The Eco Congregations of

Westray and Papa



Eco Congregation Scotland


Eco-Congregation is an ecumenical programme helping churches make the link between environmental issues and Christian faith, to respond with practical action in the church, in the lives of individuals, and in the local and global community. The programme is operated in several different countries through independent organisations who share resources. 

Eco-Congregation Scotland is a registered charity. It encourages local churches of all kinds to reduce their environmental impact while engaging with their local community. A programme is offered to enthuse and equip churches to weave environmental issues into their life and mission in an enjoyable and stimulating way. Its vision is to promote a Scotland which cares for God’s creation, now and forever by putting that care into action individually, locally, nationally and globally. There are currently 363 eco-congregations in Scotland. 130 hold the Eco-Congregation Award.

Action is encouraged through three strands: 

  • spiritual living (making the link between environmental issues and Christian faith),
  • practical living (by taking practical action in the church) 
  • global living (by influencing attitudes and taking action in the local or global community on issues such as climate change)


In 2015 a baton carrying the message Time for Climate Justice started its journey round Scotland, and in September it arrived in Orkney. On the 6th of September it came to Westray and Papa Westray.



The Eco Congregations of Westray and Papay

Westray and Papay Parish Kirks have been leaders in the implementation of the Eco-congregation programme in Scotland as the churches were granted successive awards in 2003, 2008, 2011 and 2015. They were the first two congregations to receive a fourth award.

  Mary Thompson (Papay) and Helen Lumsden (Westray) with the Eco-congregation award for 2008


Alasdair McVicar, Eco-congregation representative has recently been asked if he would act as an assessor for churches seeking an Eco -congregation award - part of a pool of people across Scotland. He is joining two existing assesors from Westray - Iain MacDonald, minister and Sam Harcus, Property Convenor.


   The Eco-Congregation Programme in Westray




Iain MacDonald

Getting Started

Much of the early work to achieve Eco-congregation status for Westray Parish Kirk was done by Iain MacDonald and Sam Harcus. Eco-congregation remains as a standing item on Westray Parish Kirk Session agenda and the three core areas feature prominently in all activities of the congregation.


Sam Harcus

Spiritual living. 

Worship themes and outreach to all parts of the Westray community and beyond regularly stress the relationship between religious faith and our place in the world.  All age groups in Westray are actively involved both within services and in other activities in recognising the impact we have in the world.

Practical living. 

The carbon footprint of Westray Parish Church, which is almost 170 years old, has been reduced by the installation of a heating system powered by wind turbines and a ground source heating system, by the installation of double glazing on all windows and by adding extra loft insulation. Constant background heating has encouraged the use of the building as an important community facility by a wide range of church related ecumenical and wider community activities. A wind turbine installed at the manse, together with a heat pump, provides a green source of power and heating to the minister and his family. There is an active commitment to reduce waste and recycle all glass, cans, plastic, paper and card used at the Kirk.

Global living. 

Activities extend beyond Westray to UK wide and further afield. Several youth exchanges have occurred with North Lambeth Parish (C of E London Inner City). Strong links have been established with the Thyolo area of southern Malawi through the Orkney-Malawi partnership, formal contact between schools and reciprocal visits. 

Targeted support is also given to the “Gogo Olive” charity assisting in the rehabilitation of women prisoners in Zimbabwe. 

The activities of the Fair Trade Group, under the Chairmanship of the Minister resulted in Westray being recognised as a Fair Trade island in 2007, the first in Orkney.

Ongoing commitment.

Receiving Eco-Congregation Awards does not mean that efforts to meet the objectives of that programme should receive a lower profile. The congregation of the Westray Church of Scotland likes to look on these objectives as a way of life and not something to be lifted and laid.

Westray has now become the first congregation to be recognised in the recently created fourth (post 3rd) award. Papay is about to apply for this award.


The Eco-Congregation Programme in Papay

Papay parish church was one of the first parishes (along with Westray) to be granted an Eco-Congregation Award. We have received four to date. 

Many of the reasons for winning the award we would have done anyway. Let me give you an idea of some of them.

Insulation was put into the roof space to minimise heat loss and lower our heating bills 

We installed a wind turbine.

