By Erin Ryan, Charlotte Observer
Even in February, there’s a lot happening in the community garden at Central United Methodist church in east Charlotte.
A few of the 24 plots still have winter vegetables to harvest. Gardeners are building pea trellises and clearing the ground to start planting early crops.
Langston Denny, a prayer leader at the church, is building a new compost bin. He’s arranged for a local restaurant to give him its lettuce, coffee grounds and eggshells that would otherwise go to waste.
Central United is part of a growing movement among faith groups – in Charlotte and around the nation – that embrace environmental conservation as a way to care for God’s creation and for neighbors in need.
Denny, a plumber and an irrigation contractor, came up with the idea and did much of the labor. He even built an irrigation system. The church planted last spring on an area next to the parking lot full of clay, rocks and asphalt chunks.
Church volunteers cleared the debris, mulched the beds with material recycled from tree trimmings, and used cisterns to collect rainwater.
Most of the 125 active members got involved. They gave much of the harvest to families at Albemarle Road Elementary School.
“There was a real conscious effort to try to find material that would otherwise end up in a landfill … and regenerate that into the means for growing vegetables,” says church member Karen Carpenter. “A big part of our effort, too, was trying to get locally grown produce into the hands of east Charlotte.”
The church was one of four winners of the 2011 “Cool Congregations Challenge” sponsored by Interfaith Power & Light, a nationwide nonprofit seeking faith communities to combat global warming.
Some 550 congregations in 44 states and the District of Columbia took part. Central United Methodist won in the category of sustainable grounds and water conservation.
Interfaith Power & Light was founded in San Francisco in 1998 by Episcopal priest Sally Bingham. The movement soon spread beyond its California and Episcopal roots, and now counts affiliates in 38 states and the Washington, D.C., area. It works with more than 10,000 congregations in all major religions and participates in global initiatives to combat climate change.
“All major faith traditions carry with them a very strong core theology of caring for creation,” says Kathy Shea, co-director of the N.C. chapter of Interfaith Power & Light in Raleigh.
“There’s a … moral responsibility to honor the creation as well as the creator. And in North Carolina we feel a growing buzz of congregations really looking for concrete ways to do that.”
Shea has asked Carpenter to share Central United’s garden success story at the N.C. Council of Churches biannual conference on April 19, which will focus on food.
Meanwhile, Myers Park Baptist was one of 50 other faith communities recognized in the Interfaith Power & Light competition.
The church installed solar panels on the flat roof of its family life center in October after receiving a state energy grant.
In 2007, the Carolinas Clean Air Coalition recognized their Earthkeepers program for its work in spirituality and ecology.
“Our Earthkeepers have a problem with the fact that most of our electricity comes from coal-fired power plants and mountaintop removal,” says Bob Thomason, a deacon in the church and a member of Earthkeepers. Though the solar panels do not cover all its electricity usage, Myers Park Baptist has accomplished its main goal – to make a statement that there is a better way to get energy, Thomason says.
Shea says she’s seen a shift among Christians toward making this world a better place. And all over Charlotte, faith communities are listening to that message. Several have community gardens, including Park Road Baptist Church. At St. Andrew’s Episcopal on Central Avenue, nearby refugees from Bhutan, Nepal and other countries work many of the garden plots. Both churches give produce to their food pantries to help the needy.