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How Bayside Church is stopping the rubbish

Over the last year and half, Bayside Church in Melbourne’s south east has been taking some big steps to reduce their waste – with impressive results. Pastor Sandra Cavallo (pictured above with Amy Butler, Coordinator of Bayside Community Care) and Amelia Pickering have been leading that initiative and, keen to encourage other churches in their efforts to care for God’s creation, shared some of their story and insights with TEAR.

When it comes to caring for creation as a church community, Pastor Sandra Cavallo of Bayside Church wants people to feel empowered.

“Our journey was instigated from within the congregation. It began with a few people in our congregation saying, I’m really passionate about looking after the environment and what we can do as a church community. And so we just explored it. We asked the question, what’s possible? If we gather the people we know are passionate about this, and see it as an expression of their faith, what could we do?”

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Pastor Sandra Cavallo (left) and Amy Butler, Coordinator of Bayside Community Care (right).

Eighteen months later, they’re already celebrating some great achievements – and they’re not finished yet!

From those initial conversations, a small group began to meet regularly to pray and talk about how they might move things forward. People within the group had different reasons for being there. For some it was about humanity’s call to be stewards, for others it was the human impact of environmental justice issues. The common thread was their Christian conviction that the gospel is good news for all creation (Mark 16) and that we are called to love and care for everything that God has made (Genesis 1).

The group recognised early on that they needed to have the senior leaders on board. Care for creation had not been a top-of-mind issue for this church but when they shared their ideas, they found their leaders to be very supportive.

Sandra recalls, “We presented a bare bones strategy to the senior leadership outlining the sort of things we would want to do. Our first idea was to start with an audit across the organisation to see where we were weak and where we were strong and to set some goals from there. They absolutely loved it and gave us the go ahead.”

The audit looked right across the church organisation at a number of environmental aspects and provided suggestions for where they could start. Out of that process, they decided to focus on the issue of waste and have since made a number of changes to the culture and operations of the church. These include new procurement policies focussed on sustainable, low waste options and reducing what they buy, centralised waste sorting stations to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill (the staff team of 25 no longer has bins at their desks!), waste management plans for large events, producing educational videos and resources to promote church and individual behaviour change, implementing a coffee cup recycling program, and replacing disposable communion cups with reusable glass ones.

In a relatively short period of time, they’ve achieved a significant reduction in the volume of waste going to landfill...

In a relatively short period of time, they’ve achieved a significant reduction in the volume of waste going to landfill and reduced the church’s recycled waste as well. And on top of all this, they’re making their energy use more sustainable: changing their light fittings to LED and developing plans to install solar panels later this year.

Key to their progress so far has been taking people with them on the journey through change.

Amelia explains, “Being highly relational was incredibly important, we were doing a lot of listening because we were changing the way people operate.

We were [also] not being judgemental; not shaming. We were spending time with people, having coffees, talking things through, asking why we do it this way and could we think of a different way. Not being prescriptive in terms of timelines but just keeping things moving in the right direction.”

Sandra highlights the importance of humble and honest conversations when it comes to dealing with people’s resistance to change.

“Crucial to the success of what we have accomplished so far has been humbly enquiring of people what their roadblocks are, hearing it and together finding ways to remove those roadblocks. No one has a problem, at the end of the day, with being more sustainable, but when it comes down to the nitty gritty and our convenience being challenged, people can get defensive. The key part of this, I think, has been really listening to people and letting them air what they think.”

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The team has also worked hard to ensure their words and actions are consistent across different contexts within the church.

Amelia points out, “We’ve had preaching up front to show senior leader support, we’ve shown educational videos and provided resources to the congregation. But none of that is going to stick if we’ve got plastic bottles on the pulpit.”

However, their holistic approach has meant the changes are sticking and they are seeing the influence spread to the way people think about waste in their homes and workplaces.

Amelia reflects, “We’re seeing people take ownership of it so that it’s not just what we do at Bayside, it’s what we do as people of faith.”

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Beyond the individual changes people making, there are plans to keep developing their creation care program in ways that build and strengthen the church community.

Sandra says, “It’s a natural flow. We’re caring about our environment and the environment we’re creating but that includes people – clearly! So it is about fostering community, it is about doing things together. We’ve talked about community gardens, all sorts of things, ways to strengthen community, love each other and love the earth we share.”

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