Near-empty churches and unused parish land should be repurposed to help save the environment, a leading eco-theologian has said.
Kevin Hargaden of Dublin’s Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice told this newspaper that instead of being dispersed over a number of churches, parishioners should gather in “larger groups”, creating opportunities for vacant churches to be repurposed for ecological means.
“I think that it’s a good idea for Christian communities that we would gather in larger groups for Mass on Sunday, but the buildings that don’t get used, I think can get repurposed. Again, that’s an opportunity for us to think about how do we make a church fit for the 21 Cenutry mission,” Dr Hargaden told The Irish Catholic.
He added that for a “whole bunch of logistical and operational reasons”, rationalising church buildings is a smart decision, and noted that unused land in parishes can also be rewilded – a process of restoring land to its natural state – to reduce Ireland’s collective carbon footprint.
Emphasising that while individual actions aimed at preventing ecological peril are important, he said only collective efforts can make any substantive difference to the environment’s wellbeing.
“The parish becomes the lynchpin, the cornerstone member of a broad coalition within the town that seeks so to develop policies on that collective level. And that makes sense because so much of this conversation directs us towards individual behavioural change and while that’s important, that is utterly insignificant and insufficient – even the most severe eco-warrior is making no difference on their own,” he said, stressing that the environmental work of even the most committed parish in isolation is “just a drop in the ocean”.
Recommending what parishes can do to begin their ecological journey, Dr Hargaden suggested joining initiatives like Eco Congregation Ireland which encourages churches of all denominations to consider what practical steps can be taken to prevent further damage to the environment.