At St. Michael's, we are entering a time of reflection on environmental theology and care of God's creation. In September 2011, the Episcopal Church House of Bishops issued a pastoral teaching to the church regarding environmental justice. In it they wrote:
"The mounting urgency of our environmental crisis challenges us at this time to confess "our self-indulgent appetites and ways," "our waste and pollution of God's creation," and "our lack of concern for those who come after us" (Ash Wednesday Liturgy, Book of Common Prayer, p. 268). It also challenges us to amend our lives and to work for environmental justice and for more environmentally sustainable practices. "Christians cannot be indifferent to global warming, pollution, natural resource depletion, species extinctions, and habitat destruction, all of which threaten life on our planet. Because so many of these threats are driven by greed, we must also actively seek to create more compassionate and sustainable economies that support the well-being of all God's creation."
The care of creation is a long-standing element of Episcopal Church teaching. Rather than being new or trendy, it has in fact been a prominent feature of the approach to mission that the Anglican Communion articulated during the 1980s. The so-called Five Marks of Mission that summarize the Anglican and Episcopal mission agenda are:
To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom;
To teach, baptize and nurture new believers;
To respond to human need by loving service;
To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation;
To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.
From a practical standpoint, the Five Marks offer a framework to help faith communities decide how best to direct their mission activities. As attention is typically showered on the first four marks, care of creation can be overlooked. Former Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori observed as much, commenting in 2008 that The Episcopal Church lacked an organized effort to safeguarding the integrity of creation comparable to its efforts in the other areas.
Here at St. Michael's, we are pursuing the "Life of Grace" program to shine new light on this often overlooked mark. For sure, we will continue our long-standing work to proclaim the Gospel, nurture new believers, serve our neighbors, and pursue social justice -- the other marks. But there is more to do. We pray that as we "hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest" our bishops' teaching on creation, God will help us discern new paths of mission and strengthen us to walk them.
Almighty and everlasting God, you made the universe with all its marvelous order, its atoms, worlds, and galaxies, and the infinite complexity of living creatures: Grant that, as we probe the mysteries of your creation, we may come to know you more truly, and more surely fulfill our role in your eternal purpose; in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP, p. 827)
Care of Creation: 'Life of Grace'
(July 2016) It has been gratifying to see the high level of interest in the parish for our incipient care of creation ministry. The recent adult education series, "A Life of Grace for the Whole World," attracted about a dozen people for each of its five sessions. The new native plantings on the parish grounds are flourishing. The question now is, "what next?" As we reflect on that as a parish, there are some resources that can both guide our discernment and offer practical help in daily living.
This new care of creation web page includes links to over a dozen other sites, most of which approach environmental issues from a faith perspective.
Parishioners have recommended several books that address the impact of climate change and the challenge of developing sustainable practices. These include, "Gaining Ground: A Story Of Farmers' Markets, Local Food, And Saving The Family Farm," by Forrest Pritchard;
"Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now," by Walter Brueggemann; "Living Green: The Missing Manual," by Nancy Conner; and "Nature's Trust: Environmental Law for a New Ecological Age," by Mary Christina Wood. All are available on Amazon and as e-books.
Most of us already recycle at home, and we will step up efforts to recycle at St. Michael's as well. For questions about whether particular items are recyclable or not, consult the county's on-line index. Those interested in composting virtually all their trash can consider signing up with a for-profit service such as this one which a parishioner highly recommends.
Any other recommendations and input are most welcome!
Care of Creation Grounds Committee
(September 2017)Last fall, as part of a StormWater Wise matching grant from Arlington County, we dug up the turf along the steep hillside on either side of the front entrance of the church and installed a rock garden. We planted a variety of native plants, which were designed to be low maintenance, require no fertilizers or pesticides, require little or no watering once established, and most importantly, intercept storm water runoff and increase habitat value. Plants were chosen to be adapted to the difficult conditions on a sunny slope and to span a range of flowering times to have something in bloom throughout the spring, summer and fall.
The pink phlox (Phlox subulata), blue violets (Viola sororia), and purple creeping phlox (Phlox stolonifera) provided some early spring color; the bright red beebalm (Monarda didyma), Monarch-friendly orange butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), and yellow of the threadleaf coreopsis (Coreopsis verticillata) finished up their mid-summer blossoms; and we're still enjoying the black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia fulgida), fragrant goldenrod (Solidago odora), tiny white flowers of mountain mint (Pycnanthemum tenuifolium), and the bright blue mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum). The late purple asters (Symphyotrichum patens) are just beginning to bloom. We also included a wood sedge (Carex sp.) and little blue-stem (Schizachyrium scoparium) to provide some continued winter interest.
In just the first year, many of the plants have become well established and well adapted to their new home. Native plants provide the living landscape of food and shelter for native insects, butterflies, birds and other animal species. Please take a moment to observe a native insect, butterfly or bird making use of the native plant garden!
