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Vicar’s flock includes real sheep
VICARS are used to caring for their flock – but this church is looking after real sheep alongside its congregation.
The Rev Ali Morley welcomed six sheep to be kept in a meadow next to St Mary’s Church, Brading, on the Isle of Wight last November. It was a way of keeping down the cost of grass-cutting in the churchyard, but also showing the church’s commitment to ecology and conservation.
Now the six ewes have given birth to lambs, which means she has an even larger flock to take care of. But Ali, who has experience in animal husbandry, and a team of volunteers from the church are taking it in their stride.
It’s part of the focus on the environment which is a high priority in the four churches she leads in Brading, Yaverland, St Helens and Seaview, on the eastern side of the Isle of Wight. Collectively, they are known as the Haven Benefice.
The environmentally-friendly congregation at St Helens Church, in the village of St Helens, has already been presented with a prestigious Gold Award for their commitment to green issues. And the church hall at St Mary’s Church, Brading, was turned into a permanent market selling Fairtrade, ecological and ethical products during the recent lockdowns.
Ali said: “We were incredibly lucky because we have a field next to the churchyard that we could put the sheep in – just 0.6 of an acre. I’ve got some experience, but people came out of the woodwork and we ended up with a very experienced team of volunteers. Now the six ewes have given birth to six lambs, with another four to six on the way. So there are a lot of late nights and early mornings looking after our sheep.
“The sheep we bought were the beginning of an amazing process that is taking us into animal husbandry, and allows great connections with the local school and community. Allowing pupils to see lambing, for instance, is a great way to teach them about nature.
“The public are flocking to see our flock, because they want to be near these beautiful creatures. Of course, they are also amazing visual aids as we talk about all the stories in the Bible about sheep. There is no doubt in my mind, and in the mind of our church, that we are following our Good Shepherd, Jesus, on an amazing new journey.”
Watch the Rev Ali Morley explain more about sustainable living in the Haven Benefice:
Volunteers from nearby St Helens Church were rewarded by Christian charity A Rocha because of their focus on the environment. It is just one of four churches in the south of England to receive a Gold Award from the Eco-Church scheme. A Rocha aims to equip churches to show their care for God’s world.
Before the pandemic struck, villagers from St Helens met once a month on a Sunday afternoon for an Eco-Church service. It included informal worship with an environmental theme, a practical task to help sustainable living, and a shared ethical meal around a table inside the church. Those practical tasks might include surveying plant and animal life, assessing carbon footprints, making sustainable gifts, pressing apples or planting trees.
They built a pond at the far end of their churchyard, planted trees to replace hedgerows and set up a plastic bottle refilling station to reduce single-use plastics. And they worked with St Helens Primary School on a seed-planting project, which helps pupils understand the value of conservation. The eco-congregation hopes to return to meeting regularly as Covid restrictions lift.
And the ethical market in the church hall at St Mary’s, Brading, has proved to be vital for local residents during lockdowns. Villagers have appreciated having a local venue selling products that are kind to the environment and meet rigorous ethical standards. It is open on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 10.30am to 3.30pm.
The Rev Ali Morley said: “Our commitment to these issues is much more than just adding an environmental layer to what we already do. It is about connecting our faith to a 21st century world view, to immediate environmental concerns and to the changes in our lifestyles that will be needed in the centuries to come.
“It is also about taking science seriously, engaging with contemporary theology, rediscovering hidden treasure from the past and finding a way to speak of God that is relevant in our witness to the world. And, of course, it is rooted in the life, teachings and meaning of Jesus – seeing him as the unparalleled teacher of peaceful and ethical living.”
St Mary the Virgin
High Street, Brading, PO36 0ED