Church stained glass window

Interview: The Queen of the Green Church, Isabelle Woodman

Our local eco-group, Turn Lyme Green, lines up some fabulous speakers and the one at our last meeting was no exception.

Isabelle Woodman, fondly known as Izzy, lives here in Lyme Regis, she’s the daughter of the local Baptist Church Minister, Christopher Woodman and is currently studying Christian Rural and Environmental Studies. Her passion for matters environmental blossomed at university, when she got her teeth firmly into climate change and environmental degradation. The more research she uncovered, the more she learned precisely what state the planet was in; she made a plan there and then to do something about it on a larger scale.

We met up recently for a chat and a cuppa and Izzy told me all about her personal mission to spread the good, green gospel in the house of God.

She explained:

After I found out what was going on environmentally with the planet, I felt a very strong need to tell people what I had learned. I couldn’t just carry on after finding out the facts. My faith was also a massive factor and I needed to share the vital message with other Christians about the importance of looking after what we’d been gifted by the Lord. I was also empowered by a quote I knew from William Wilberforce: ‘You may choose to look the other way, but you can never again say you did not know!’

Izzy soon discovered the Eco Church scheme, an organisation founded by a Christian conservation group called A Rocha which was re-launched in January 2016. The scheme encourages churches everywhere to address the spiritual, missional and practical areas of church life, and to find ways of making them as eco-friendly as possible. Izzy’s father was very supportive of her plan to roll it out in his church in Lyme as they both recognised the importance of caring for the planet and taking care of what has been given to us.

They understand that the way we live our lives in the UK can have an effect on impoverished communities from other countries who don’t have the money to mitigate the problems of climate change. Izzy and Christopher wanted to show their love to the planet and these people, by ensuring their congregation in Lyme had an absolutely minimal impact, better still, no negative impact at all.

Izzy is incredibly excited about the forthcoming Eco Café which will soon be open at Lyme’s Baptist Church and she told me:

Over the next few months we are developing one of our church halls to become an ethical coffee bar. The mission of this project is to create a relaxing and engaging space for our user groups, church family and members of the community. As we develop the café we want to make it as eco-friendly as possible, from the coffee we drink, to the materials we use. I think that members of all faiths should contribute positively to helping the environment, as climate change is no respecter of faith. In fact, regardless of whether people have faith or not, we should all be joining together to work on this issue. The situation we find ourselves in has created an opportunity for different faiths to work together to do all they can for the planet. The Pope’s new book Laudato Si’ is fantastic and has done a tremendous job of addressing all the different issues that need to be challenged.

The Lyme Regis Baptist Church family have been very encouraging while she introduced a few changes. Not only did they embrace many of the environmentally friendly ideas Izzy had, but many of the congregation also adopted them in their own homes too. Her stance is always upbeat and positive and having seen her in action at the Turn Lyme Green meeting, I concur she does a great job of showing how small, simple life changes can make an enormous difference when done on a large scale.

A lightbulbIzzy told me her church also held sermon series’ and house groups to show what happens when we make more effort to look after the environment. The house groups were especially effective, as the participants were invited to, ‘Throw around ideas and questions and work through them together as a group’. Since enrolling her place of worship on the Eco Church scheme, many successes have been noted from members of the congregation. They’re doing everything from changing old-fashioned lightbulbs to LEDs, making sure their food is more locally sourced and even making environmentally positive changes to their shopping habits for clothes, and for household goods by ensuring their purchases are ethical.

As with all eco-evangelists, Izzy has some great advice for people just starting out. She says, ‘Don’t be overwhelmed. Do what you can and slowly build up to doing more. It can feel a bit much at times and when the news reports are just awful, you might feel that as an individual you can’t make any difference, but you absolutely can! Change starts with us but I do realise, there are many reasons why people don’t engage with climate change. One of the most common is the fact that we cannot see the immediate effects of it, or witness the environmental degradation over here. It’s not affecting us significantly in the UK yet and therefore, it seems something far away that won’t really harm us. There is also a general lack of trust in the scientific community due to all the mixed messages and constantly changing statistics that are being released.

Izzy was greatly affected by a trip she made in 2014 to Hoboken, New Jersey, to learn about the impact of Hurricane Sandy on the community. She found out that half the town had been immersed under water and learned first-hand how devastating the effect was. Scientists have since attributed the hurricane to climate change and have been busy discussing the future risk to low lying areas of the East coast, which may be affected by sea level rise.

Sign on a beach, leave nothingThis knowledge has undoubtedly fuelled her passion to get more people on board with the good, green message and the Eco Church scheme is the perfect vehicle to help her spread the word. At the Saunton Sands Hotel in March, Izzy will be addressing a large audience and talking about the scheme to the conference of South West Baptist Association Ministers. She feels this is a fantastic opportunity to show these positively influential people how to be more eco friendly as a church, and in everyday lives at home too. It will also give her a perfect opportunity to show how looking after the environment is very clearly linked and bound up with the Christian faith.

Izzy has a great many tools in her box to inspire people and just like Wangechi Kiongo, she has the advantage of youth on her side and an infectious sparkling disposition too. The final element of the Eco Church scheme encourages participants to offset the carbon that has been created by their church. With loving assistance from her father and with help from our team at The Word Forest Organisation, we’re going to work out what the carbon footprint of it has been and all being well, it might be offset by planting trees in our beautiful Word Forests. As they’re in Kenya and very near the equator, these trees will grow incredibly quickly and will draw down and lock in around 240kg per mature tree before you know it.

Izzy concludes:

The Word Forest Organisation is a fantastic project! It’s so encouraging to see projects like these running successfully and making a positive difference to communities and the planet. Everyone needs to be educated about climate change; the younger they are and the sooner they get to grips with it, the better, it’s so important! It makes me want to spread the word about being an environmental guardian even more and I’m inspired to spread the message about what a difference we can make! We all need to hear more good news stories about how people are tackling climate change and our church is delighted to be involved with A Rocha and the Climate Stewards, who plant trees to offset carbon too. These are such exciting times!

Amen to that!

The Team

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