Planting seeds for sustainability




Cara Fleischer was a new mother living in Atlanta when officials there issued a code purple smog alert. That meant the air quality was considered so unhealthy that people were advised to stay indoors through sunset.

They recommended no one participate in vigorous outdoor physical activity. While people with conditions like asthma were most affected, the air was considered toxic enough that everyone was reported to be at risk.

Creation Care across the Florida Conference includes everything from children's gardens to plantings grown to feed the homeless.

“I never knew what that meant, but the doctor told me I should leave town because the air wasn’t good for my baby,” she said. “That was a real eye-opener for me about what we were doing to our environment and how that could affect my family. I knew I could no longer stay on the sidelines.”

She and her husband soon moved to Tallahassee, where she joined the Citizens Climate Lobby—a nonprofit grassroots advocacy organization—and started a Creation Care ministry at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church. A garden was planted and is now cared for by members of the congregation’s Green Team.

“As Christians, it is our calling to take care of God’s world,” she said. “I was so thrilled to see my church taking a stand.”

Taking that stand to protect God’s Creation is a major initiative by the UMC General Board of Global Ministries.

“We are called as God’s children to care for what He made,” said Elan Brown, the Florida Conference Creation Care chairperson. “We practice Creation Care because we love our neighbors. Our behavior goes downstream to future generations. This is not just about us.

“John Wesley preached environmental protection. What would the world look like if we practiced Creation Care every day?”

That was the fundamental question Brown faced as she felt God’s call to this ministry. She worked on garden projects at her church in Naples and tried to teach children about what it meant to care for the earth. That led to changes around the church campus with such things as environmentally friendly products for pest control.

She also leads a United Methodist task force on this topic. On April 29, Brown plans to join thousands of people from across the nation at the People’s Climate Movement March in Washington, D.C.

“I prayed for six months about that task force,” she said. “I said, ‘God, where am I going to find these people?’ Even Jesus didn’t do it all alone.”

Perhaps her biggest step in faith came when her pastor at Cornerstone UMC in Naples asked her to write a resolution on Creation Care to be presented at the 2015 Florida Conference. It included giving a speech to about 3,000 delegates.

This landscape, a joint effort by the University of Florida Extension Service and North Naples UMC's green team, was gold certified. Stringent standards include planting at least 15 unique plant species, soil nutrient testing, aesthetics and low-volume irrigation.

“I said, what?

“But I thought about it, and I knew it was the right thing to do. There was a Creation Care resolution that was already in the Book of Discipline, but we weren’t putting it into action.”

Her resolution—calling for all UMC churches in the Florida Conference to have committees that adopt Creation Care practices and plan ways to implement them in all areas of ministry and mission—passed unanimously.

“What Creation Care means, in essence, is that we have to realize we have been sold in the modern world on the concept of spend, spend, spend, consume, consume, consume,” said Rev. Andy Bell of the Lakewood Methodist Counseling Center in St. Petersburg.

“Being told that is a damnable lie. It’s us and it’s killing the environment. We spend more money to buy stuff to fill a hole in the soul, and when we get tired of the stuff, we just throw it away. The first thing that we have to understand is that there is no ‘away’ when it comes to the environment. We have to live more simply, more sustainably, on God’s earth.”

The Creation Care movement is being adopted by Methodist churches around the state and nation. It began as a grassroots effort by individuals who took small steps that turned into big results. Fleischer, for instance, turned her church’s garden project into a way to help feed the homeless in her community while raising awareness of congregation members.

She also learned that Leon County offered grant money to support such projects. She applied for and received $1,000. Out of that came the fall and spring garden with tomatoes, peppers, herbs, cucumbers, broccoli, kale and strawberries.

Church members take turns weeding and watering the garden, and the church has partnered with a local food bank.

“Sustainability is our big focus,” she said. “As Christians, it’s our calling to do this. I would advise anyone interested in starting something at their church to go to the Florida Conference website and type in ‘Creation Care’ in the search box. There is a step-by-step list of how to go about this process.”

It can begin as simply as raising awareness to church members about recycling and the use of environmentally friendly products. It can evolve into much broader action. Many feel it’s the kind of action that needs to be consistent and sustained—a part of everyday life.

“This is real,” Brown said. “This is not make believe. We are supposed to be stewards of the earth. We are to care for it. We are not here to do whatever we please.”

--Joe Henderson is a freelance writer based in Brandon.


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