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Going green: Church celebrates Earth Day with community event

Going green: Church celebrates Earth Day with community event

ST. PETERSBURG -- Visitors to Allendale UMC’s Earth Care Event had a chance to pick up some free plants and seeds, hop aboard a hybrid public bus, listen to a Native American flute concert and explore a community garden.

They also were encouraged to stop in the chapel to reflect on the beauty of the earth and the role humans play in caring for creation.

Boyd Hill representative with owl
David McGuire of Boyd Hill Nature Preserve was among exhibitors to turn out for Allendale UMC's Earth Care festival. Photo from Allendale UMC.

The April 20 event featured many opportunities to learn. There were information booths from such groups as the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, Tampa Bay Watch, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, Sierra Club, the Pinellas chapter of The Florida Native Plant Society and others.

Guest speakers addressed topics such as “Benefits of Native Plants in Florida,” “Where does all the trash wind up?” “How to be more energy efficient” and “Composting 101.”

Rev. Andy Bell, executive director of Sunshine State Interfaith Power & Light, and his wife, LaDawn, traced the steps they’ve taken to become better stewards of the earth. They started small, hanging clothes to dry, rather than tossing them in the clothes dryer; switching to more efficient light bulbs; turning up the thermostat; using a rain barrel to catch water to use in their garden.

As time went on, they bought a more fuel-efficient car, replaced most of their grass with ground cover, planted a garden and had solar panels installed on their roof. Their monthly electric bill went from slightly more than $129 a month, to slightly more than $10.

Bell said Sunshine State Interfaith Power & Light's mission is "to mobilize faith communities to address the climate crisis and practice care of creation in Florida.”

“The world does not belong to us,” he said. “We are to be benevolent stewards, tenders of the garden.”

LaDawn Bell said they have made changes in their personal lives to put the words they preach into action.

Florida Native Plant Society
An exhibit from the Florida Native Plant Society tells how Florida's homegrown plants help the environment at Allendale UMC's Earth Care event. Photo from Allendale UMC.

They have embarked on a journey, she said, toward “being more real with our beliefs, not just talking about our beliefs. We are trying our best to live them.”

Andy Bell said people ask, “Why do you bother with this stuff? Why do you recycle? Why do you care about the Earth? Why is this important?”

He tells them that being good stewards is what Scripture commands. 

“It’s pretty clear to me. Nothing here actually belongs to us,” he said, adding that he realizes “that completely flies in the face of modern cultural understanding.”

Bell characterized environmental degradation and global climate change as “the moral issues of our time.”

There are other important issues, he said, but they become moot if those issues aren’t addressed.

Martha Pierce, coordinator of the Caring for Creation task force of the Florida UMC conference and director of the conference's Riverside Retreat, was pleased by Allendale’s initiative. She said Riverside will participate in an Earth Week exhibition for schoolchildren later this week.

“I’m excited to see at least a few churches getting on board,” Pierce said.

“We’ve got a lot of education to do. A lot of people don’t understand the biblical mandate of care for Earth,” said Pierce, who recently attended the national Caring for Creation conference at Lake Junaluska, N.C.

Tampa Bay Watch display
Tampa Bay Watch, a nonprofit environmental stewardship organization, offers ways people can get involved in environmental protection. Photo by B.C. Manion.

Churches that want to go green can start small, she said.

“I’d start with the Bible and give them examples of what the Bible had to say about creation care. Start with some basics of what everyone can do at church and at home.

“They need to focus on being proactive. Study and learn. Don’t worry about opinions, so much as the facts,” she said, adding it’s important to pay attention to the source of the information and to seek unbiased reports.

The Rev. Danny Bennett was manning the Sunshine State Interfaith Power & Life booth.

“One of the things that we focus on is reducing our reliance on nonrenewable resources,” said Bennett, pastor of Clearview UMC, also in St. Petersburg.

“The more that we rely on these nonrenewables, the more we’re going to decimate God’s creation.”

“This is a gift from God – our creation is. People need to treat it as such,” he said. If not, he added, “we’re nothing more than a 2-year-old that gets a toy and breaks it.”

Churches can get the green conversation going by starting small, he said. The first thing his church did was station recycling bins around the church, so people could recycle bulletins that they didn’t intend to keep. 

Tampa Bay Estuary Program's flamingo campaign at Allendale UMC
Tampa Bay Estuary Program sets up a display at Allendale UMC to highlight its "Be Floridian" campaign. The iconic plastic flamingoes are intended to remind homeowners to avoid fertilizer use in summer so that it does not pollute waterways. Photo from Tampa Bay Estuary Program.

Suzy Hutto and Cheryl Volkman, members of Allendale’s Green Team, were gratified by the number and quality of speakers and exhibitors that took part in the event.

While they had hoped for a larger crowd, they were pleased by the church’s involvement.

Both women said they were inspired by Bishop Ken Carter’s recent letter encouraging churches to become more  engaged with caring for the earth.

“That letter was amazing. It totally spoke to me,” Volkman said.

The church needs to help lead the community in becoming better stewards of the earth, said the Rev. Ronnie Jones, pastor at Allendale.

“We want to leave generations behind us the rich, lush earth that we have,” Jones said.


B.C. Manion is a freelance writer based in Tampa.