Eco friendly cleaning products and energy efficient light bulbs are used throughout the building.

We use Fairtrade products at all our Church meetings and encourage other users of the building to do the same.

Papay Church is a multi-purpose building that is shared with the NHS, who use part of it for the Nurses and visiting Doctor’s Surgery.

The Community room is used by;

 Coffee Morning (Wed mornings)

 Craft Group (Saturday afternoons)

 Papay Council for their meetings

 The Royal Bank of Scotland for their monthly visits.

We do not rest on our laurels as there is always ways to improve.

One of our latest challenges is researching ways and means of upgrading the heating to a more energy efficient method, as the present system is fifteen years old. As new and more effective heating is made available it makes sense to upgrade and thus reduce our carbon foot print.


Eco Congregations update

The Westray and Papay congregations have both joined a select band of Eco-Congregation Gold Award winners. Westray received the award in April 2020 and Papay in August 2021

Both congregations were roundly commended for “achieving and succeeding” the Gold standard.

The Eco-Congregation award scheme was established to encourage Churches of all denominations in Europe, Africa and USA to make a link in the Church with environmental issues, and to respond with practical action in the lives of individuals, the wider local area and in the global community. Full details of the programme can be found through the Eco-Congregation website:




The Westray Church enthusiastically committed to the programme in 2003 and took a national lead by being first to progress through each of the four stages of awards to reach the final level in 2013. Activities undertaken by the Church, minister and the congregation as a whole to further the aims of Eco-congregation Scotland have been wide ranging and include a focus of eco standards in services and Church groups, use and promotion of renewable technology in Church buildings and through involvement in local, national and international organisations. (e.g. Fair Trade, Gogo Olive, the Orkney Malawi Partnership and individually through school and church links in the Thyolo area of Malawi).


Having submitted an application for an Eco-Congregation Silver Award in 2019 and following an inspection in Westray by Assessors on 09 March 2020, it was unexpected that in their Report they considered the top Gold level of award was a more appropriate level of recognition for the activities undertaken by Westray Parish Church. The Report congratulated the congregation as a whole in “achieving this well-deserved award” stating the activities as “amazing and inspirational” and “a case study for others”.


The formal letter for the award noted:

“Many thanks to you and all involved at Westray Parish Church for your application for an Eco-Congregation Scotland Silver award. After visiting the Church the assessors felt that the work you are doing exceeds the criteria for the Silver Award. So I am delighted to be able to confirm in writing that they have recommended that Westray Parish Church should receive an Eco-Congregation Gold Award. The assessors noted that you had also exceeded the criteria required for achieving the Gold Award in section 1 - General Issues, Section 3- Practical Living and Section 4- Global Living”.


Westray was further congratulated with photographs and reference to areas of achievements in the 2020 Annual General Meeting of Eco-congregation Scotland on 25 April 2020 (joined through ZOOM with over 80 participants from congregations throughout Scotland). Particular reference was made to assisting other Churches in the Orkney Presbytery to install renewable energy heating in their buildings.


If anyone wants more information please contact the current Eco-Congregation Co-ordinator, Alasdair McVicar.




St Ann’s Kirk congregation, has been especially recommended by the assessors fort the way environmental action is embedded across not only the congregation but the entire community noting, it is not something that ‘just happens’. The level of effective involvement by so many which drives the innovative solutions is highly commendable. The number and size of grants awarded over several years is a testament to this. The level of integration and cooperation is exceptional.

The standard and quality of their communication is high. It ranges across many different media and ways of promoting messages and sharing information … communication is effective and purposeful.

The extent to which this is an active, outward looking congregation that uses the natural advantages of where they live to promote environmental responsibility, demonstrate and develop their faith in action, provide opportunities to worship and explore environmental themes is highly commendable. The positivity is refreshing.


The assessors felt the following aspects also deserved a special mention: 

systematic processes of waste clearance, composting and of recycling

The support for women prisoners in Zimbabwe and the strong Malawi contacts 

The Kirklink newsletter – content and presentation

The change to electrical vehicles

The Market Garden and its links with composting recycling 

The thorough statistical documentation in the carbon reduction plan for Church premises 

The children’s biodiversity planting programme beside the Church.


