My name is Talitha Fraser and I am the Operations Officer here at St Paul’s Cathedral. You’ll have heard we’re doing an organisational sustainability audit and I’m interested in reflecting together today on the ways, as community members, we might do an audit of our households’ sustainability.
My neighbour pruned her lemon tree over the weekend and, with boxes of fruit available, she asked whether I wanted any and I said, “Yes” with plans to share lemon, honey, ginger cordial and lemon curd to our local free food pantry this week.
Christian economist Jon Cornford’s Household Covenant bible study series offers a model that seeks to help those who want to live more responsibly, taking care for the impact that our lives have upon others, upon God’s creation and upon our connection to God. This model of “sharing abundance” is, to borrow the words of the Apostle Paul, an attempt to ‘conform no longer to the present pattern of the world’ (Romans 12:2).
This model offers 7 areas for consideration by which, year on year, the household makes new commitments thereby building over time a life shaped by conscious choices to live well. These areas are as follows: Work & Leisure, Consumption, Ecology, Giving, Savings & Investment, Debt, and Poverty.
Some areas such as Consumption and Ecology will be familiar and it is likely that your household has already established commitments in these areas. Some examples of Consumption covenants might be to: use The Ethical Shopping Guide, to buy fair trade tea and coffee, or trying to eat locally and seasonally as this will lower the food mileage on the produce you are eating, and be cheaper! Swap out that beef for some ‘roo!
Some examples of commitments in the area of Ecology might be to start composting, reducing meat consumption, or to do an energy audit of your home: what can be turned off? What lightbulbs can be swapped for LEDs?
Giving invites us to reflect on what we need. Despite being among the wealthiest countries in the world, many Australians feel like they don’t have enough money for what they ‘need’. If we pause and honestly reflect, do we live our life from a place of scarcity or abundance?
Jesus role modelled being spontaneously generous – what are some creative ways we might do that? It might be as simple as picking bay leaves or rosemary from the garden and putting them out the front for your neighbours to share, or rather than waiting for a financial or Christmas year appeals –discern, what is an issue on your heart that you might make a financial contribution to, however small? Maybe it’s an anonymous $20 in an envelope under the door of a favourite shop closed in this lockdown. That’s probably not enough to materially make a difference to their circumstances but is a sign of hope and grace in dark times that may mean more than you know. Are you planning to leave money to children or grandchildren who can’t afford to buy a home now? What if you could support them to buy it now and watch them flourish while you are still alive to see it? The grace given to us, we are able to give to others.
Savings & Investments provoke thought of the ethical, and responsible ways money can be invested – this might mean switching banks or superfunds. It might mean that you consider a portion of the sale of your home be given to an Aboriginal agency as an act of gratitude for the legacy of land that has come to you. If you own an investment property, how can this serve to meet a human need? We are invited to think of our investments, not to serve only our own ends, but ask – how can these resources at the same time also meet needs of my family, or my community, or the world?
Is our debt necessary, such as to own a house? or it is perhaps unnecessary consumption? Is it possible to live without debt or to reduce it more quickly? As an experiment, what would it look like to keep your credit card in a sleeve labelled “house deposit” (or similar) as a way to conscientize your spending? Every time you take it out to buy something, you will be confronted by your commitment, by your covenant to spend less.
The Work & Leisure, and Poverty sections I’ll go into a bit more – after all what have they got to do with a sustainability audit? In 2 Corinthians 5:16-20, God calls us to participate in the work of reconciling a broken world (the Greek word here is kosmos which includes both humanity and the created world).
In the previous areas of the Household Covenant we are invited to consider how we use or save our money. In these areas, we are invited to consider our time as a resource that we have to use or save… How will we spend it?
We live in a world where over-work (long hours and few breaks) is valued and at the same time work that upholds society through care of children, the sick and elderly is not seen to be of value. Our work can driven by many things, including a need to attain a particular standard of living, a need to meet other people’s expectations, or a desire to contribute and be productive. We spend the biggest investment of our waking time in our work and in relationship with these work colleagues. Mother Teresa has said: “The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love.” What would it look like to drop a day of paid work a week and give over a day to this love?; Or to change jobs to one which is meaningful work that aligns with our values; to reconsider and possibly redefine what is of “value” to us, most worth the investment of our skills and time.
More than 50% of people’s leisure time is now given over to screens (that stat is pre-COVID!). There is an invitation here to literally audit our time and then ask: how does it serve you and others? In Exodus 31, we are told God gives us the sabbath, ‘in order that you may know that I, the Lord, am making you holy’. Can I tune into ‘knowing I am holy’ watching Netflix? This happens for me when I’m gardening, or taking a walk by the river, or serving as part of my church community – what are you doing when you have your deepest sense of knowing you are holy?
Connecting with my neighbours to share the lemon harvest and prepare produce to give to those in need, prevents food waste, and connects people in my community. This is my response to God’s call to participate in the work of reconciling a broken world.
What will your response be?