In his book Radical Simplicity, Jim Merkel presents a metaphor.  Imagine being near the front of the line at a buffet, but you notice there isn’t much for all the people behind you.  Do you take freely? How much is fair to take?

At least in the context of climate change, such questions should confront us each time we put gas in the car and certainly each time we board an airplane.  As in the buffet line, however, “we” (old, rich, and human) making these decisions are not “they” (next generation, poor, and all life forms) who will suffer the consequences.  “We” live our convenient lives with impunity, while “they” will inherit extreme weather, threatened coastal cities, savage wildfires, and unprecedented human migration.

The buffet more generally is earth’s capacity to sustain us, and our consumption goes beyond overloading the atmosphere.  It includes deforestation from cattle ranching and commodity extraction, plastics entering the oceans and microplastics entering our food stream, land use driving an accelerating rate of extinctions, and so on.

What to do?

In the last three months, St. Mary’s has changed to reduce at least our waste stream.

At parish camp this year, we had reusable plates and napkins, sorted garbage more carefully, and forwent red meat. Instead of a big garbage bag each day, there was only half a bag for the entire weekend. Some campers used public transit to get to Big Sur.

The kitchen has been stocked with ceramic plates and coffee mugs. I-HELP for Women volunteers have added drinking glasses. Now I-HELP for both women and men as well as Sunday morning coffee hour employ these reusable items while composting food waste. Cleanup is facilitated by a modern dishwasher, funded by two parishioners. People have commented that these changes make St. Mary’s feel more like a home.

CSC receives a lot of perishable food for distribution to our clients.  Some of it is unsuitable for further distribution, and we must dispose of it… sometimes in huge volumes.  That refuse now goes to compost, with the packaging to recycling.

Plastic packaging from the kitchen is now diverted from the landfill.  (The recycling market for such plastic is admittedly shaky.)

Our excessive use of plastic trash bags, often many nearly empty bags, has been reduced through appropriate elimination and consolidation of bags.  Our sextons report a big decline in such waste.

Since May, we once again have an ALBA organic farmer selling produce on Sunday mornings.  Since our small congregation has few shoppers, we have invited nearby churches and the neighborhood, and a few visitors have ventured onto our grounds for fresh produce.

The altar guild is another ministry that is attentive to being green, putting scraps from flower arranging and deconstruction into the yard waste and specially handling the floral foam.

While the road ahead remains formidable, a change at St. Mary’s is underway. The apocalyptic future is indeed addressed, in part and at the start, by our mundane changes. Much more is needed; much more we will do.

Some Sundays, our prayers are from Form I and include, “For the good earth which God has given us, and for the wisdom and will to conserve it, let us pray to the Lord.”

Lord, have mercy.


by Eugene Loh