From churchyard vine to communion wine – how two young men are using locally grown to inspire a whole congregation.

Go down Southall Highstreet until you have the mosque minaret on your left, and McDonalds on your right, and you’ve found the turning for St George’s. Tucked away behind the Golden Arches is a beautiful redbrick church, quietly serving up a very different feast to that of its fast-food neighbour – a banquet of what life can be when we choose to become good tenants of Creation.

Samson Massey and Andrew Gray are childhood friends, still happily are on the same wavelength in their respective church roles – Andrew as part time Church Maintenance Manager, and Samson as Children and Youth Work Apprentice. Their faces light up in smiles frequently as they chat about their work, sitting on the leather sofa in the Oak Room of St George’s. The church underwent a very forward-looking refurbishment in 2010 as a 100th birthday present to itself, transforming from chilly brick interior into a veritable Eco Showcase. Samson and Andrew were teenagers in the congregation at the time, and they remember what the church was like before the refit, grinning when they recall the overhead Halogen heaters.

“It was kind of like a small island of heat you huddled up under as a family. If you stepped out of that area it was deadly cold! You couldn’t move around church and not freeze.” But then, in 2010, came the underfloor heating, and all that changed. Suddenly you could go anywhere, because everywhere was warm. Instead of trying to heat all of the air in this cavernous space (as a radiator on the wall would) the underfloor heating provides the heat directly to where people are, and so keeps them cosy. Where so many high-raftered churches have radiators with stratified heat, meaning the roof space is positively roasting but the congregation are shivering far below, St George’s has flipped that concept on its head. By providing the heat directly to where the congregation are sitting, the air inside might not be tropical, but people are kept toasty from warmth rising up around them. Would Andrew and Samson recommend this for other churches? “Do it!” they chime. “It’s a big cost, but so worth it.”

But warm worshippers is not the only innovation. They also have solar panels spread over not one, but two, roof spaces – all dating back to that innovative refurbishment in 2010. Three new rooms were created in the transepts, with light and unintrusive glass walls, providing meeting spaces that can be heated zonally, separate from the main church. This not only massively reduced their energy consumption, it also made a handy dent in their bills. A loft space was converted into an office with the addition of some proper stairs, to make another heat zone. It’s so well thought out, and beautifully done. The church used savings, and then sourced grants to foot the rest of the bill. Quite the stewards.

Eco initiatives are truly ingrained here, and it’s not just about 2010. St George’s now have their sights set on battery storage for all that free solar power, and the church has just been awarded a grant from the local council to make it a reality. It will be set high on the wall in the Oak Room, and will bring their bills down even further. It was a tale of try, try again, as one grant application was rejected, but then a second grant application came through.

But the truly amazing story here isn’t around technologies, instead it’s around a collective mindset. It’s the little stories, of which there seems no end, of how St George’s is steering itself and its congregation towards loving and protecting Creation. Like the Eco Tips that formed part of the main Sunday service – every week for a year – 52 of them. And sometimes a quiz, to help people remember what previous Eco Tips were. All as a normal part of collective worship.

It’s having special mugs made for the church, so that they could ditch disposables forever. It’s raking up the leaves from the trees and composting them on site. It’s putting on Creation Care Messy church for the children, going into the local Primary School and doing Eco activities, taking their wellbeing café guests to Kew Gardens, and having PCC eco Away Days. It’s about Creation Care being a way of life, not just another tick in another box, right down to the carrots and parsnips that are growing in neat raised beds beside the door of the church, ready to be pulled up for the church’s shared Christmas meal. L.O.A.F food – Local, Organic, Animal Friendly, Fairtrade – what could possible taste better?

They seem to have so much energy, these two friends. Samson casually mentions that he’s been doing a day a week with A Rocha at their nearby Wolf Fields site.

And then the penny drops! This is what an embedded love of Creation looks like. When you plant the seeds in your teenage congregation, and watch as they become masterful stewards in their own right, embedding that love and care in the children they work with. This is what being aligned towards Creation Care could be for the whole church, a part of our worshiping DNA.

Samson and Andrew point out the new pond they have recently created at the front of church. And there, on the other side of the church door, is a vine growing perfect, tight little balls that will soon become grapes. “We’re hoping we might be able to make our own Communion Wine.” The symbolism of this is breath-taking; it sums up everything Samson and Andrew are trying to do.

St George’s in a nutshell.

L.O.A.F., wine, and generations fighting, with all the bravery of their namesake, for the integrity of Creation.

Photos by Brendan Foster Photography

Article author Alison Moulden is helping churches across the Diocese reach Net Zero Carbon.