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Earthkeeping in Action

Last April The Banner asked readers to tell us what your churches have been up to in caring for the environment—in keeping with God’s plan to redeem not only people but creation too. Turns out you’ve been up to a lot! Here’s a sampling of what we discovered. We hope you’ll find these stories as inspiring as we did.

Rain Garden Witness

John Ausema, a high school biology and environmental science teacher, spearheaded the installation of a rain garden at Silver Spring (Md.) Christian Reformed Church in 2008.In a grant application to the Chesapeake Trust,     Ausema explained that the purpose of the rain garden is to capture rainwater from the roof and dramatically reduce runoff into a nearby stream. This trust, partially funded by “Save the Bay” license plate fees, approved the grant for $3,311 and the rain garden was built with volunteer labor provided by church members. The volunteers planted herbaceous, water-tolerating plants selected on the bases of native status, water tolerance, shade tolerance, and resistance to deer browsing.

Ausema explains that a secondary objective of the project is to teach the surrounding neighborhood something about rain gardens, low impact development, problems caused by storm water runoff, and the importance of landscaping with native plants. The church communicates these concepts with an attractive sign near the sidewalk that runs by the site. “This information helps the community to make the connection between the actions they take on their property and the larger watershed that surrounds them,” Ausema said, “from Sligo Creek, to the Anacostia River, to the Chesapeake Bay.” 

—Calvin Hulstein

Grocery Bags

Boston Square CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich., gives out reusable grocery bags that church members can use in place of the disposable paper or plastic bags found at grocery stores. The bags promote both sustainability and the church at the same time. “They’re a lot more popular than magnets,” said Rev. Jay Blankespoor.

—Christian Bell

Let's Talk About It

For Westwood Christian Reformed Church in Kalamazoo, Mich., a focus on creation care has led not only to the development of a community garden on church grounds, but to serious discussions about a Christian approach to climate change, the environment, energy efficiency, and economics.

The 10-plot garden provided fresh produce for individual families and the church’s food pantry last year. Discussion during the Sunday educational hour has addressed global climate change issues as well as local concerns, including sustainability and practical ways to reduce personal energy use.

Bob Fegan, a Westwood CRC member and certified energy manager, led the Sunday morning sessions. He said that whether you believe climate change is caused by humans or by other forces, it is a fact that toxic and unsustainable consumption threatens creation.

“Creation cannot support the entire world population today, not to mention in the future, if consumption continues at the same rate in developing countries as in already developed countries like the United States,” he said.

Churches and individual Christians must use resources responsibly, Fegan said, and guard against being abusive or wasteful.

“It is inconsistent to say that we love God but not to care for his creation,” Fegan said, “or to say we love people but then not care about the condition of the environment in which they live.”

—Henry Huisjen

Vancouver’s Prize-winning Garden

Church potlucks are not unusual. But when members of First Christian Reformed Church in Vancouver gathered for a meal this past fall, much of what was served came directly from community garden plots on the church’s property: carrots, onions, potatoes, kale, salad greens, and squash.

“The garden started from a few seeds,” says Joel Pel, a member of First. The idea for the garden itself began with a door-to-door survey two years ago that placed a community garden high on the list of neighborhood needs. The first year the church created two garden boxes. Last spring the garden grew by six more plots, which the community gardeners hope to expand again. The garden plots have become a prominent part of the property.

“Most of the gardeners are young people under 35,” says Pel, a 27-year-old elder in the church. “But everyone wanders there before or after church, encouraging us as gardeners, giving us seeds and garden advice. As a whole church we are excited about the garden.”

The gardeners dreams for expansion will be realized in part by receipt of a CRC Green Grant of $500 (see "CRC Awards Second Annual Green Grants," February 2010). The funds will go toward adding a garden shed, expanded beds with flowers, and places to sit and enjoy the garden.

Sarah Nicolai-deKoning, another young gardener, describes how the garden supports the church’s mission statement: “Our community garden is one way we explore our call to be stewards of God’s good gifts to us.  We hope this stewardship continues to be a focus of our church. The garden also acts as a connecting point for our church to be a hospitable neighbor.”  

—Jenny deGroot 

Mugs vs. Styrofoam Cups

Instead of using and throwing away Styrofoam cups each week, members of Boston Square CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich., sip their Sunday morning coffee from “Mugs with a Mission.” The mugs were hand-painted by children in the church’s Vacation Bible School program. In addition to being reusable, many mugs have the name of a child painted on the bottom of them, and church members are encouraged to pray for the children after enjoying a beverage.

—Christian Bell

Give Us Your Garbage

When the junior high youths from Friendship Christian Reformed Church in Byron Center, Mich., knock on their neighbors’ doors, they’re not selling candy or collecting pop cans. Every spring they invite neighborhood people to give them their garbage.

