“A great cultural, spiritual and educational challenge stands before us.” (Laudato Si’: 202)
St Anthony in the Fields church community on the outer edges of Sydney is one of three churches of the Frenchs Forest Parish. It is located close to Garigal and Ku-ring-gai National Parks. A small group of parishioners had already been volunteering in the grounds, removing small sections of the invasive weeds which had already smothered a large proportion of the one-hectare site, replacing them with native species.
In 2015, following the publication of Laudato Si’, the group drafted a visionary response, offering leadership in steering a way into the future for the Parish. All three of our churches have been built on indigenous Australian bushland and are blessed to be in an area known as the Duffy’s Forest plant community. We owe the forest a great debt for housing our churches, our schools and many of our families.
Our Parish is well placed to show initiative in our local community and in the Diocese of Broken Bay in repaying some of the debt we owe to the local and greater environment and in responding to the urgent calls for metanoia or change of heart. We asked, “How can we, as a Church, show leadership in putting something back into the environment?”
Kierans Creek runs through St Anthony’s, and the riparian zone is an important habitat for small birds such as the yellow robin, reptiles such as the eastern water dragon, and the black swamp wallaby. Surrounding properties are becoming alienated from surrounding natural vegetation through continued development. We want to offer hope to the next generations towards healing Earth, our Common Home.
“Everyone’s talents and involvement are needed to redress the damage caused by human abuse of God’s creation.” (Laudato Si’: 14)
Following a community forum on Laudato Si’, we formed a Landcare Group in 2016. With the help of a grant from Greater Sydney Landcare and the support of the Northern Beaches Council, which provided ecological expertise, support and advice, we have achieved much in three and a half years.
We have gathered tremendous support from our parish priest and the community with volunteers from the church and wider local community doing primary and maintenance weeding, planting local species, providing refreshments, recording what we do, helping with promotion and grant applications. We have a wonderful relationship, grown over many years, with the Northern Beaches Aboriginal community.
We have begun Youth Landcare with the involvement of local high schools. We have connected with a local birdwatching group as we delight in discovering little birds such as the red-browed finch (Neochmia temporalis) currently nesting in the habitat we have restored. We have the Stations of the Cross in the Forest and a meditation walk through part of the restored area. People are spending time in the grounds reflecting, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Spirit of God calls us to pray, to learn and to take action as a community of Creation. “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev 21:5). With this long term project, we are protecting the waters and riparian areas of the headwaters of Kierans Creek which runs into the Hawkesbury River; we are reducing the impact of invasive species, we are protecting biodiversity, we are providing a wildlife corridor and we are learning more about biodiversity and ecology as well as educating others.