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Articles and letters about climate change

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So this is what an emergency looks like  May 2020

By Edward Gildea -  Eco team leader

So now we know what an emergency looks like.  Government takes swift and decisive action; they listen to the scientists, basing their policies and strategies entirely on the science; they pass swift laws that compel the public to radically change their lifestyles; they scrap the budget they had planned and break all their fiscal discipline, spending countless billions of pounds in the attempt to save lives and safeguard a future economy.

Yet in May 2019, after passing a motion of Climate Emergency, none of these things happened.

After decades of equivocation, lip service is being paid to the scientists, but the few policies set out in their manifesto do little to enable us to reach our carbon zero target; the budget offered little incentive to clean energy and nothing to promote any changes of lifestyle amongst the electorate; there are no daily, weekly, or even annual briefings to inform the public of what progress we are making towards our targets; no charts, no graphs, no ministers held accountable on prime time television…

So what is the difference? The pandemic is sudden, acute and threatens life over a period of days and months. A vaccine is likely within a year or a few months, after which we can return to normal.

Global heating develops over years and decades; the lives lost are mostly a long way away and we feel insulated from them, but there is no technological quick fix and there will be no ‘normal’ to return to if we don’t take far reaching actions now.

The secret of beating the coronavirus was listening to the science from the outset; taking swift and dramatic action; showing leadership to persuade the public to make immense sacrifices in the short term.  The costs in lives, money, wrecked businesses and unemployment are far greater if our leaders fail in this.

The secret of halting the destruction of our environment would have been to listen to the science 25 years ago; to have taken steady, incremental action from that time, led by the science; and to have incentivised the public to switch to more sustainable lifestyles for the benefit of their children.

So why has there been this massive difference? Maybe because there is no powerful lobby speaking up for the virus, while there has been a very powerful lobby, deeply invested in fossil fuels, that has manipulated our politicians and controlled much of our media.

The one thing both the virus and environmental catastrophe have in common, though, is that our children will be paying the cost.

All things bright and beautiful - May 2020

By Jackie Damary-Homan from our Eco team

"All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful the lord God made them all."

This famous hymn written by Cecil Frances Alexander in 1848 shows how she appreciated our natural world. We too must learn to love and care for the special world God created.

We are all taking time to stop and wonder at God’s creation in its amazing diversity. Our gardens have become a joyful sanctuary and a welcome relief from our anxiety. Prayer and contemplation in natural spaces is good therapy, helping reduce our fears and bewilderment of Covid 19 which has altered our world as we know it. We marvel at the amount of blossom, buzzing with bees and unfurling vibrant green leaves bursting forth from the tree branches. Our hearts joyfully see the mauve haze of masses of bluebells carpeting the ground. Miraculously these flowers return faithfully each spring, reminding us of God’s faithfulness to us. His love is constant whatever is happening in the world. We in return must have faith, trust and love in him.

IMG 2933As humankind is in this strange lockdown world, nature has taken this opportunity to flourish. This is uplifting to see. The birds appear to be singing more loudly, or is it that their sweet tunes are more noticeable as we take time to listen? As fewer cars are on the road, air pollution levels have dropped. Fewer planes flying across the skies have already proved what climate change scientists have been saying about carbon emissions and have noted that air quality has improved. Strange sightings of nature breaking into communities have been seen around the country, including sheep roaming down once busy streets in Oxford! I myself had a surprise with a grass snake, never seen before, taking up residence in my pond.

We do not know why flood, fires and now pestilence have been sent to the world. Is it a warning for man to repent for the evils, greed, materialism, corruption and immorality of recent years? When this uncertain time passes can we move forward to being a fairer, kinder, more thoughtful, compassionate society? A less selfish future in all aspects of our lives, our community, our country and the world?  We have to hope for a positive future with the Lord at the centre of everything.

If you wander into our churchyard we hope you’ll see changes too. Our newly planted primrose and cowslip bank, like us, might be struggling to survive but the cowslips are seeding so this cheerful yellow bank should come up again next year. Whilst socially isolating, pockets of wild flower seeds have been planted in the corners of the front lawn. We are hoping for a colourful show this summer. This is part of the plan for creating greater biodiversity, encouraging more insects and pollinators, small mammals and birds to bring more life into St Mary’s grounds. Why not let part of your own lawn grow tall, allowing nature free reign too?