The young people gather truckloads of trash from about 300 homes, separating the items that can be recycled from those destined for a landfill. They also clear trash from streets and vacant lots in a designated area. Their “treasures” have included tires, appliances, wood, paint, yard waste, and even an old organ. Although there’s no charge for this service, some people offer donations, which the youths put toward funding mission trips.

In another cleanup project for a summer SERVE program, the 60 teens the church hosted visited about 400 homes on a two-day trash hunt. They sorted out metal, batteries, and electronics, and also toured an electronic recycling company called Comprenew.

—Carolyn Koster Yost

A Creek Runs Through It

Members of Trinity Christian Reformed Church in Grandville, Mich., didn’t mind getting wet and dirty last year in order to clean up a creek that runs through church property. They hauled out slimy cans, Styrofoam, bottles, discarded carpet, and other junk.

“Why is it so easy for some to dump their garbage into waters that flow?” mused Rev. Gerald Koning, on his blog. “Perhaps it is not thoughtlessness that leads people to pour their garbage into running water, but rather an unspoken idea that once in the water it is gone. The trouble is that what was once our mess now becomes the mess of somebody else living just a bit farther downstream.”

Trinity volunteers who call themselves the “Stream Team” restored a 2-mile portion of Rush Creek’s serenity and beauty last summer and fall. In April the volunteers partnered with the West Michigan Environmental Action Council to assess habitat conditions and inventory aquatic organisms in the creek, a tributary of the Grand River.

“There is a sense of accomplishment in cleaning up a stream. Somehow it makes sitting on the bank and watching it flow a little more peaceful,” Koning said.

—Carolyn Koster Yost

Churches Clean Up 'Reformed' Watershed

Calvin College biology professor David Warner jokingly calls the Plaster Creek watershed in West Michigan “the most Reformed watershed in the world.” That’s because its boundaries include the U.S. headquarters of the Christian Reformed Church, Calvin College, Calvin Theological Seminary, numerous Christian Reformed churches, and the homes of many CRC people.

It’s also heavily polluted—so much so that the water is unsafe for human contact.

In response to that paradox, four Grand Rapids churches are teaming up with professors at Calvin College, the State of Michigan, and a local nonprofit group to clean up the water and, in the process, learn how even a small body of water can speak profoundly to the way we interact with creation.

The Plaster Creek watershed encompasses 58 square miles (151 sq. km) in Kent County. Runoff from urban, suburban, and agricultural sources has contaminated the water, affecting the wildlife population and causing a buildup of bacteria—particularly E. coli—that makes the water dangerous. The polluted waters of Plaster Creek empty into the Grand River, and eventually into Lake Michigan.

“The condition of the stream is an expression of our influence on creation,” said Randy Van Dragt, professor of biology at Calvin College. “Water is so intimately connected with life and the Father and Son. I hate to think of dead streams as acceptable.”

Van Dragt is one of a group of Calvin professors who have worked with area churches to raise awareness of Plaster Creek’s problems and to develop solutions to them. The four churches

—Woodlawn CRC, Madison Square CRC, Alger Park CRC, and Roosevelt Park CRC—took part in workshops last summer to learn about Plaster Creek and are encouraging members of their congregations to get involved.

Rev. Mike Abma of Woodlawn said his church is planning a spring cleanup of part of the watershed and hopes to have church members learn how to plant rain gardens and take home rain barrels, both of which help to contain excess water and prevent it from draining into the creek, carrying with it contamination.

“Plaster Creek is a real issue, and when we talk about it, other creation care issues come to the fore,” Abma said. “It leads to a conversation about many different things.”

—Christian Bell

Ringing Bells for Climate Justice

At the height of the global climate talks in Copenhagen, the World Council of Churches coordinated an ecumenical celebration for climate justice. Churches around the world rang their church bells at 3 p.m., creating a 24-hour chain of sound that proclaimed, “There is only one world, and in order to preserve it, bold action needs to be taken now.”

Good News Church in London, Ontario, has no church bells, but with a little creativity they found a way to participate. From the youngest to the oldest, church members gathered outside with pots, pans, cowbells, whistles, and drums, making some joyful noise to promote caring for God’s creation.

—Raquel Flores Lunshof

Plotting for the Future 

In surveying their neighborhood, Fellowship CRC of Barrhaven, Ontario, near Ottawa, heard several times about the desire for fresh, good quality food. Looking at their own two acres of property, they knew God was leading them to grow a community garden.

Church members created three large beds, and technology students at Redeemer Christian High School helped design and implement a rainwater collection system.

“There were many ‘God moments,’” said Andrea Norg, the church’s office administrator, such as when a greenhouse was donated.

A mother who lives in the area, Sandy O’Connor, helped out and said her children loved snacking on the fresh vegetables and watching the beautiful caterpillars and adorable toads attracted to the garden. She shared her extra produce with friends. Everything harvested was given to people of the local community or to church members who took it home to share with neighbors.

This year neighbors will be able to sign up for their own plots.

—Brenda Visser

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