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‘We’ve got to move Earth Day to 12 months a year’

Taking care of God’s Creation in Lawrence, Kansas

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

First Presbyterian Church in Lawrence, Kansas, has a pollinator garden and holds educational forums on Earth care topics. (Photo courtesy of First Presbyterian Church)

LOUISVILLE — Friday is the official day that many people will celebrate Earth Day. But being good stewards of God’s Creation is a year-round priority for members of First Presbyterian Church in Lawrence, Kansas.

The church is an Earth Care Congregation (ECC) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) and has an EcoTeam whose mission is to further the Earth care education and advocacy in the church and beyond. Churches that commit to PC(USA)’s four-part Earth Care Pledge and complete eco-friendly activities and projects tied to worship, education, facilities and outreach are eligible for ECC certification from the Presbyterian Hunger Program.

Thad Holcombe (Screenshot)

“Every year you go back and you check what you’ve done, and you’re looking to what you might do; it’s a good discipline,” said Thad Holcombe, EcoTeam moderator at First Presbyterian Church.

The church’s activities have included planting 14 indigenous trees and working to return a portion of the lawn back to native prairie landscape. It also has a pollinator garden and holds educational forums on Earth care topics, such as moving to green energy and improving lawn care. Learn more about the church’s efforts here.

The church’s efforts have included the planting of 14 indigenous trees. (Photo courtesy of First Presbyterian Church)

The work stems from a recognition that the Earth is sacred and that salvation is not just about saving individuals but healing the whole planet, Holcombe said. The team also recognizes the importance of biodiversity and addressing the needs of more than just humans, from bees and butterflies to bluebirds. “We’ve got to move Earth Day to 12 months a year,” he said.

Concerned about the world’s declining bee population, the church has changed the way it keeps the grounds. “We decided we’re going to take a portion of the lawn and un-mow it,” Holcombe said. The church has encouraged others in the community to reduce mowing as well.

The goal is not only to curtail the use of fossil fuel, but to allow “the early flowers, including dandelions that come up, to remain so that species of bees … can come and be pollinators and survive,” Holcombe said.

In addition to taking care of its own land, First Presbyterian is a Matthew 25 church and is active in advocacy work in the community as part of an interfaith group called Lawrence Ecology Teams United in Sustainability, which goes by the acronym LET-US.

“The group LET-US takes on anything that any of the faith community groups would like to advocate in terms of public policy” at the city, county or state level, Holcombe said.

For example, “we were very instrumental in the new development plan, the overall development plan of the county,” and “getting the environment moved to a top priority,” he said. “We’ve also initiated banning single-use plastics, which has really been a struggle. We went to the state with that.”

This acknowledgement of place sign is on the grounds of the church. (Photo courtesy of First Presbyterian Church)

In addition to its work with LET-US, the church has collaborated with the local Haskell Indian Nations University on projects, including erecting an acknowledgment of place sign on the church grounds last year. The sign says, “We at First Presbyterian Church acknowledge that long before the church was built, these lands were cared for by Indigenous peoples including the Arapaho, Cheyenne, Comanche, Kiowa, Pawnee, Osage, and Kanza. We honor their people, their wisdom, past and present.”

The church also has studied the book “Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants” by botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer, a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, and hosted a multi-part series on Indigenous peoples that included participation by university students and staff.

“We have a history that we have to deal with,” Holcombe said. Given the country’s history, including colonization and the Doctrine of Discovery, it’s important to say, “This is where we’ve been” and “this is where we need to go.”

The Presbyterian Hunger Program is one of the Compassion, Peace and Justice ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. Its work is made possible by your gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing.

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