I believe all this is a sign that we must respect God’s world, that our natural world is God’s creation to be remembered as such and be cherished. Humans are mere custodians of the planet and we are surely being shown that man is not invincible and certainly not in control. Our world is God’s world, he is in control and his WILL be done.

The hymn ends “He gave us eyes to see them, and lips that we might tell, how great is God almighty who has made all things well.”
From St Mary's Parish News - May 2020

Sharing a platform with Bishop Stephen

At the start of Lent, before the coronavirus put paid to everything, I was invited to speak at St John’s church, Colchester, alongside Bishop Stephen, the next Archbishop of York, and the Rev James Gilder.

It was part of the diocesan Lent talks on the Environment and the theme on this occasion was Water.

IMG 2866
Edward Gildea and Bishop Stephen

The Bishop spoke most powerfully and movingly of his experiences in our sister diocese in Kenya; of the drought there: the failing crops, the dead and dying animals and the children holding out plastic bottles, begging for water. He asked: ‘Have you ever been thirsty? I mean, REALLY thirsty?’ The nearest he had come to it was walking with his wife in southern Spain. They had set off on a six hour walk, each thinking that the other had packed the water bottle. At a point of no return they realized that neither had, and after ‘a bit of a matrimonial’ reconciled themselves to completing the walk without water.

They were comforted, of course, but the knowledge that there would be fresh, cold water – even beer – at the end of their walk. But what must it feel like if there was no such prospect day after day, and any water there was would be stagnant and disease ridden? It was a sobering thought.

James Gilder spoke of his aquaponics project: of how fish and crops can be grown in an enclosed system in which water and waste is circulated in a condensed ‘circle of life’ to ensure food while using minimal supplies of water  and fertilizer. He is taking his project out to Africa to help alleviate the lives of those who are suffering the worst effects of climate change.

My own contribution was very different: it was about salt water and vast oceans of it!
The trouble with it, though, is that it is too hot! Having sailed across almost all the oceans of the world, I have ended with a paradoxical sense of how very small the planet is, even though it feels huge and frightening at times; and how very delicate it is, even though its power is quite awesome.

At first hand, I have felt the heat of the oceans. Once, hitting a big wave in the Coral Sea while waiting on the foredeck to bring down a sail, I braced myself for the vast deluge of water and found that it was….Hot! Comfortably hot enough for a bath! And then, heading up toward the equator through the zone where hurricanes are born, witnessing the vast, threatening cloud formations that rise miles into the air from these warm seas and than start to spin…

It is these clouds and hurricanes which, thousands of miles later, cool down and gave us the storms and floods that we experienced this winter: Dennis, Ciara and Jorge. Our small world is very much interconnected: from our climate to the way that a virus in a Chinese market we had never heard of, brings all our lives and economies to a crashing standstill.

Bishop Stephen, offered some closing thoughts, interpreting the lines of the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ as meaning ‘give us what we need for today, but no more… no more than we actually need.’ He was thinking of the importance of not squandering the world’s resources through ego or vanity, but he could not have been more prophetic about the panic stricken bulk buying that was about to hit our supermarkets!

Archdeacon Robin ended the meeting with prayers and then invited me to offer one of the poems I had written while sailing down the Pacific coast of Central America nearly 6 years ago. It was an enormous privilege:

Doldrum Wind

Listen to this poem here

CV24 Raw3941Woken by jerking bunks
And renewed gush of our hull homesong
We exchange thick, saturated air
For the warm rush of doldrum wind.

Cradling two pale stars between mast and shroud
I nurse the tilting of our sail,
Head lifted to the masthead
Wind on throat  and cheek,
Gentle roar in my ear,
We surge.
Foam rushes on our beam,
Welling gush behind
Responding to each gust.
Our limp, hopeless hours of tortured daylight fade,
Futile tacks forgiven,
Memories of sweat coursing down temple and back
Evaporate in the dry caress.

A breathing splash!
Two dolphins grab a slice of air
And plaits of phosphorescence
Streak to our bows.
We heel, rush, star led. . .


Edward Gildea
Eco team leader

From St Mary's Parish News - April 2020

Is it already too late?

