By Keith Pitcher (Parishioner in SS John Fisher & Thomas More, Burley in Wharfedale and a member of the J&P Climate Action Group)
In June 2022 the Parish Family of SS John Fisher and Thomas More, Burley-in-Wharfedale was the delighted recipient of CAFOD’s LiveSimply award. This is given to Parish Families and schools who have worked together, prayed about, and put in place actions to live simply, live sustainably with creation and live in solidarity with the poor. In our Parish Family this is called our ‘Tree of Life’ project.

The idea began after the Leeds Justice & Peace group held their AGM in our parish hall in March 2019 and, following Canon Michael Mahady’s homily about Pope Francis’ messages in Laudato Si, many of us felt challenged to accept and strengthen, with prayer and commitment, our responsibility for the care of creation. Pope Francis asks for God to grant us the courage to do this without waiting for someone else to begin, or until it is too late.

tree of lifeIn Autumn 2019 as a Parish Family and as part of weekend Masses congregations we collected nearly 400 ideas of how we could respond to Pope Francis’ call. We know we are facing climate and ecological crises and we felt it essential to put into practice measures that could start to tackle these issues. The ideas were written on paper leaf labels and hung from branches of a home-made tree – our ‘Tree of Life’.

The suggestions were put into 3 categories:
1. Working with Nature,
2. Reduce, Re-use, Recycle and Renew, and
3. Petition and Education.
We have permanently established the Tree of Life in the church porch for our Parish Family to suggest new ideas for the future – ways in which to live simply, care for creation and help others. Some 40 parishioners including many children have led and contributed to turning these into reality. We found this approach works best, forming groups to discuss and take forward initiatives.

Actions to live sustainably with creation
The Covid-19 Pandemic delayed initial progress, but the Working with Nature group’s outside activities started as soon as we were able to meet. These include:
• flower beds at the front of the church were dug out and a raised bed was built to plant insect friendly flowers & shrubs.
• our parish children built bird and bat boxes to put up in their gardens and in the parish grounds. An aerial photograph has been taken and displayed to map out the location of each bird or bat box in the grounds for all to look out for activity within them.
• a bug house was designed and built using recycled fence panels, a disused milk crate, a pallet and surrounded by plants to create a garden effect.
• a hedgehog hotel, composter and herb bed were built and placed in the church back garden. The composter composts grass cuttings, shrub clippings, raw fruit & veg waste and church flowers. The material will be used as a mulch for the church flower beds.
• a water butt was installed and attached to the drainpipe at the side of the church hall. This provides rainwater to water plants in the garden.
• our parish children took sunflower seedlings to grow in their gardens.
• St Francis’ feast day celebration included children learning and working in the parish grounds as part of their liturgy programme.

Actions to live simply
This group’s main focus is on reducing waste & energy usage and installing renewables. Examples of projects include:
• the church hall’s single glazed windows are being replaced with double glazing.
• old inefficient gas heaters in Sacristy, Lady Chapel and hall have been replaced with electric heaters, thermostats and time control panels.
• lighting in the church, hall and presbytery is being replaced with LEDs.
• a renewable energy programme has been introduced, with a parishioner providing details on how to plan installations for homes. 6 parishioner families have installed solar panels and one has replaced their gas boiler with a heat pump.
• we are re-examining electricity & gas usage and costs of the church, hall and presbytery to provide proposals for installing solar panels and heat pumps.
• we have made collection points for items that are currently not recycled by local councils. These include blister packs, batteries, contact lens packaging, pens and pencils. We work with our village to share information about where difficult to recycle products can be collected.

