About the eight steps to ecological dialogue

Catholic Earthcare Australia was founded in 2002 under the guidance of Archbishop John Bathersby, the former president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Commission. Amongst its many initial publications was the seminal document “On Holy Ground, replicated in many states. This document offered prayer, reflection and guidance on becoming stewards of creation and focussed upon an ecological vision for Catholic Education.

While our understanding these days is more of ‘kinship’ with our environment through Laudato Si: ‘On Care for Our Common Home’, in 2005, On Holy Ground laid out a change process that engaged the heart, trained the mind and guided action.

Catholic Earthcare Australia initiated the conversation on becoming an accredited Earthcare school with the publication of On Holy Ground (2005), a seminal document which laid out the case for us to Care for Creation in the teachings of our church back to Pope John XXIII, including Pope John Paul II and Patriarch Bartholemew 1.

In 2020 we will acknowledge 5 years since the publication of Laudato Si’, On Caring for Our Common Home, amid an increasingly difficult geo-political environment and state of a Climate Emergency.

Catholic Earthcare Australia wants to acknowledge the good works happening in parishes, schools and health facilities and nurture their development, growing them into abundance and enthusing church followers so that we as a church can lead buy example, follow our hearts with practical steps which engage the whole community in caring for our mother earth, within our local catholic community and beyond.

In 2005, On Holy Ground started the conversation about accrediting Earthcare schools. In 2020, Catholic Earthcare will trial an accreditation process whereby parishes and schools will undertake 8 steps to ecological dialogue to demonstrate a commitment and real outcomes aligned to church teachings and sound ecological practice.

EIGHT STEPS TO ECOLOGICAL DIALOGUE

Step One of the Catholic Earthcare Steps to Ecological Dialogue is centred around the formation of the heart. With an understanding of your connectivity to your local ecology, deeply felt and sustained commitment to its protection is enhanced.

This connection to the country gives both empowerment and urgency about its future.

(a). Ecological literacy: understanding your connection to nature.

“It is part of our responsibility [to be] looking after our country. If you don’t look after country, country won’t look after you.”


April Bright in Rose, 1996:49

Ecological literacy comes about through an understanding of how fauna and flora demonstrate the beauty and wonder in God’s creation. Commencing with a relationship within your local community, you start to see the connectivity and relationships between humanity and the local ecology. Whether it be erosion from a worksite silting up a nearby creek, or an oil spill on the road leaching into the drain system and onto your favourite beach, you are more likely to enact change when you have a direct relationship with nature. From this relationship, we can extrapolate feelings and generate actions for global issues, even if we are far removed from their effects.

Indigenous knowledge speaks to the power of understanding your connection to nature. As April Bright wrote in Rose, 1996 (49): “It is part of our responsibility to be looking after our country. If you don’t look after country, country won’t look after you.”

Activities that can bring about ecological literacy:

  • We will be populating this section with strategies and practical actions you can take as a school, parish, community or hospital. These strategies will form part of our certification system; check back early 2020 for an update.

(b). The theological and moral imperative to care for our common home

“Saint Francis of Assissi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share out life, and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us.”

N1

Within the Catholic Church, it’s important to understand what and how our church teaches about caring for our common home. St Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with who we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. [N1].

Activities the bring about an understanding of our theological and moral imperative to care for our common home:

  • We will be populating this section with strategies and practical actions you can take as a school, parish, community or hospital. These strategies will form part of our certification system; check back early 2020 for an update.

Engagement and enabling the whole community. Build an apostolate by:

To continue building a climate for change, you should form an apostolate or powerful coalition of people from across the organisation, movement or social group. This group acts as a steering committee, and should be formed under the principles of Catholic Social Teaching, with emphasis on collegiality and subsidiarity.

For example, you’re unlikely to undertake a successful change-driven transition in an organisation, around the theme of litter or waste, unless your cleaners and groundspeople are involved in decision-making process. Disregarding their voice or excluding them from the conversation means that at the grassroots level – where the litter is happening – there won’t be support for your initiative, and they are less likely to be a champion for your waste-free workplace. The cleaners and groundspeople are therefore a vital part of your committee.

Secondly, you’d be unlikely to have any successful change that required a budgetary allocation if you did not have a member of your executive team involved in a committee and managing the finances of the project. Collaborative, authentic engagement and ensuring efficiencies and professionalism demands are met with ensure a smooth day-day operation of the program.

