Our Lady of Fatima, in Kingsgrove Sydney, is a wonderful example of a parish embracing sustainability and the need to care for God’s Creation.
The sustainability journey begun at Our Lady of Fatima almost 10 years ago, with some small actions by a single parishioner, Thea Ormerod. Thea, who has been part of the parish for over 30 years, is a close friend of Catholic Earthcare and a passionate advocate for sustainability, climate issues and social justice.
One day, Thea noticed that the urn in the kitchen of the parish hall was left on seven days a week, even though it was only needed for a fraction of this time. She realised how much energy this must be consuming, so she decided to put an electric kettle in the kitchen, turn off the urn and leave a note suggesting that parishioners only turn on the urn when expecting a large group. This one small action had a substantial impact on the energy bills of the site, which included the hall and the parish office. When Thea analysed the energy bills for the hall and office over time, she discovered that turning off the urn resulted in a 26% drop in energy consumption.
This action not only cut energy costs for the parish, it also inspired Parish Priest, Father Remy, and a number of parishioners to engage more with environmental issues. Thea welcomed this enthusiasm, and, along with a number of others, ran a workshop in the parish hall that discussed climate change and sustainability.
After this workshop, environmental issues were firmly on the agenda at Our Lady of Fatima. Members of the Pastoral Council began to discuss the environmental and financial benefits of energy efficiency, and explore the possibility of switching to a green power option. Fr Remy also implemented a number energy efficiency measures in the parish, including setting the floodlights to a lower wattage and limiting the use of the perimeter lights in the Church.
In the years since this workshop, a new priest has been appointed and new people have come onto the Pastoral Council. They were informed of this work and have continued it. Together with the Works Committee and the Finance Committee, they have arranged for signage encouraging energy efficient behaviour, installed sensors for lights and put in a new efficient air-conditioning system in the main meeting room of the hall. The parish is also exploring the possibility of installing solar panels. Each year, the parish participates in Walk or Ride to Worship, an initiative of the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change. Thea annually produces an insert for the Parish Bulletin that discusses theological and practical responses to climate change.
Although the parish has made huge progress towards becoming more sustainable, differences of opinion have occasionally led to indecision and conflict. However, all-in-all, the parish has made some huge progress, and Thea believes that one of the key learnings from their journey is that sustainability has to be a combined effort. If there is one message she would pass on to other parishes, it is that support for sustainability needs to come from the various levels of decision-making, but support from the Parish Priest and Pastoral Council is especially important.