The Livesimply award has hit a major milestone after St Joseph’s Parish in Upminster, Brentwood diocese, was named as its 80th recipient, writes Bernadette Tsocos.
Two assessors – Ellen Teague of the Columbans and Colette Joyce, co-ordinator of Westminster Justice and Peace – conducted an evaluation last month with three members of the parish co-ordinating team: Bernadette Tsocos (co-ordinator), Mary-Anne Madden and Yvonne Dickens. All paid warm thanks to parish priest Fr John Tuohy for his support.
The parish began working towards Livesimply accreditation in May 2018, looking at actions as a parish which not only took care of our own but reached out to the wider community. Parishioners were urged to review their lifestyles and consider what changes they could realistically make to live more simply.
Many parishioners were already aware of Laudato Si’ and we used this as our guide. We also read widely from the words of Pope Francis and looked to role models both in the past and the present. Our weekly quotations in the parish newsletter have been taken from a wide range of cultures, creeds and religions, from the famous and the less so. Bidding prayers on the care of creation were also included at Mass.
The Livesimply campaign was launched at every Mass that same month. We spoke from the pulpit, gave out leaflets and met with parishioners. Each one took a pledge form and over the next few weeks signed up to undertake certain actions under the three Livesimply headings: Living simply, sustainably and in solidarity with the poor.
A Livesimply ‘100 Ideas’ Sheet was distributed and discussed. Pledges were assembled and to date more than 200 have been collected. We made a display of pledges at the back of the church – one from our younger parishioners and one from adults. The childrens’ display was based on the ‘Tree of Life’ and the adults’ one was a ‘Road of Achievement’.
We also launched the Livesimply campaign in the local Catholic primary and secondary schools by conducting assemblies, working with classes and forming ‘Green Teams’ which would take responsibility for encouraging pupils and their families to live a simpler life in solidarity with those less fortunate and to protect the natural environment. We also asked the sixth form to encourage their local communities to live more simply.
A huge number of projects were agreed upon. We supported the Thurrock Food Bank every week with food collections, pledged to involve isolated and lonely parishioners through prayer and took care of the grounds of our Mass centre, St Peter’s, as a way of improving the natural environment. We encouraged young parishioners to connect with nature, providing a haven for wildlife and a reflective environment for parishioners. Parishioners donated 800 bulbs, flowers and shrubs for this area, along with birdfeeders and bird food. Children spent a day making bug hotels which were hung on the trees.
A parishioner volunteered to begin a knitting group to encourage the more isolated parishioners to come together and to give those who are housebound a chance to contribute. This group has been an outstanding success and has knitted and donated a huge number of items to a variety of charities. They also knit for our social events and sell their goods. They stayed active through lockdowns, enabling the parish to donate to charities we had not previously supported.
Finally, a concert featuring professional and amateur musicians and choirs raised over £2,000 for the homeless charity ‘Only A Pavement Away’. My brother, who is the CEO and founder, Greg Mangham, came and gave a talk on the charity. My son, who is a professional musician, took rehearsals and secured the services of the professionals for free. This will be an annual event once lockdown is lifted.
It was affirming to be commended by our two Livesimply assessors for our small and dedicated team achieving so much in the parish and local schools, even with the Covid restrictions of 2020. They applauded making Livesimply initiatives visible through the parish website and weekly newsletters, and the commitment to be inclusive of vulnerable and isolated people in the parish with such initiatives as the Knitting Group and SVP outreach.
There is no doubt that participating has re-awakened our understanding of the need to be less wasteful and be more aware of how our lives impact on others, whether it be ensuring the goods that we buy are from sources which protect the rights of workers and are environmentally friendly or our understanding of how our decisions affect others.
We expected Livesimply to do much for individuals, but it has done much for our parish too. We were asked if the project would continue post award; “absolutely” was our immediate response!
Bernadette Tsocos is the Livesimply Co-ordinator and Chair of the Pastoral Parish Council at St Joseph’s, Upminster.
Picture: The knitting group was praised for bringing together previously isolated members of the community. The fruits of its labours have been donated to local charities.