Change the World puts churches ‘In the Garden’

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Change the World 2011 had a decidedly "green" feel - in many cases, a "green thumb" feel.

Change the World, part of the Rethink Church initiative, incorporates outreach to make a positive difference in the world beyond the church doors. During last year's inaugural event, more than 100,000 people from over 1,000 churches hosted events and undertook projects to help others.

During the second annual event on May 14-15, more than 2,000 individual churches in 15 countries participated. United Methodist churches around the globe got outside their buildings and performed acts of service in their communities - and many did so with the environment in mind.

In the bulb, there is a flower

In New Jersey, The United Methodist Church in Wayne was back for a second year of Change the World, planting a community garden in nearby Paterson. Church members distributed the produce from last year's project to the local food pantry and to area families, and this year the church added more vegetable beds and perennial flowers.

Wayne staff member Don Matthews said last year's event got a lot of positive feedback from participants and area neighbors.

"Neighbors saw the work being done, the excitement of the children and adults, and asked why there was no press coverage for such a positive event."

Matthews expressed hope that the event would "enable the participants to experience and understand the impact that serving others has on those in service, as well as the served, and that this once-a-year event becomes our plan for daily living."

Joseph United Methodist Church in Oregon partnered with a rural, local school district to start an effort called The Magic Garden. Striving to fight childhood obesity, they introduced students to fresh produce and taught them healthier eating habits.

A dilapidated greenhouse at the school was repaired, and art students created giant decorative creatures out of the recycled greenhouse roofing. Volunteers and students planted vegetable and flower "starts." They also installed fencing to keep out deer.

Members of Blackman United Methodist Church join forces with the Murfreesboro, Tenn., Parks and Recreation Department to clear brush and spread mulch.  A UMNS photo by Jason Onks.
Members of Blackman United Methodist Church join forces with the Murfreesboro, Tenn., Parks and Recreation Department to clear brush and spread mulch. A UMNS photo by Jason Onks.

"Many students don't have access to fresh produce because of financial issues or lack of knowledge," said the Rev. Kaye Garver, Joseph's pastor.

According to Garver, this is a three-year project. She hopes that when the garden is harvested in the fall, there will be a community dinner where high-school students can teach younger children how to prepare the produce.

Faith, while trees are still in blossom

In Murfreesboro, Tenn., Blackman United Methodist Church members helped the Murfreesboro Parks and Recreation Department clear brush and spread mulch at local elementary schools for outside wilderness classrooms that will help teachers instruct their students about nature.

Jason Onks, who leads the church's BERT (Blackman Emergency Response Team) ministry, said the group had not formed by the time Change the World occurred last year.

"When I noticed it was happening again this year, we started kicking around ideas and ultimately got hooked up with the Parks Department," he said. "The outdoor classrooms are a pretty cool project, and we feel blessed to have been a part of it. We have some exciting ideas for next year, too."

During the month of May, a team from Davis (Calif.) United Methodist Church will participate in the Sacramento region's "May is Bike Month." They will log bicycle miles for commuting to work, going to church, and for errands or pleasure.

The project seeks to reduce carbon emissions by encouraging church members to use "greener" modes of transportation, including bicycling, walking, public transportation and carpooling. Davis also runs Grace Garden, a faith-based ministry to feed the hungry of the community. It is a sustainable garden growing vegetables, herbs and flowers. Both projects are part of the church's larger effort of reducing its own carbon footprint.

Volunteers of all ages from The United Methodist Church inWayne, N.J., plant raised garden beds. Volunteers of all ages from The United Methodist Church inWayne, N.J., plant raised garden beds.

Go, tell it on the mountain

United Methodist-related Union College in Barbourville, Ky., joined the Kentucky Annual (regional) Conference Justice Team at a Mountaintop Removal Witness Tour. They spent their days touring mining sites and seeing the environmental damage done by the practice. They also spent time talking with locals who shared stories of chemicals in their water, increased rates of asthma and cancer, and damage to their homes.

Students at Union plan to produce a documentary video on their experience to share at the 2012 annual conference sessions.

"The political situation in Kentucky is that our government is very heavily influenced by the coal industry," said the Rev. David Miller, Union's chaplain. "We hope to challenge the Methodist people of Kentucky to become involved in fighting mountaintop removal."

The Rev. Donna Aros, who serves on the Kentucky Conference Justice Team that sponsored the event, said, "I think the experience helped me define how important my voice is to the human-rights issues that surround mountaintop removal."

The Green Ministry at Almaden Hills' United Methodist Church in San Jose, Calif., celebrates creation through worship and education. This year, the ministry dedicated the week of May 15-21 to the significance of water in God's world.

The church's May 15 worship service focused on many facets of water: as a foundation of life, an unfairly shared resource, a symbol of spirit, an object of environmental degradation and a source of healing. On May 20, the church will screen "A Sea Change," which explores the relationship between clean oceans and future generations. The next day, church members joined others in the National River Cleanup Day at Hellyer Park in San Jose.

"We have seen how many smaller groups, when connected with others, can grow into a force," said Sue Bowling, Almaden Hills' chair of Green Ministry. "Being connected with others means being a part of something greater than ourselves."

*Butler is editor of young adult content for United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Joey Butler, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or [email protected].

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