For someone living on the banks of the River Severn, who has been flooded several times and can no longer get insurance; for an Australian whose home has been burned down and for the 80 million animals who died in the fires; for the farmers of Kenya or the Sudan whose crops have failed and whose cattle have died…. it is already too late.

Maybe when people ask that question, they are asking from a perspective in which relative wealth, privilege and education will provide some sort of buffer against the crisis. The climate emergency will affect the poorest nations most profoundly first. That’s what made the Australian fires so shocking: a wealthy, developed nation was suffering the impact of climate change and was powerless to stop it.

The Climate Emergency is not a hypothetical future; it is here now. These are the effects of just 1 degree of warming. Imagine how much worse 1.5 or 2 degrees of warming will be, which are the best scenarios.

Is there a moment, though, that might really constitute ‘too late’ for the bulk of humanity? The thing to watch is sea level. We know that glaciers and ice shelves are melting fast. The Thwaites glacier alone, now melting at an alarming rate, would raise sea levels by 0.5 metres, but is holding back other glaciers of the western Antarctic ice sheet that could raise sea levels by 3 meters.

Vast cities such as Mumbai, Kolkata (Calcutta), Shenzen, Shanghai, Osaka, Bankok Alexandria and Rio de Janiero are some of the most vulnerable to sea level rise, which will result in massive migration movements and political destabilization. I think that is when the real ‘too late’ scenario kicks in…

As I write, though, the news has just flashed on my screen that the third runway at Heathrow has been deemed illegal because the Climate Emergency and Paris Agreement were not considered. This may be the precedent that means that the climate, public health and our survival on this planet are beginning to take precedence over business interests.

And we can be proud of our UDC councilors who did it first!

We can also be proud that the Church of England has brought forward its target for carbon neutralty from 2045 to 2030.  Proposing the amendment, Canon Professor Martin Gainsborough, said, ‘The seriousness of the situation facing the earth cannot be overstated, especially across the world, away from the UK. There are theological reasons for the move as well. Christianity is about sacrificial life: Faith is risky.’

So, yes, we are already suffering the effects, but it is surely our duty not to give up hope and not to be inactive. We have still time to limit the worst effects. As Christians, parents, voters, consumers and caring human beings, we must add our weight and influence in confronting the greatest challenge of our age.

You can read the Church Times report on the decision to go carbon neutral by 2030 here:

Questions for future articles:

What about China?

What about Trump?

Isn’t the problem over-population?

Aren’t I too insignificant to make a difference?

Do we need to change the economic system?

Can we afford it?

How much will I have to change my lifestyle?

Will taxes have to go up?

From St Mary's Parish News - March 2020

It is time to take sides.

It was clear at Davos last month that there could be no more sitting on the fence; it is time to take sides. We can side with Donald Trump, who urged us to ‘reject the perennial prophets of doom and their predictions of apocalypse’ and claimed that it is ‘a growing and vibrant economy which lifts the human spirit.’

Or we can side with the young woman who beat the president to receiving Time Magazine’s Person of the Year Award: Greta Thunberg. She told business and political leaders ‘The facts are clear, but they are still too uncomfortable for you to address. You just leave it because you think it’s too depressing and people will give up, but people will not give up. You are the ones who are giving up.’ Is there a middle way? We either cherish and protect God’s wonderful creation for future generations, or we don't. We are either with Trump or with Greta.

On 25th January Uttlesford’s planning committee took sides. They rejected Stansted Airport’s application to expand further, citing climate change and air quality as key considerations. It was a courageous decision, but as one councillor said, ‘Whatever the legal complexities are here, we also have a moral decision to make.’ It may well prove to be a landmark moment nationally, in which company profits were set aside for the health and prospects of current and future generations.

The church is also taking sides. The Church of England’s Environmental Advisory Group has said that all parts of the Church should recognise the Climate Crisis and step up its action to safeguard God’s creation. They have recommended a revised carbon reduction target of net zero carbon by 2045, with an interim target of 57% reduction by 2030. That’s quite a challenge for large, historic buildings like ours! In addition, the Church’s national investing bodies have already divested from companies deriving more than 10 per cent of their revenues from coal and oil from oil tar sands and are committed to divest further in 2020.