Care of Creation Grounds Committee
(June 2016) The Care of Creation group has been working in the St. Michael’s gardens to remove invasive plants and to replace them with native plants. We’ve been joined in this effort by the Earth Force Team of the Meridian Homeschool Club. Meridian meets at St. Michael’s on Wednesdays during the school year. The Earth Force Team has been evaluating our grounds, flora and fauna as part of their studies. You can view a slideshow of this work. As part of their efforts the Earth Force Team won a grant by Caring for our Watershed and they used that grant to purchase native plants for our gardens. During the course of this last year the Earth Force Team also prepared two videos. The first is a 1.5 minute improvised film about removing English Ivy. The second film shows a 5 minute first draft of their puppet show taken in the Memorial Garden. Finally if you visit the Memorial Garden you’ll see that many of the plants in the garden have been identified and labeled by the Earth Force Team. (May 2016) As was described at the Apr. 17, 2016 presentations to the parish, we seek to become more intentional in caring for God's creation in our own corner of the earth on St. Michael's grounds. We plan to gradually move toward more environmentally sustainable practices on the church grounds, focusing on:
- Planting native species and increasing the interconnectedness and ecological value of our property - Removing invasive species (and not planting any invasive species!)
Our Care of Creation team working in the Memorial Garden to remove or relocate non-native invasive species and introduce locally native plants.
- Reducing or eliminating the use of fertilizers, insecticides and pesticides - Working to better manage storm water on site
We will periodicially provide updates in The Guardian and the website.
— Members of the Committee: Tad McCall, Karen Ruff, Helen Hines, Libby Harkins, Monica Dinan, Wil Harkins, John Hughes, Caroline Haynes
Partnership with Earth Force Teamof Meridian Home School Club
We are blessed to have a partnership with the Earth Force Team of the Meridian Home School Club, which meets during the school year at St. Michael's on Wednesdays. Under the able leadership of environmental educator Mary Van Dyke, one of the classes has used St. Michael's as an environmental learning laboratory. The Earth Force Team has measured and calculated the benefits of the trees, identified the invasive species on site and is working on a video which focuses on the natural resources on our property. The group was awarded a grant from Earth Force for their project, and they have chosen to use the award along with a matching contribution from Meridian, to purchase $500 worth of native plants for St. Michael's grounds. They have been working in the Memorial Garden to remove some of the non-native invasive species, such as English ivy, Vinca minor and Japanese honeysuckle, and replace these with locally native plants.
Some of the native plants that have been added (or are waiting to be planted) include: Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis), Starry Solomon's Plume (Maianthemum stellatum), Blue-stem Goldenrod (Solidago caesia), Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) Golden Ragwort (Packera aurea), Christmas Fern (Polystitchum acrostichoides), White Wood Aster (Eurybia divaricata), Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphylitica), Wild Hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens), Red Bud (Cercis canadensis), Virginia Sweetspire (Itea virginica), Spicebush (Lindera benzoin), Arrowwood Viburnum (Viburnum dentatum) and Shrubby St. John's Wort (Hypericum prolificum).Other native plants that were added earlier this spring include Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) and Coralbells (Heuchera americana). More details and photos of these plants can be found in the Plant NOVA Natives guide: http://www.plantnovanatives.org/ We plan to develop a map of the Memorial garden to help identify the new additions.
Help Create a More Sustainable Community: Become an Energy Master
Now in its sixth year, the highly successful and award-winning Energy Masters program promotes a more energy efficient and sustainable community by engaging professionally trained volunteers inmenergy efficiency and water conservation techniques, and in community outreach and education. The program serves low-income families in Arlington County and the City of Alexandria.
You, too, can help improve the comfort of residents in affordable housing apartments, reduce energy costs, and promote behavior change for sustained environmental impact. Studentmand community (adult) volunteer tracks are available. Get details about the training program at the Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment (ACE) website or contact Tom Sheldon.
What is going on in front of the church?
The longer term goal for the steep hills on either side of the front stairs leading to the church is to gradually expand the planting beds and create a rock garden of native perennial plants that will slow down and help absorb storm water sheeting off the church and lawn area. Helen Hines, and her able assistants John Hughes and Ed Menoche, seized an opportunity to acquire rocks that were being dismantled from a neighbor's yard. The rocks were placed on the hillside while we developed a longer-term plan. They have since been regrouped into smaller planting beds, with the help of Helen, Ed and Wil Harkins. The objective is to gradually expand the beds, planting locally native perennial plants, in more manageable stages. Some initial native plantings include Moss Phlox (Phlox subulata) and Threadleaf Coreopsis (Coreopsis verticillata). Expanding these beds will take some time and experimentation as we discern which plants are best suited for these challenging conditions. Many thanks to Libby Harkins for her work in keeping the beds adjacent to the stairway looking beautiful with annual plants. The church required a new gas line, which necessitated digging up the planting bed left of the front doors. A very last minute "plant rescue" was attempted for the Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica), Bleeding Heart (Dicentra exima) and Robin's Plantain (Erigeron pulchellus). We likely will not know until next year whether or not these plants will survive the move, especially given the need to dig them up when the soil was so wet.
Learn More about the Care of Creation
There are many online resources. These websites provide a good starting point for further exploration.