By Andrew Humphries
In her four years as Minister at Koonung Heights Uniting Church, Heather Hon has come to appreciate deeply the level of the congregation’s commitment to creating a more sustainable world.
That commitment was recognised in April through the Five Leaf Eco Awards, which honour a congregation’s work in promoting practices and policies which help our environment.
The awards are an Australian ecumenical environmental change program specifically designed for churches and religious organisations, assisting, inspiring and rewarding faith communities for taking environmental action and becoming more sustainable in response to God’s call to care for creation.
Koonung Heights joins a number of other Victorian and Tasmanian Uniting Church congregations to be recognised with Five Leaf Eco Awards.
Since 2010, Leighmoor UC, Sophia’s Spring in Brunswick, Brunswick UC, St Andrew’s UC in Fairfield, Warrandyte UC, St Luke’s UC in Highton, Clarence UC in Tasmania, Port Melbourne UC, St Luke’s UC in Mount Waverley, and Wesley UC in Geelong have received Five Leaf awards.
As she reflects on Koonung Heights’ recognition, Heather says it demonstrates that individual congregations have the power to make a big difference in caring for the environment and taking up the fight to combat climate change.
And while she might be an obvious figurehead, Heather is quick to point out that her role is just a small one, thanks to a social justice committee and congregation as a whole that works extremely hard in the environmental space.
“I must say I’m extremely proud of our congregation, which has been active in this area long before I arrived,” she says.
“We have a good and vibrant group of people who are a big part of the community.”
As part of lessening its environmental footprint, Heather says the congregation has put a number of initiatives in place, including conducting an energy audit, converting from gas to electric heating, installing solar panels, and smaller but still important initiatives like printing only on recycled paper and inviting a presentation by a guest speaker from Lighter Footprints, a group focusing on climate change action in the Boroondara and Whitehorse council areas.
“It’s really a whole-of-church approach,” Heather says.
“For example, our property committee decided to explore the installation of solar panels and then looked around to see who they could get to come and do the installation, and how to prepare the church building for it.
“The social justice committee was the driver of the energy audit, an important way of gauging how effectively we are using energy.
Heather says climate justice fits in neatly with the congregation’s strong commitment towards social justice.
“I think many of us grew up thinking that the pinnacle of creation was humanity and humanity is what we focused on, and with that came an attitude of subduing the earth through control rather than care,” she says.
“I look at it now and I believe it’s all of creation we need to care for.
“We have been gifted this world to live in and what we do in it affects us all.
“We might turn on a tap here and have clean drinking water, but other actions by us might affect people elsewhere in the world.
“These are things that impact the environment so much and change the balance of the world.”
As all of the accepted evidence tells us the world is experiencing climate change turmoil, Heather says it is congregations like Koonung Heights which must take up the baton and act now.
“While the world has always gone through changes in temperature, our understanding is that global warming has never happened as quickly as it is now,” she says.
“It leads to questions around what we can do to lessen the impacts of this that don’t actually negatively impact us too much.
“For example, it’s not a big deal for us to print on recycled paper here, but imagine if everyone did that.
“So when we’re looking at which energy provider to use, or how we heat our buildings, let’s look at options which are more environmentally friendly and sustainable.”
As the battle for the environment continues, Heather says worship itself is a vital tool in the ongoing struggle.
“We are always looking to bring environmental themes into our worship, and that’s a continuing initiative,” she says.
“I think within that, justice around our First Nations people, which is also really important to us, and climate justice are actually linked in many ways.”