A report from Anne Nielsen, on behalf of the HMC Creation Care Group

We are glad to join the choir of MCCN to sing of the joys and trials of creation care. We are the Creation Care Group (CCG) of Harrisonburg Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, Virginia. The ad hoc group began assembling about 2 1/2 years ago, developed mission and vision statements and the first year’s goals.

We proposed a walking path/nature trail, since named the Creation Care/Meditation Path, along the perimeter of the church property, measuring almost one-half mile. Through its construction, planting and use, we hope to engage both the HMC community and our neighbors in friendly conversations about how the property is used, educate about the natural world, promote the greening of Harrisonburg, and provide safer places to walk away from the parking lots.

On April of 2008 nine volunteers completed our initial tree planting of five shade trees (6-9ft) of five native species, and a pussy willow bush for the children. Since the initial planting with all donated materials, we have raised more than $1,000 through an appeal to the adult Sunday school classes and have planted 13 more trees. The additional educational and recreational opportunities that will be offered by Path development have generated enthusiastic support among the leadership of the children’s and youth Sunday schools, as well as the summer camp program, which serves the larger community. We also were successful in application for a $500 tree-planting grant from the Shenandoah Resource Conservation and Development Council. In addition to continued tree planting, there is a 350ft. strip of wild flowers and native vines just coming into bloom. Guides with scriptural references are under development for both children and adults. Downside: water is not available at the perimeter of the property and has to be carried in by truck. We take turns.

Concerned about the amount of “stuff” purchased and thrown away at weekly congregant meals, the group has undertaken to form dishwashing teams. Initially viewed with some suspicion, we began helping a few of the hospitality teams, and by the second year, all were on board and grateful for the help.

Next on our list of goals was a “Green Page” to be submitted to our semimonthly congregational newsletter. Most of our 12 active members have submitted copy for it now, on subjects varying from recycling to bird watching to organic gardening. We have semimonthly bulletin board changes, including a November-December illustrated guide to locally-made and sold items for gifts, and a list of favorite books from the CCG.

Community gardening was also on our list of goals. With 12 acres, half of it in rough grass to be mowed, there was plenty of space for this, and enthusiasm built quickly in the congregation. We envisioned it as another way to connect with our apartment-dwelling neighbors, including a substantial Latino population. This spring, the garden was chisel-plowed, fenced, first plots were distributed, and all 16 were quickly spoken for. Now in July, it is green and lush after much thought, discussion and labor by a dedicated subcommittee that includes community members. Participants are enjoying their time together, getting their hands in the dirt, and anticipating the crop to come. We expect to double the space next spring.
Members of the group were a part of the planning committee for the first local “Green Faith” Conference held in April. Developed by local Mennonite and Church of Brethren people, it included a number of useful workshops as well as our two best speakers on the subject: Luke Gascho of Merrylea Environmental Center and David Radcliff of New Community Project.
In June, we presented the first Creation Care Sunday service. The originality of our members found free expression at last, and it was a splendid service, with a skit, a dialogue of scripture readings, and a story for the children as well as an inspiring sermon based on Psalm 24:1. We anticipate branching into a recycling effort this fall, beginning with paper and perhaps coffee grounds for the compost heap. With 14 adult Sunday School classes, we generate a lot of those!
In sum, we continually find new ways to express our love for the Lord, his creation, and our neighbors, limited only by our numbers, but never by our enthusiasm.
Anne Nielsen, for the HMC Creation Care Group