So what should we each do as individuals? Greta is very clear that it is ACTION that is required now, not fine words or posturing. Prayer is a form of action, but it should be prayer that stimulates and inspires further, tangible actions. The Eco church pages on our website include a section entitled ‘What can I do?’ so do read that if you haven’t already. It’s full of suggestions. There are little things you can do, and big things. I suggest that it is now time for each of us to do at least one BIG THING!

Edward Gildea,
Eco team leader

From St Mary's Parish News - February 2020

Time for an ECO Resolution

Did you make a New Year’s resolution this year? And have you managed to keep it? How about making a resolution for the whole of the Twenties decade? One that will make all the difference to future generations? The UN published an Emissions Gap report in December, saying that Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHGs) needed to fall by 7.6% every year if we are to have a chance of keeping warming to 1.5 degrees. Since we have already seen the horrific consequences of 1 degree of warming, how about we each make a New Decade Resolution to reduce our personal GHG emissions by 7.6% each year until 2030?

The urgency of the situation could not be more apparent. I imagine many of you, like me, have been receiving emails and messages from friends and family in Australia, who are traumatised by the massive and on-going fires in Australia. The messages are heartbreaking and the fears for their homes, health and futures on that continent are real….as is their anger at the lack of leadership from their prime minister. We could not have been given a clearer message of the future we are creating for ourselves if we don’t move on from our carbon based lifestyles.

However, the COP 25 In Madrid ended in deadlock, with politicians unable to unite behind any binding resolutions or targets. A Christian Aid report calculated that there were at least 15 climate related catastrophes that each resulted in over $1 billion in damage, let alone the lives lost. I imagine the Australian fires will dramatically inflate that estimate.

Most tellingly for me, on Greta Thunberg’s edition of Radio 4’s Today programme, the Gas and New Energies Director for Shell, who are spending just $2 billion on research into renewable energy, while they are spending $25 billion in developing new oil production, said that the solution was up to the customer. Until we, as customers, demand more clean energy and less fossil fuel energy, Shell will continue to produce the oil and gas to satisfy our needs: that’s how the market works.

So it really is up to us. Up to us not to think we don’t count; not to freeze like rabbits caught in headlights; not to wait for anyone else to take the lead.As Christians we should be in the vanguard.

So what can you do? Your ECO team have set up a series of pages on the St Mary’s Church website (click on ‘Other’ then on ‘ECO Church’) and scroll down to the ‘What can I do?’ option. You’ll find plenty of ideas there to get you started. If you click on ‘footprintr.me’ link in that section you will be able to calculate your own carbon footprint. In a year’s time, do it again and see if you’ve make your contribution to the 7.6% reduction that humanity needs. Get started on the small things by all means, but it is clearly time now to do the big stuff. Good luck!

Edward Gildea

From St Mary's Parish News - December 2019-January 2020

If only we could have a garden of Eden

It is good to know leading professionals from more than 70 wildlife organisations have joined with government agencies for the first time, to present the clearest picture to date of the status of our species across land and sea. Churches are realising that their grounds can become sustainable wildlife habitats and St Mary's has taken the first step in agreement with the town council to ensure no chemicals are used on site and to start a mowing regime in a trial area to create a wildflower meadow. The eco-team are hoping to start planting; increasing the number of flowers in existing beds, planting wild flowers seeds and plant plugs to attract pollinators to increase biodiversity.

The UK’s wildlife continues to decline according to the new State of Nature Report 2019. The latest findings show that since rigorous scientific monitoring began in the 1970s, 41% of UK species studied have declined. 133 species assessed have already been lost since Tudor times. Butterfly decline is 17% and moths 25% . The numbers of species that require more specialised habitats have declined by more than three quarters. As God knows ‘every flower in the meadow and bird in the sky’ he cares for each and every living thing then so should we.

The UK’s mammals also fare badly with greater than 26% of species at risk of disappearing altogether. At St Mary's we plan to create small log piles, hedgehog homes and a bug hotel in discreet corner to encourage mammals and amphibians.

Much is known about the causes of decline and about some of the ways in which we could reduce impacts and help struggling species. The evidence from the last 50 years shows that significant and ongoing changes in the way we manage our land for agriculture and the ongoing effects of climate change are having the biggest impacts on nature. Both nationally and locally we need to alter the way we treat the natural world.

