“Many hands make light work.”– Proverbs and Epigrams of John Heywood, 1562A river runs through it. Well, a creek. Fanno Creek, a tributary of the Tualatin River, flows by Congregation Neveh Shalom (CNS), a synagogue located in the southwest hills of Portland. Shomrei Teva, CNS’s environmental committee, has been engaged in a major effort to restore and protect the creek.
Speaking on January 31 at the Earth Summit sponsored by Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon and hosted by CNS, Shomrei Teva’s leader, Jordan Epstein, offered advice to guide faith-based groups engaging in creation care:
- Find allies. The Fanno Creek effort counted among its allies SOLV, the West Multnomah Soil & Conservation District, the City of Portland, the neighborhood association, congregants, and local merchants.
- Plan ahead, and then prepare thoroughly. Provide everything volunteers will need (and might forget to bring) so that they can start working right away. For example, for hillside clearance and planting, Epstein made sure that there were sufficient plants, shovels, trowels, and gloves ready and waiting on work days.
- Feed your workers. Make plenty of healthy, delicious food available to your workers. When the heavy landscape work is done, make zero food waste your goal.
- Include all ages with safe, appropriate duties. Teach children the skills, such as tree planting, that will make them good stewards of the earth over the entire course of their lifetimes. But keep it safe. Teens and adults can plant on steep hillsides, but all children and some seniors need to stay on level ground. One idea would be to have children hand out tools while a group of less-active seniors serve food.
- Integrate activities with personal celebrations. For example, one CNS family chose “bouquets” of attractive native shrubs as table decorations at their son’s Bar Mitzvah party. After serving as decorations, the shrubs became creekside plantings that now help to hold the hillside above Fanno Creek.
As you green your parish, you will build your own list of best practices. CNS schedules community events to coincide with the Jewish calendar. Creek restoration fits nicely into the Jewish holidays of Sukkot, the autumn celebration of the harvest, and Tu B’Shevat, the celebration of trees. The liturgical calendar provides many such opportunities to Christians. Your parish garden could provide first fruits for your priest to bless in spring, it could supply luscious beefsteak tomatoes for the summer picnic, and it could provide flowers to the altar guild for Sunday mornings.
Faith-based environmentalism has an important role to play in preserving and rebuilding the living systems of earth. This piece is written from a mainstream, religious, American perspective. Published in OREGON EPISCOPAL CHURCH NEWS, Spring 2011.