An intorduction to travel How we get to church matters

Written by Louise Abraham and the Green Guardians of Brentwood Cathedral

The Green Guardians of Brentwood Cathedral explore the importance of how we travel, for our planet, for our people and for our faith

How does the way I travel affect the world?

The way we choose to travel is one of the single biggest differences we can make to our carbon footprint – transportation accounts for 28% of the UK’s yearly greenhouse gas emissions (UK ONS 2018); the largest contribution of any sector. Many of us jump in the car, or book a flight, without even thinking, out of habit or convenience, and have never considered how the way we travel has a profound effect not only on our environment, but on our approach to life.

“Convenience” limits our experience

The perceived need to drive is rooted in a society that prioritises busyness; the need to rush from place to place, filling our lives with unsustainable levels of activity that ultimately lead to stress, burnout, and unhappiness.

In England, 60% of 1-2 mile trips are made by car (National Travel Survey 2018) – it takes the average person about 20 minutes to walk a mile – what does that show us? That we prioritise habit and convenience, even when the drive might well take us longer in traffic, arriving at our destination and needing to fight for a parking space!

The need to slow down

We have an opportunity, therefore, in the way we choose to travel to not only reduce our carbon footprint, but to improve our wellbeing, to create healthy habits, and to allow ourselves to more joyfully experience God’s gift of creation. By choosing to walk or cycle, or even to take public transport, we are opened to encountering both the beauty of nature and the people that we meet along the journey.

As Catholics, we believe that the Mass is centre of our faith and should be an experience of encounter and reflection both with the Real Presence of Christ and with our church community. What sense does it make to rush to Mass, face the battle of the parish carpark, only to arrive to church flustered and frustrated? Our journey to church is an excellent opportunity to help us prepare for Mass; giving us extra space to reflect, experience God in nature and community, and to help us reduce our environmental impact in the process.

For those who have children, slowing down the journey to Mass can be a beneficial way of engaging them about the importance of Mass. Perhaps during the walk or cycle to Church, you can talk to them about what to expect in Mass and even discuss the readings you will hear that day?

A Cross walk in Holy week. Walking can provide a visible witness.

What can my parish do?

The parish setting, therefore, has an opportunity to encourage encounter and community through the way that it supports its parishioners to make healthy changes in the way they travel. This doesn’t mean forcing everyone to walk to Mass, but involves some careful and clever thinking about the specific needs of your community and to recognise the importance of the journey in our experience of church. For example, a carpool scheme serves the community not only in reducing pollution (with less cars on the road) but can help those in your local area who would otherwise be unable to travel to church for whatever reason (e.g., lack of accessibility of local transport for people with disabilities or financial restraints). Or perhaps your parish could work to campaign for better public transport in your community? Can you work with other Churches and religious groups in your area to organise a ‘Walk to Church’ Sunday once a month where churchgoers walk to Mass or a religious service together? 

At Brentwood Cathedral, we have installed bicycle racks to make the experience of cycling to Mass more accessible as parishioners feel there is a dedicated space where their bicycles are secure. During Lent, we also prepared a guide for parishioners who wished to reflect on their relationship with the natural environment. The guide challenged parishioners to think about their transport habits, especially in the lead up to Palm Sunday.

Taking the time to appreciate that the way we travel is an essential part of our Christian experience. The average person spends 377 hours a year on the move (National Travel Survey 2018) – imagine what you could do with that time if you learnt to appreciate the journey?

About the Authors

Louise Abraham is part of the Brentwood diocesan Laudato Si’ working group and member of Green Guardians, a social action group based at Brentwood Cathedral. Created as a response to Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’, parishioners have taken action by raising awareness of environmental issues and encouraging the parish community to live simply and sustainably.