Put simply: you should involve multiple stakeholders in your steering committee, and select a coordinator to lead the conversation as you progress in the change journey. It is often advised to appoint an assistant coordinator or chair, and rotate chair-driven roles in the following 12 months to ensure dynamic approach incorporating multiple voices.

In an education setting, student-led change is the best mechanism for growing the leaders of tomorrow; therefore, younger students need teachers who guide and support them as they mature, and learn to think and act more independently. Ultimately, it would be the students who manage the processes of a committee’s function and the outcomes of the committee’s work, but still under the supervision of a lead teacher.

  • We will be populating this section with strategies and practical actions you can take as a school, parish, community or hospital. These strategies will form part of our certification system; check back early 2020 for an update.

Once again, this step is about engaging and enabling the whole community, and the creation of a vision of what you want to see is crucial to bind the organisation together around a central, prioritised goal.

The goal may be a product of an obvious need or wonder, identified through the collection of data such as surveys from parishioners, students, parents, work colleagues (members of the organisation).

Once a goal has been established, then all energy should be just focused on that core goal.

Some examples of goals within a Church, school, parish or other organisation might be:

  • Water or energy efficiency
  • Litter
  • Waste
  • Health
  • Well-being
  • Caring for country
  • Ethical investment

Creating a plan and achievable timeframes is highly suggested. Is also suggested that at this time you focus on the ‘low hanging fruit’ – the easy goals to achieve, whilst you’re are working out how you committee functions within the community together with all the different change steps you need to manage. Over time, as committee efficiency improves, the challenges, goals or ‘higher fruit’ can be focused on, backed by the acquired skills, resources and experience you’ve gathered on the way.

For example:

  • You’ve managed to install a small vegetable plot, and with Parish, community and seed funding from a local hardware store, you can now create a habitat garden that doubles as a reflective or meditation space,
  • Water tanks fitted with a simple tap have been acquired and used successfully on Parish grounds. You now have the experience to develop an irrigation system for the vegetable patch,
  • Solar panels have been placed on the Parish church, and with the savings accrued you can now focus on placing solar panels on the adjacent school.

As you continue to engage and enable the whole community, you want other people in the organisation outside your committee to be engaged and empowered to act. To do that you need to communicate your vision and plan clearly. Informal and formal meetings together with posters and social media are an effective way to do this. If making decisions, you need to involve as many stakeholders as feasible using the principles of subsidiarity and engage them in options for possible action.

For example:

  • Invite neighbouring student leaders to experience the work you’ve undertaken in school,
  • Use social media to communicate aims, progress and the ‘wins’, and as a powerful invitation tool for the wider community to get involved,
  • Parish newsletters and local Diocese news can be a valuable way to showcase the bigger projects, collaborations and ‘wins’ along the way.

To maintain community engagement and implement change you need to remove barriers to decision-making and action by gaining sponsorship and support from those gatekeepers in your organisation. This is achieved in part by having a cross-representational steering committee and clear lines of delegation from relevant authorities.

For example:

  • A member of the community is hesitant to support the community garden. They’re concerned that watering, weeding and general maintenance won’t be followed up. You invite them to be part of the steering committee for garden development, and invite them to lead the process of designing a garden maintenance program with regular involvement from neighbouring primary students, parishioners, and community volunteers. This opportunity in turn encourages other members of society who brought foods, recipes and plants from their own cultural background and the garden is transformed into a productive, flourishing, educational and inviting space.

As mentioned earlier, taking on easy goals to start with – allowing your committee to become accustomed to work together, figure out the roles and the ‘culture’ of the organisation – builds confidence and momentum as a change process happens. These wins should be communicated regularly and demonstrate a success of the change process, reinforce the success of the committee, and help foster motivation, a sense of achievement and belonging to the movement.

For example:

  • The committee has managed to install the first raised garden bed for a parish community garden. A celebratory afternoon tea is held for the occasion, with committee members feeling appreciated and motivated to continue the next six planned beds, and local community members – inspired by this first ‘win’ – have committed to a fundraising drive to offset the cost of construction materials.  

With the change gaining momentum, you need to track progress and communicate this in order to energise others over time. These change actions need to become part of normal culture and therefore part of your annual strategic planning. With each cycle of change you should gently raise the bar and/or integrate more themes over time.

While Step One – formation of the heart – is crucial to underpinning all our gospel-driven work, Step Eight is essential to spread the gospel message. This could take the form of sharing events which educate and celebrate achievements. Organisations are encouraged to develop annual gatherings and invite like-minded organisations to attend so that may learn from you and grow their own community of practice in caring for our common home.

Earthcare schools certification program

for Catholic schools