Actions to live in solidarity with the poor
We have provided practical and fundraising support for poorer members of our local communities and well as national and international charities. Examples include:
• BURLEY-TERELI FRIENDSHIP TRUST – we connect with people of Tereli in Mali, West Africa for fundraising, friendship, and prayer. The charity raises funds for vital healthcare, educational and environmental projects. 3 of our parishioners are Tereli trustees and several members are active fund-raisers e.g. half marathon runners.
• CAFOD fundraising. Parishioners have run in the Great North Run, Leeds half marathon and Ilkley half marathon to support CAFOD’s Connect 2 work and also local charities. We have set up a book exchange in the church foyer. Two parishioners did a sponsored Walk for Water during Lent 2021.
• PAFRAS – we have organised collections of clothes, toiletries and non-perishable food. During Covid and times of church closure we not only re-modelled but have grown. We now have a central village collection point to which all village church and non-church goers contribute non-perishable foodstuffs, hygiene products, laundry products and other basic commodities. These are taken each month by parishioners to PAFRAS in Leeds.
• St. Anne’s Shelter – we collect warm clothing for this charity to give to homeless people.
• Catholic Care Christmas presents for children – each year we take gift labels with the age of a child and attach it to a small gift for the child. We had donations to go towards buying stocking filler gifts for the children’s home whom Catholic Care visit and support.
• Mary’s Meals –one of our parishioners took part in the Great North Run and raised over £1,000 for Mary’s Meals from parish and online donations. £205 was also raised in a cake bake sale (the cakes were amazing!). Backpacks for children in Malawi and Liberia were collected and filled with teaspoons, hand towels, shoes, toothpaste and brushes and sent to the children in these countries. The total number of backpacks sent so far is over 850.
• FAIRTRADE – we are a FAIRTRADE parish and fundraise for this also via our Menston and Burley link. We have a monthly FAIRTRADE stall after Masses and use FAIRTRADE tea and coffee and washing up liquid in our hall kitchen.

a group of people
Parishioners receive the LiveSimply plaque from Trish Sandbach and Paul Kelly

In autumn 2021 the Season of Creation was celebrated by our parish family. The 4 weeks focused on prayer and activities in response to Pope Francis’ appeal to us all on BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day [see ] in the lead up to the COP26 environmental discussions. The different focus areas for each week were: our gardens; saving carbon/energy at home; things we buy & how the purchases affect our planet. The final week finished on the feast day of St Francis and was linked to a personal choice based on sharing all the ideas as a parish family.

We held a barbecue in July 2022 to celebrate our LiveSimply award, and also to celebrate our children receiving sacraments, Fr Michael’s golden jubilee and to welcome all who have joined our Parish Family over the last few years.

Looking forward, our future work will build on existing activities to start new initiatives, including feedback received from Trish and Paul as CAFOD’s LiveSimply assessors. Essential parts of this will include:
• use new Care of Creation themes and materials in our liturgies
• save carbon/energy in our parish buildings and homes
• write to and petition our leaders to make sustainable lifestyles and support for the poor high priorities. We will ask them, as Pope Francis says, to do this without waiting for someone else to begin, or until it is too late.
(Photos: Our Tree of Life cake and Celebrations on the day)

Feedback received from Trish Sandbach and Paul Kelly as CAFOD LiveSimply assessors

“We were greatly impressed with the depth, breadth and range of actions undertaken, which have involved substantial numbers of the parish across the age spectrum.
There is a strong sense of commitment.
The creativity of the different elements, especially those involving the children were a blessing and a delight.

We commended particularly The Tree of Life concept as an excellent and visible way to create ‘pegs’ on which to hang individual and collective action. The idea to re-invigorate pledges as the parish emerges from the restrictions of the pandemic means there will be a plan and actions into the future.

The depth and breadth of the actions so far have involved substantial numbers of the parish across the age spectrum.

With reference to future plans, we would encourage further spiritual formation for adult parishioners that is independent of the excellent work taking place via children’s liturgy and sacramental preparation, and increased opportunities for reflective adult liturgy, especially linked with the Season of Creation but also other opportunities that arise from the liturgical. Developing the habit of praying for an aspect of Creation at Sunday Mass e.g. in the Bidding Prayers would be beneficial.

We shared conversations about Living Simply entailing a reduction by us in the use of the world’s resources which enables a more just distribution of resources.

We suggested that making the connections more explicit and coherent between some of the issues e.g. exploring encyclicals such as Laudato Si linking the cry of the Earth, cry of the poor, which will build a strong foundation of spirituality that is deeper than activism on its own. There is a wealth of Catholic Social Teaching, which underpins actions for social and climate justice, to be discovered. Understanding the theology of WHY it is important to work for climate change as Catholics/Christians is part of this formation.

We also mentioned the need to move on to political activity as governments i.e. the journey from charity to justice. Structural change needs the corporate world to be involved in action for change as well as us.

We have every confidence that the future plans will be caring, compassionate and thought- through with actions to care for our common home as we know that their hearts are in it as well as heads and hands.”