Daniel Hayhow, lead author on the report, said: “We know more about the UK’s wildlife than any other country on the planet, and what it is telling us should make us sit up and listen. We need to respond more urgently across the board if we are to put nature back where it belongs. Governments, conservation groups and individuals must continue to work together to help restore our land and sea for wildlife and people in a way that is both ambitious and inspiring for future generations”. Bishop Stephen’s letter to Essex churches supports this view when he stated it is our duty to play our part. God’s wonderful world needs our help and prayers, fortunately people’s attitudes towards valuing nature means there are positive steps forward.

Jackie Damary-Homan (Eco group)


From St Mary's Parish News - October 2019

Eco Church - Our New Perspective

We have just celebrated the remarkable and heroic journey of the astronauts who landed on the moon fifty years ago. Just a few months before that, Apollo 8 had taken the first humans out of Earth orbit and around the moon. As they re-emerged from the far side of the moon, after the agonizing moments when communication with Earth was impossible, they saw, for the first time, the amazing phenomenon of ‘Earth Rise’. Our small, exquisitely beautiful globe of green, blue and white, rising above the surface of the moon. No wonder the astronauts read the first verses of Genesis to an awe-struck Earth on that Christmas Eve orbiting the moon!

This was the image that gave us the chance to see the world and ourselves from a new and powerful perspective: small, delicate, self-contained, in balance with the universe.

Sailing around the world, I felt a similar perspective: that however vast and frightening the oceans sometimes seemed, the world is actually very small; and however powerful and dangerous the winds and waves, our climate is very delicately balanced.

It is also full of abundant, natural, clean energy. Sailing towards the Fastnet Rock this summer in a Force 7 gale, I am sure I had all the power at my fingertips on the helm of a F1 racing driver! It was thrilling!

Yet for all these perspectives, we are still treating our world as if it were an infinite sewer. We pour toxins and CO2 into the air, as if the atmosphere can dispose of them freely on our behalf, and we pour plastics and pollutants into our rivers and oceans as if they are infinitely able to neutralize them without nature being harmed.

Some how we have not made the link between our behaviours, consumption and lifestyles and the consequences these have on our small and delicate planetary vessel. It is time to connect things up. We vote with every purchase we make. Voting to be part of the supply chain that brought us that food, those clothes, that product, that energy, and voting to be part of the chain that recycles, disposes or pollutes after we have used it.

Nothing goes away. The only things that have ever left our planet are some amazing Voyager space craft and the LEM modules still sitting on the moon. Everything else is still with us; with consequences, if not for us, then for our children and grandchildren.

Bishop Stephen’s Letter - Sept 2019

Dear friends in Christ,

Taking action on climate change

Two years ago, when I visited our partner diocese in Kenya, it had not rained for 18 months. Bishop Qampicha drove me across the diocese. We passed dried up rivers where I saw an elephant digging for water with its trunk. I visited villages where the water hole had been empty for months. We went to a reservoir where many people gathered with their animals, but I was told there was only enough water left for another two months. People were travelling vast distances to come to it. Fighting regularly broke out, fuelling anxious and volatile tribal tensions. We came across nomadic people who had abandoned the lifestyle of centuries to settle by the edge of the tarmac road. They showed us the skeletons of their dead animals. They now spent their days by the side of the road waiting for the little aid that was available to fill their containers with water.

A whole way of life is disappearing, and with it, violence is escalating.

Everywhere we went children hailed us as we drove by. At first I thought they were just pleased to see us. Then I saw they were shaking upturned plastic bottles. They knew we had water on board and they were thirsty. Most painful of all, I saw some children drinking water from a stagnant and semi-polluted brook. I dread to think what diseases that water contained. But if you are thirsty you will drink whatever is available.

Kenya used to measure the year by the seasons of short and long rains. But what was once predictable is now erratic. Drought is followed by flood. And uncertainty breeds further uncertainty. A whole region is thirsting.

And it isn’t just Kenya. Our whole world is facing a climate emergency. Our faith tells us the world was created by God and we have responsibility for it. Scientists tell us that we need to make large changes fast to avoid catastrophic threats to the conditions that support life on earth. Images of the fires destroying the Amazon have brought the damage being done to our world into sharp focus. The actions of young people and Greta Thunberg have spoken truth to power and challenged us about our way of living.
Christians across our diocese are engaged in seeking to prayerfully respond to climate change. Our faith invites us to live lives that proclaim that truth.

