates that parishes in our diocese recognize the importance of outreach, advocacy and creation care. They welcome support from the diocese and are interested in learning from each other. The survey offers a snapshot of a Church on the way, growing in love for, and public witness to, the world around it.