Methodists stress creation care for Earth Day


Earth Day planting is a tradition at First UMC Preschool, St. Cloud. Photo from Denise Dunn.


Celebrating Earth Day is a good excuse for preschoolers at First UMC, St. Cloud, to get their hands dirty potting vegetables and flowers. Last year they planted flowers around their playground.

Today, in honor of Earth Day 2015, about 60 youngsters will take their turn at a large potting station tamping down the soil around plants that will grow and blossom.

First UMC Pastor Mike Briggs with preschool kids and their Earth Day plantings from 2014
Rev. Mike Briggs, left, pastor of First UMC, St. Cloud, checks out some plants the church preschool class installed last year for Earth Day. Photo from Denise Dunn.
But Earth Day isn't the only time the preschoolers celebrate the planet’s cycle of life. Their curriculum weaves in lessons both environmental and spiritual all year long. 

For example, learning the letter “w” becomes a teaching moment in how worms play a role in aerating the soil. The falling leaves and then the re-greening of the lone sycamore tree on the school campus teach the seasons of the year. And building a replica of Earth from art materials is another lesson.

"We talk about how He has the whole world in his hands," says Denise Dunn, school director and VPK pre-kindergarten teacher.

Earth Day reinforces a kind of environmental advocacy that fits the Creation Care initiative approved by the Florida Conference three years ago. The initiative and a Creation Care Task Force seek to encourage Methodist congregations to find ways to link faith with actions that foster the stewardship of God's creation.

"I think it ties them into what we learn about creation, how God created Earth," Dunn says. "I think it helps them see definitely what we have on this earth and appreciate it more."

The celebration at First UMC's preschool, and others like it, will be among thousands of events hosted by schools, environmental organizations and churches around the world. 

In the Florida Conference, Cornerstone UMC, Naples, plans an all-day event Saturday, April 25, with a drum parade, a Native American prayer for the land, eco-friendly vendors, music, a documentary and environmental activities for children.

In north central Florida, the community choir Voices Rising will hold its first environment-themed concert at First UMC, Gainesville. Performances are scheduled at 3 and 7 p.m. Saturday, April 25.

The nonprofit EarthDay.com estimates more than a billion people in more than 190 countries will participate in activities leading up to and beyond the official Earth Day on April 22, an observance that began in 1970.

A woman and man discuss plants growing in the Cornerstone Garden.
People from the Cornerstone UMC, Naples, and the surrounding community cultivate the earth with a community garden. In honor of Earth Day, the church will celebrate Saturday, April 25, with an environment-themed festival. Photo by Kim Cavalier. 

Cornerstone UMC has embraced the creation care initiative in its missions and outreach. Environmental advocacy and sustainable agriculture are embodied in what began as a small garden planted by Jan-Marie and David Etzel on part of Cornerstone's 10-acre campus.

It has grown into the nonprofit Cornerstone Edibles, a community garden and grove, which provides fresh and free produce and fruit to church members and the surrounding community. 

"Life itself is a gift from God," says Jan-Marie Etzel. "We have a very important role in taking care of that."

On Saturday, April 25, the church will host “Celebrating Earth Fertility Festival,” an all-day free event to recognize Earth Day. The community is welcome. Donations will be accepted to benefit a church project, Planting Native Shrubs in Naples.

A drum parade with local drummers and a stilt-walker will start the festival at 9 a.m. Members of the Miccosukee tribe will offer a prayer for the land. Then adults will join hands in a circle while children sitting in the center will touch feet together.

"They will be a living flower on earth," says Jan-Marie Etzel, event organizer. 

About 30 vendors will have displays for crafts, stone works, gems, jewelry, honeybees and more. Food will be available from a food truck supplied by Organically Twisted. Cornerstone's Holy Moly band will perform. A film, “Symphony of the Soil,” will be played inside the church.

Children will be issued passports for 12 activity stations, such as a rock-climbing wall or a craft table to build bird houses. The festival will end at sunset with a drum circle.

Voices Rising community choir on risers for a concert
Voices Rising, a community choir in Gainesville, will "Sing to the Earth" on Saturday, April 25, at First UMC, Gainesville. Photo by Ron Dalton.

The event is registered with EarthDay.com. Though the church has celebrated Earth Day in other ways, the festival is a new venture.

In Gainesville, music and song will give praise to the arrival of spring and Earth Day. Voices Rising, an intergenerational community choir, will hold a free concert called "Sing to the Earth" at First UMC on Saturday, April 25. The choir rehearses at Trinity UMC.

Music selections will be secular and sacred.

"Music is such a beautiful way to bring generations together,” says Ruth Lewis, founder and director of Voices Rising. “This is something that can bring community together singing the same piece."

The choir formed in 2014 with plans to perform twice a year, in the fall and spring. At the first meeting, Lewis expected 25 to 30 people. Instead, more than 70 showed up, eager to blend their voices in song. Currently nearly 90 people of all ages and faiths perform.

This will be the choir's first Earth Day concert.

"I was aware that it was close to Earth Day," Lewis says. "Some people wanted to do a themed-concert."

While the concert is free, donations will be accepted to benefit the nonprofit Florida Organic Growers. Past beneficiaries have been Peaceful Path, a shelter for abused women and children, and Friends of Elementary Art, a nonprofit that provides musical instruments to needy schoolchildren. 

The use of the Methodist church facilities helps the choir keep dues low and makes such donations to local charities possible, Lewis says.

"They really do a lot in the community. This is just one more thing they (do) ... to bring beauty into the community."

– Kathy Steele is a freelance writer based in Tampa.




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