In 1930, an Englishman named Edmond K. Blyth was driving home from a visit to Liverpool Cathedral. He’d been a soldier in the First World War, and three of his friends from when he was a cadet—John Bennett, Arthur Bailey and Francis Holland—had all been killed before the war ended. He wrote later:
“As we drove south through the Cotswold hills on our way home… I saw the evening sun light up a coppice of trees on the side of a hill. It occurred to me then that here was something more beautiful still and the idea formed of building a cathedral with trees.”
To this day the Whipsnade Tree Cathedral is still standing outside of Bedfordshire, vast and green and peaceful. The nave of the cathedral is an avenue of lime trees, and the Easter Chapel is full of cherry blossoms in the spring.
Sitting in the grass of a church of trees and watching the sunlight come down through the leaves, with the rustling breeze and hum of insects and birds, is a communion with God. But the realist says: my car’s waiting in the parking lot, there’s nowhere here I can put out a cigarette, I have to leave soon and pick up my reusable grocery bags at the house. This week’s book, Greening Your Church, moves between the spiritual and the practical, between Sunday and every day of the week.
While priests and parish leaders will get the most use out of it, Greening Your Church is a good read for any Catholic or Christian out there. It’s a smart, sensible and enthusiastic book, full of tips and lists and exercises. Norman Lévesque has divided the book into two halves: the first half gives the biblical and theological arguments for protecting the environment, and then the second half dives straight into giving hands-on advice.
“While reading these words,” he warns,
[…] you may think that you are not to blame for the state of the environment, because you are not directly responsible for clear-cutting or the melting of the Arctic sea ice, the mistreatment of farm animals or the pollution discharged in mining and other kinds of irresponsible treatment of the environment. But in fact, we all share this responsibility, as we all use paper, drive a car, eat meat, purchase battery-operated devices, and so on. The sum of these actions leaves a huge environmental footprint that can be reduced when we make changes in our daily behaviour. As an individual, you shouldn’t take all the blame, but all of us are partly responsible.
Lévesque suggests that pastoral care workers post ‘green tips’ in their parish bulletins, invite speakers and have documentary screenings. Parishioners can carpool and use bike racks, and look into fair-trade and organic products for cookies and coffee after the service. Even small changes like using compact fluorescent lightbulbs and recycling leaflets can make all the difference.
It isn’t easy. It can be expensive, and being environmentally friendly can be a double-edged sword when it comes to social justice issues of global production and economy. It can be boring, mundane, endless work. But Greening Your Church argues for that space—that cathedral of trees—where in between all the daily chores and tasks, there’s something growing and alive and beautiful: something worth protecting.
-Gillian Robinson, Sales and Marketing Assistant