Please join me in asking God to guide and inspire us to find the courage to live and act differently that we may be good stewards of the earth,

Yours sincerely,
The Rt. Revd Stephen Cottrell Bishop of Chelmsford

From St Mary's Parish News -  July/August 2019

My Environmental Dream 

Last month the PCC signed up for the journey to become an Eco church. It needs to be a journey that challenges us all.

At a recent conference the speaker, Rupert Read, said, ‘This civilization is over. It will be over in one of two possible ways. Either we make an intelligent transition to a new form of sustainable civilization, in tune with our environment; or we end with an environmental collapse followed by social and economic disasters.’

It is a stark choice and so far, we have made little progress in choosing the right one. Globally, we are still sending more warming gases up into the atmosphere at the rate of 37.1 billion tonnes per year. 2018 was the highest ever.

However, the destination that I dream of is an attractive one. In ten years time all of us will be running our cars on sunshine. Gliding down the roads smoothly and silently, powered by the solar panels on our homes. When a petrol driven car goes by we will wrinkle our noses at the stench and complain with righteous indignation as we do now if someone lights a cigarette indoors.

Our gas boilers will have been replaced by air source or ground source heat pumps. The coziest bathroom I ever luxuriated in was in a Landmark Trust folly, heated by a ground-source heat pump. It was wonderful! Our fuel bills will be massively cheaper and no longer will we be sending billions of dollars to dynastic families in the Middle East to fuel their conflicts.

We will be flying less because rail travel will be so much better and cheaper, with comfortable and romantic night sleepers taking us to our Mediterranean holidays.

And best of all, we will be able to look our children and grandchildren in the eye and feel that we ended up as reasonably good ancestors, bequeathing them a planet that they can enjoy as much as we have.

That is my dream. But we really need another Martin Luther King to inspire us all to realize it.

Meanwhile it is worth doing what we can on three levels:
1.    Take personal responsibility: for our carbon footprints, for our use of plastics, for our role in the supply chains of everything we buy: are we supporting ethical, humane, non-polluting companies with our purchases?
2.    Act Locally: get involved in local groups and movements to make Saffron Walden as green and sustainable as we can, halting the decline in biodiversity and reducing air pollution.
3.    Influence nationally and internationally: we are privileged to life in a democratic country with freedom of speech and association. Let’s put that freedom to good use!
Edward Gildea, Eco Church Team

From St Mary's Parish News June 2019

We’re off!

St Mary’s Church have decided to embark on the journey to become an Eco Church!

Our curate, Rachel Prior says, 'I am delighted that St Mary's is taking seriously the need to cherish and protect God's creation. Through registering to become an Eco Church, we are joining in with many other Christians and churches, who are committed to being good stewards of this beautiful planet. The Church has an opportunity to demonstrate real leadership here and could play a tremendous role in taking us forward.'

The award is structured around five headings, with 20-30 actions attached to each:
  • our worship and teaching
  • our buildings
  • our land
  • our engagement with local and global communities
  • the personal lifestyles and decisions of our congregation

The timing could not be more appropriate. The various UN reports that have been published on Climate Change and loss of Bio-diversity; the recent declarations of Climate Emergency by the Town Council and the UK Parliament; the example of Greta Thunberg; the actions of Extinction Rebellion and the warnings of Sir Richard Attenborough and Mark Carney all tell us that if we don’t act now it will be too late.

‘What excites me about this project is the potential for leadership. The planet is crying out for leadership on this issue; leadership by example and practical action. The Church, in it’s duty to love and cherish God’s creation, could play a tremendous role in taking us forward,’ said Eco team leader, Edward Gildea.

Jackie Damary-Holman will be championing the work to support bio-diversity while Chris Knight will be using his experience to find ways of reducing the carbon footprint of the church.

Rev Rachel Prior will be exploring ways in which the worship and prayer life of the church can be used to inspire us to be more conscious of our impact on future generations in our daily lives and decisions.

But the church really wants to enlist ‘champions’ and ‘activists’ in all aspects of church life so that everyone can play an active part, not just a small, delegated team.

Click on the links below to go to our Eco Church pages: