06 February 2024
Stirling Methodist Church - first Methodist Church in Scotland to receive Gold Eco Award
Stirling Methodist Church has a longstanding commitment to social and climate justice. In January 2024, the church received its Gold Award from Eco-Congregation Scotland, making it the 10th Scottish church to receive this.
Work to improve the church building has been going on for a while, changing the lights to LED and choosing green energy suppliers for gas and electricity. “Those were fairly easy decisions to take. There had been some improvement with the central heating, but we did not get rid of gas completely,” says Revd Walter Atwood from the Green Team of Stirling Methodist Church.
Being a listed building on a street of listed buildings, other improvements are more complex and involve larger financial commitments. In 2020, the church received a grant of £19,000 from the Scottish Government to help with the transition to become a greener church. “The fund gives fairly big grants to organisations to work on their climate impact,” adds Walter.
The work to install secondary glazing to all the windows had to be done in a way that did not affect the visual appearance of the church, both internally and externally, nor affect its structure. The application went through a rigorous appraisal before planning consent was given. The work to add secondary glazing to the windows started in March 2020.
One of the members runs an energy efficiency company and advises the church on the best ways of bringing the building towards net zero.
Since the COVID restrictions were lifted, the church received further Scottish Government funding to carry out an energy audit. It was useful to identify the areas to improve, such as installing ground source heating. “We had already made significant improvements and felt we had gone as far as we could before the audit opened up further possibilities,” explains Walter.
Going to net zero carbon emissions is challenging for many church buildings. However, the journey is as important as the destination, showing constant improvements to make the buildings more sustainable. Even with the audit, there are limitations: for instance, Stirling Methodist Church cannot install solar panels as the roof is in the shade. Even if this was not the case, getting planning consent would be problematic because of the changes the panels would create to the appearance of the building.
The congregation now celebrate environmental services with Plough Sunday in the early months of the year, Creation Season and during September the traditional Harvest service. In the weeks before the next COP, the UN climate change conference taking place this November, they will hold a service where they will mark the upcoming conference and pray for all those taking part. Each act of worship begins with the lighting of the peace candle and a time of quiet reflection on the state of the planet. “These commitments are worked out in practical actions in our lives as a faith community and as individuals,” explains Walter.
Being a member of an Eco-Congregation means encouraging the congregation to take action themselves. A decade ago the members were challenged to reduce its carbon footprint such as having a complete shower in four minutes. Every month they calculated how many kilogrammes of carbon they saved.
As a part of their Gold Award application, a survey was carried out to determine whether people were still using these suggestions as a guide for their lives and, overall, it was positive. Many of the members had made the changes they were challenged to make permanent. Where it was possible, people had made changes to their homes and gardens. The survey showed that commitment to the environment, biodiversity and social justice was high with members belonging to at least two organisations, external to the church, that were campaigning for or working on the environmental issues with the majority going beyond just financial support.
“There are limitations, notably if you are renting or living in a flat. But things are changing, not long-ago solar panels were fantastically expensive, but they are now more affordable,” concludes Walter.
All the church’s eco-friendly initiatives have paid off and they are now the proud holders of a Eco-Congregation Scotland Gold Award. They received it on their annual Plough Sunday service celebrating the start of the farming year.