The assessors noted the numerous highly commendable aspects of the ongoing environmental enhancement and impact reduction. They feel that this is an exceptional community and while they consider it is ‘what they have to do’ living where they are, none of this ’just happens’. The assessors say that the congregation fully demonstrates how adopting Eco-Congregation principles, embedding the ethos, spreading the importance of being outward looking and demonstrating faith in action results in a remarkable contribution to caring for creation in its widest sense.


The congregation of St Ann’s Kirk were able to evidence that the Papa Westray community as a whole addressed a wide range of ECO issues in their daily lives. The assessors learned that their small island is not able to harbour the large ferry that collects Orkney rubbish and therefore has no regular access to public waste disposal collections. The community is unusually dependent entirely on its own initiatives for disposal of all kinds of waste in ways which reduce its environmental impact. All members of the community have risen to this challenge by implementing a range of imaginative and innovative methods of recycling their waste and reducing their carbon footprint. 


The congregation reported to our assessors that ‘almost no organic waste leaves the island, but is recycled for compost’. Organic waste is composted in Hot Bins and used in the Papay Market Garden and community gardens. Glass is crushed and used for concrete and paths. Further ideas for reuse are being actively explored. Cardboard is recycled as fire bricks and sold within the community – further marketing of these is under consideration. Papa Westray now has developed an overarching set of systems to convert organic waste into compost and to recycle debris from the sea for a variety of purposes, including Polycrubs.  Residents have developed the Papay Market Garden which supplies fresh produce to the Co-op shop.  The shop is a Fair Trade outlet, and acts as the recycling centre.


Papay provides a wonderful example of a community which works together in very difficult isolated circumstances to find solutions to reducing all aspects of its carbon footprint and protecting its unique environment.

Good use has been made by the church of government grant schemes, such as the Climate Change initiative, to improve the thermal efficiency of buildings. The Church has been proactive in undertaking a rigorous energy survey and reducing its carbon footprint. The church building is shared with the local surgery, the hall is widely used for community events like coffee mornings and meetings, the flat above the church hall provides a facility for visitors and some revenue from leases.


Houses in the community which have been identified as being in fuel poverty have received insulation grants, electric vehicles are being introduced and an electric charging point installed, all with the support of the Church. Seven wind generators have also been installed at the instigation of individuals and local bodies such as the Church.


In Papay, the major industry is farming, and farmers there farm sustainably and respect the diversity of the island and the protection of birds policy of the RSPB. The RSPB has strong links with members of the island’s community, as its ground covers a third of the island. Farmers avoid farming the areas where rare species of plants grow.


Children have recently been involved in planting trees in the small area behind the church in a biodiversity project, and local people support the planting initiatives which aim to protect the biodiversity of the island.


It was clear to the assessors that the entire way of life of the community is protective of the environment and is waste averse.  The community has a long term commitment to promoting environmental issues as an integral part of their congregational life, and provides an inspirational example to other churches.


There is  regular support by the congregation for Amnesty International and other issues of social justice. These issues and proposed action are discussed at a regular retreat at St Boniface Church which is attended by a small but committed group. The congregation often works with its neighbours in the kirk in Westray on local and national concerns.


There is a strong, established, stable and active link with the partner members of the Orkney Malawi Partnership through the local shop, which stocks Malawian goods and other Fairtrade products. A visit by a group from Malawi to Orkney was described with enthusiasm by the Papay representatives during our meeting. They have managed to stay in contact during the pandemic. They also support a Westray based charity – Go-Go Olive – which helps the rehabilitation of women prisoners in Zimbabwe. Both contacts are flourishing and a further link has recently been formed, with Rotary support, between the surgery in Papay and a small clinic in Zimbabwe.


In spite of practical travel difficulties Papa Westray maintains strong contacts with its neighbours in Orkney and with the wider world.  It engages with world affairs through attending conferences when possible and supports charities which pursue concerns of peace justice and environment preservation.


If anyone wants more information please contact the current Eco-Congregation Co-ordinator, Alan Sharp.


Current Eco-Congregation Representatives

       Westray                                                              Papay


Alasdair McVicar  01857 677597                        Mary Thompson

email a.mcvicar@sky.com                                 email papaybeltane2@hotmail.com




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