“Climate justice is core to my faith but cycling to church is not just transportation; it’s meditation, the real beginning of my worship,”
- Christine Boyle, United Church Minister, Vancouver Chapter Organizer, and Director of Fossil Free Faith.
In June, over the duration of two weekends, Faith & the Common Good offered faith communities across Canada a challenge: leave the car behind when traveling to worship in favour of a “low carbon” mode...
In June, over the duration of two weekends, Faith & the Common Good offered faith communities across Canada a challenge: leave the car behind when traveling to worship in favour of a “low carbon” mode.
In a celebration of active and sustainable transportation, the 2017 Faith Commuter Challenge was a pilot project coinciding with National Environment Week and the workplace Commuter Challenge.
Given that transportation comprises 40% of an average faith community’s carbon footprint, and that it is the second largest source of Canada’s GHG emissions, traveling green is one of the most important ways we can be stewards of our planet.
53 faith communities with a total membership of over 14,000 people registered, and 41 faith communities actually logged trips. Over 600 people participated, saving close to 1,500 kg CO2 emissions in total (equivalent to taking 0.3 cars off the road for a year).
Great creative ideas emerged from the challenge. For example, what if the goal for commuting to worship was not simply to get there the quickest way possible? The Faith Commuter Challenge was a terrific platform for encouraging local reflection and change. Read on for local highlights from across the country.
Participating Communities from Coast to Coast: Highlights
Fossil Free Faith and Salal + Cedar, an Anglican environmental church, kick-started the commuter challenge at Vancouver’s Christ Church Cathedral by ringing bike bells! With sacramental chrism oil, bicycle chain oil, holy water, and prayers, Anglican Bishop Melissa Skelton, two priests, and a United Church minister blessed bicycles, transit passes, and a host of people who were making an effort to reduce the environmental impact of their commute to worship. Participants heard a passage from Ezekiel about the prophet’s vision of a wheel within a wheel. They prayed for the safety of cyclists, fossil fuel divestment advocates, front line activists, victims of climate disasters, all those impacted by wars for oil, and more.
Led by a cross and banners and the bishop in full episcopal regalia, cyclists and pedestrians processed out of the church to a hospitality station on the street where they offered coffee, snacks, bike maps, and “ride-by blessings” to commuters on the bike and transit route outside.
“Climate justice is core to my faith but cycling to church is not just transportation; it’s meditation, the real beginning of my worship,” said Christine Boyle, United Church Minister and local organizer.
Scarboro United Church, also celebrated with a Blessings of the Bikes (and equipment) liturgy.
Scarboro Church has a history with bicycles where, for the last ten years, they’ve been hosting “Bicycle Sunday,” (one Sunday, every year in June). To motivate participation, they usually create a friendly competition within the church where simple prizes such as reusable coffee mugs are offered to the participant who: cycled the furthest, walked the furthest, used public transport, was the youngest participant, etc.
This year’s Faith Commuter Challenge allowed the church to grow the event by inviting other faith communities to join in. “Next year we expect a big increase in participation!” writes local organizer Wendell Koning. “Thanks to the Faith Commuter Challenge for giving a very convenient venue to reach out to others, to have fun, and to encourage reflection and change!”
Our very own Executive Director, Lucy Cummings, presented a “Faith Commuter Challenge Certificate” to Crescent Fort Rouge United Church, who had a 72% participation turnout with 108 participants!
They held an alternative transportation workshop before the challenge, which encouraged more people to join in the fun!
The Faith Commuter Challenge did not come without many challenges! For example, the City of Greater Sudbury is the largest city by land area in Ontario, composed of the main urban centre and various outlying smaller communities. It’s fair to say that most households in Greater Sudbury have at least one vehicle, and often have more than one.
Greater Sudbury does have various forms of public transportation, but sustainable commuting is still much easier said than done, writes Rebecca Danard, of reThink Green. This is particularly true for anyone attempting to commute to a place of worship on the weekend. Many of the Faith Commuter Challenge participants faced barriers in their journey that impacted their ability to commute, such as sporadic weekend bus schedules, unsafe/lack of sidewalks especially for those with mobility issues, lack of cycle infrastructure, etc. Carpooling was the prefered option for this year’s Faith Commuter Challenge, but the Challenge presented the opportunity for one parishioner at Waters Mennonite Church to find a sustainable cycling option for her one-hour commute.
In partnership with the local partner, Environment Hamilton, the challenge in this mid-sized city kicked off with a bike tour to places of worship that do great environmental work. Organizer, Juby Lee decided to showcase a broader, holistic context to sustainability. The tour included two churches and ended with a planting of a pollinator patch at the Hamilton Downtown Mosque.
Participants learned about a number of environmental initiatives that these places of worship are involved in. Westdale United Church undertook the move away from Styrofoam to re-usables in the 1990s, cutting out pesticide use on the property, growing a vegetable garden, and installing solar panels on the roof top. Grace Lutheran’s gardens include the use of re-purposed materials. The entrance way of the meditation garden was an old headboard from a bed. The beautiful, bountiful permaculture garden makes use of old wood pallets to create trellises for their squash plants and re-used plastic utensils as markers for seeds and small plants.
Organizer, Emma Norton, (Ecology Action Centre, Halifax) reflects on what she learned from some Halifax faith communities who participated in the challenge. The message from leaders at participating groups, such as the Shambhala Centre and the Universalist Unitarians, was that the challenge “plants a seed,” offering an opportunity for participants to think more broadly about how stewardship is strengthened by spirituality, just as spirituality is strengthened by stewardship.
For many who participated in the challenge, biking was not an option, but carpooling was. Carpooling can also foster community and bring a sense of connection. “Connections like these, through sharing your transportation, are also important in a society that preaches individualism, and can help us see the world differently,” Emma writes.
14 faith communities, 125 participants
3 faith communities, 14 participants
1 faith community, 108 participants
19 faith communities, 326 participants
4 faith communities, 32 participants
We thank the workplace Commuter Challenge for partnering with us and look forward to growing this pilot into one of our permanent programs.
This initiative was supported by Auto Recyclers of Canada; with local teams in Halifax, NS; Vancouver, BC; Hamilton, ON and Sudbury, ON.
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