Faithfully Yours - An Earth Day Story


By Neil Strohschein

I spent the first four months of 1990 as “Minister in Residence” at St. Giles’ Presbyterian Church of Prince George, BC. Their minister was away on medical leave; and I was asked to fill in for him. My duties were to staff the Minister’s office four mornings a week, visit congregants who were in hospital and preach at the Sunday morning services (they had two).

One Sunday, as I was preparing for the first service, the Chair of the Sunday Coffee Committee pulled me aside and said: “Neil, here is an announcement we would like you to make. It’s not earth shattering; but it’s important.” Earth shattering—no. Earth saving—definitely.

Earlier that year, the City of Prince George had released a statement warning residents that the city’s land fill site was filling up rapidly. A new site would take several years and millions of dollars to develop. So residents and businesses were being asked to do what they could to reduce the amount of waste being sent to the land fill. St. Giles took that request seriously.

Their announcement read as follows: “Effective immediately, we are eliminating the use of disposable cups and plates for church activities. This includes coffee times, church suppers and events catered in our building. As a congregation and as residents of Prince George, we want to do our part to prolong the life of our city’s land fill and to protect our earth’s environment.”

I thought of this story as I was reflecting on the importance of Earth Day; which we will observe next Wednesday, April 22. No, it isn’t a statutory holiday. But it is a day when each of us should pause to evaluate (or reevaluate) our stewardship of the resources over which we have control.

Unfortunately, much of what we hear and see next Wednesday will deal with high profile issues like global warming, the tar sands, etc. These are the issues that get sound bites and sell papers.

National media outlets aren’t likely to talk about urban residents who find ways to reduce, reuse and recycle; who use public transit; who bike or walk to work or who upgrade their heating, cleaning and plumbing systems to ensure that they use the least possible amount of water, gas or electricity. Nor are they likely to tell the stories of local farmers who preserve wetlands, collect methane gas and use it to heat out buildings or use modern technology to enable efficient use of chemical fertilizers and weed sprays. But these are the stories that need to be told.

Governments can talk about environmental stewardship all they want. They can pass legislation, devise programs and increase taxes to pay for their initiatives. But no initiative will ever succeed without the cooperation of ordinary people like you and me. And when the people feel that they are being “talked down to” by politicians and educators, they will be very reluctant to buy into an initiative that will reduce the already slim profits being realized by many Canadian farmers.

We need a new approach when drafting a plan that will enable every Canadian to feel that he or she can have a part in the responsible and sustainable management of our country’s resources.

Step One is for our leaders (politicians, educators, bankers, etc.) to listen to and learn from each other, ordinary people and those who have forgotten more about environmental stewardship than the rest of us have learned (namely the citizens of our First Nations).

Earth Day is a good day to start doing this. I hope we will.