There’s been a change in the tone of the messages delivered from Bishop David Urquhart’s lectern.
For the first time in history, city Christians are willing to think about everything from the coffee they drink to the gifts they consume – all in the name of the planet.
And the leader of Birmingham’s Anglican community thinks this is no bad thing as it’s important for everyone, no matter their faith, to address environmental issues.
“The health of the planet is of great importance to Christians and so is preserving the planet’s resources,” he says. “But the Church has also been a part of flourishing societies which in turn have generated great amounts of wealth in the industrial world.
“Unfortunately, some of the consequences of this success and wealth development are the environment has been damaged and this is something we must address.
“So we are now much more focused on the planet’s long-term sustainability, air quality, fuel resources and the packaging of consumer goods.
“The issues around sustainability are so big that I want us, in Birmingham, to start making a difference and begin to take action now.”
This call to action is something that enthuses Bishop David even when he is supposed to be relaxing in his Harborne home. He has begun to take steps to make sure he recycles, maintains a thriving compost heap in his garden and changes his shopping habits.
He believes that doing some of these things are key ways of making a difference to the planet.
“There are all kinds of ways to make a difference,” he says. “One simple thing is that one of my secretaries has asked me to keep the green plastic lids on milk cartons for one of her friends.
“They are using them to create recycled art and that’s just one thing we’ve helped with. I have also found a way to buy milk in plastic bags that can then be transferred into a jug once I’m at home. The producers claim this uses far less packaging compared to normal plastic milk containers.
“They sell for less than £2 and the milk is from a Welsh dairy farm.”
He tells me the Diocese of Birmingham have also signed up to the car sharing scheme Whizz Go to encourage ministers to car share instead of using their own cars.
Bishop David hasn’t made use of it just yet as his Harborne home is within walking distance of his local supermarket and he’s trying to make sure he walks there to pick up his food shopping.
“I have started experimenting with my shopping habits by visiting more frequently and buying less food than I would during a weekly shop,” he says. “Doing this allows me to carry home whatever I buy.
“I’ve found if I shop just once a week I have to take my car as I’ve overloaded myself with food shopping that is far too much to carry. This creates a need to drive it home but if I know I’m walking home, it makes me aware that I need to shop less in order for me to carry it.
“When travelling to the cathedral in town I also use tend to use public transport.
“The key to being greener is to embrace a different mindset as that is what makes all the difference. This is such a big problem that the only way we can make any kind of change is to start small and see just how we manage to get on.”
These little changes form a major part of his shopping routine as he is now opting for both seasonal and locally produced food and says: “I am very interested in the
issues surrounding buying locally and seasonally and so I’ve started to embrace this as much as possible.
“For example tomatoes are one of my favourite foods, but they are currently out of season so for the first time I’ve chosen to stop buying what I like and swapping it for seasonal produce.
“These are simple changes that anyone can make to the way they consume goods.”
It is this desire to change the way people consume which has lead the Bishop to host the Big Green Giveaway at the end of this month.
Bishop David and the organisation Operation Noah will be encouraging shoppers to bring unwanted gifts to Birmingham Cathedral instead of buying presents.
People will be encouraged to bring unused gifts, mistake buys or even once-read books to the giveaway on Saturday (November 29), at 10.45am.
He says: “This is about helping us understand that giving and receiving presents is an enjoyable activity, but at the same time we want people to give and receive presents that are useful and long lasting.
“Many of us have things in our homes which we do not use and so I am encouraging people from all over the city to bring gifts to the city centre so they can be passed on to people that need them.
“We are hoping as many people as possible come and participate in this as we really want everyone to get involved.
“This is a great way to encourage sustainability and I believe it is important for myself and other Christians to take care of creation and reduce the amount of waste we produce. I also believe it is right for me – as Bishop – to set an example for others.
“People can still enjoy Christmas as it supplies all of our needs – but our main needs for love and forgiveness are supplied through the person of Jesus Christ.
“Those are the two greatest needs of the human soul and they have both been supplied for free.”
The Christian church has always been engaged in debates on national issues and Bishop David says there is no shortage of debate on the issues to do with energy use and how the planet will be sustained.
“Christians are becoming increasingly aware of what is happening to their surroundings and they need to do something about the long-term sustainability of their city and the country,” he says.
“There are long-running debates about sources of energy and there are those who are thinking about the use of nuclear power and whether the government should focus on developing more nuclear plants.
“There are others who advocate wind farms and renewable sources of energy and the clergy are prepared to debate this.
“Churches also want to encourage people to live more appropriately in terms of the amounts they consume. Some look at this from a theological perspective while others examine it from a campaigning point of view.”
Bishop David says Christians are particularly concerned about consumerism and the fact it can damage society.
He says: “Christians have a general unease about consumerism as it is linked to an ideology that advocates the individual is tied to what they buy.
“It also seems to indicate that a person’s identity is based on what they buy which can easily lead to thinking that when others have what we want they are better than us.
“The driver of consumerism involves wanting what my neighbour has and that is wrong.
“During this time of the credit crisis, in the middle of a wealthy and successful society, we need to really think about how much we are relying on material things.
“We must remember there are millions of people around the world that still do not have enough to eat, who are chronically ill or who don’t have enough shelter.
“It is easy to take our security for granted but we must remember it is very important to think about how we relate to our society.
“Some churches are exploring this through the use of Fair Trade goods like tea and coffee.
“Churches are big consumers of tea and coffee and I’m sure this is a great way of making a huge difference.”