Newsline: Earth Day Special for April 22, 2008

April 22, 2008

Church of the Brethren Newsline

“Celebrating the Church of the Brethren’s 300th Anniversary in 2008”


1) Brethren are at work with unique recycling company.
2) Juniata College to establish Chestnut species orchard.
3) Brethren bits: Pastors’ canoe trip, Great Green Congregations.


4) Had I Looked Around the Corner: Thoughts on William Stafford

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1) Brethren are at work with unique recycling company.

Two Church of the Brethren members have joined the team of TerraCycle, Inc., a company based in Trenton, N.J., that focuses on environmental action through recycling. Kelsey Swanson and Michael Waas Smith have recently joined the TerraCycle staff.

Waas Smith is director of TerraCycle’s new “Cookie Wrapper Brigade.” He recommends the organization’s five Brigade programs as fundraising opportunities for Church of the Brethren groups, particularly youth groups that may be looking for new ways to raise money for National Youth Conference.

The Brigade programs offer opportunities for schools and community groups–including churches–to join nationwide recycling fundraisers, working with the manufacturers of a variety of products. Groups collect previously non-recyclable or hard-to-recycle items in return for cash, while teaching about the environment. Anyone can sign up for the free programs and start earning donations for a local nonprofit. Participants receive free shipping collection bags or boxes.

Five recycling efforts are taking place: groups are being challenged to collect used soda bottles, yogurt containers, energy bar wrappers, used drink pouches, and cookie wrappers. In the “Drink Pouch Brigade,” nonprofit groups will earn 2 cents per used drink pouch they collect. In the “Yogurt Brigade,” groups earn 2 cents for every 6-ounce yogurt container, and 5 cents for every 32-ounce yogurt container they return (all yogurt containers must be cleaned). The “Bottle Brigade” pays 5 cents for every 20-ounce soda bottle. The “Wrapper Brigade” pays 2 cents for every energy bar or granola bar wrapper. The brand new “Cookie Wrapper Brigade” was just launched last week, Waas Smith said.

TerraCycle explains the need for such recycling programs: “Fruit drink pouches are a staple in American school cafeterias. According to the Container Recycling Institute, over 5 billion drink pouches are produced every year. Because the material used to makes these pouches is non-recyclable, virtually every single one is sent to a landfill. Similarly, more then 10 billion yogurt containers are consumed a year in America. In the case of Stonyfield Farm, its yogurt cups are made from Polypropylene Plastic #5. A study by the Center for Sustainable Systems determined #5 was the most environmentally preferred choice of plastic available for Stonyfield Farm yogurt because it allows the cups to use a minimal amount of plastic. However, since many recycling centers are not equipped to handle #5 cups, Stonyfield Farm teamed up with TerraCycle to save these from the landfills.”

TerraCycle has more than 400 Yogurt Brigade locations and 700 locations involved in the Drink Pouch Brigade, and its Bottle Brigade recycling program broke 4,000 locations in 2007.

Recycled drink pouches will be made into handbags, tote bags, backpacks, and pencil cases for children and adults. Once returned to TerraCycle, yogurt containers are hand painted by inner-city artists and shipped to nurseries to replace non-recyclable plastic planting pots used by nurseries and retailers. The pots, called YoPlanter! are a way to lessen the more than 10 million plastic pots that are discarded each year.

Soda bottles are used to package TerraCycle’s Organic Worm Poop fertilizers. TerraCycle feeds food and paper waste to millions of worms to create an organic fertilizer, which is packaged in reused soda bottles. “It was the world ’s first product that is made from and packaged in waste!” said the release from TerraCycle. The Bottle Brigade has helped TerraCycle reuse over 2 million soda bottles in the last three years.

For more information about Brigade programs, visit

2) Juniata College to establish Chestnut species orchard.

A couple of decades after Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote of “a spreading chestnut tree” in his poem “The Village Blacksmith,” many of the American chestnut trees across the country were dead or dying from a blight. Juniata College is playing a small part in trying to bring the species back by creating a chestnut “orchard” on campus. Juniata is a Church of the Brethren related college in Huntingdon, Pa.

While the college lacks a “village smithy” to place the chestnut trees near, it does have a grassy area behind Brumbaugh Academic Center. That is where Uma Ramakrishnan, assistant professor of environmental science, will oversee a 25,000 square foot plot (a bit more than half an acre) of 120 trees in a collaborative project between the college and the American Chestnut Foundation. Eventually the college will add 90 more trees.

“The orchard will be used for research on a variety of factors concerning the American chestnut, as well as other chestnut species,” said Ramakrishnan. “We will have multiple species of chestnut in the orchard and hopefully this will become a spot where we can not only do research, but also bring in classes from secondary and elementary schools.”

Ramakrishnan said the college will plant about 120 seeded plants on or around April 3. Juniata’s facilities staff will plow up the area, creating an orchard space that will be about 20 feet from the tree line surrounding the meadow and distributed 15 to 20 feet apart. The orchard will be irregularly shaped and will be planted around the Paul Hickes Observatory.

This year, the college will plant four species: the pure American chestnut, the Chinese chestnut, a hybrid American chestnut (crossbred with a disease resistant Chinese chestnut), and the European chestnut. “We also would like to plant the Japanese chestnut and the Chinquapin, a native chestnut species, next year,” Ramakrishnan said.

Once the trees are planted, Ramakrishnan and a team of Juniata environmental science students will monitor the stand of trees, pesticide and fungicide treatments, reproduction, nut production, and other factors.

Prior to 1900, the American chestnut was one of the dominant hardwood trees in American forests, used for furniture, lumber, and other products. The trees easily grew 100 to 150 feet high and could reach 10 feet in diameter. After the turn of the century, botanists noted that chestnuts were afflicted with chestnut blight, a disease caused by an Asian bark fungus. The disease was introduced through imported Chinese chestnuts, which were, and still are, resistant to the blight. Within a decade or two, billions of American chestnuts died off. It is estimated that 25 percent of the Appalachian forest had been comprised of chestnuts.

Ramakrishnan, is a wildlife biologist by training, and was originally approached by Rick Entriken, a local representative for the American Chestnut Foundation. Entriken donated seeds for the project and has acted as an advisor for chestnut growing. He also manages a chestnut orchard near Raystown Lake for the US Army Corps of Engineers.

The care and research of the orchard will begin in the hands of Ashley Musgrove, a senior student from Cumberland, Md. She will be researching and implementing methods to protect the young trees from deer, and working with a team of other students for management of the orchard.

–John Wall is director of media relations for Juniata College.

3) Brethren bits: Pastors’ canoe trip, Great Green Congregations.

  • A “Spirituality Retreat for Pastors and Church Leaders” is being offered as part of the Camp Swatara Adult Ministries Program this year, according to an announcement from Atlantic Northeast District. Dennis and Marti Shaak, seasoned canoe trip leaders and guides, are offering an opportunity for pastors and others engaged in pastoral leadership to enter into a time of authentic spiritual retreat, combining times of guided reflection led by Oasis-certified spiritual director Vicki Kensinger, and canoe excursions or hikes in Algonquin Provincial Park. “Our aim is to revitalize both body and spirit and to allow for reconnection with the earth in one of the last remaining wilderness areas,” the announcement said. Departure will be from Camp Swatara in Bethel, Pa., on Sept. 5 after an overnight stay at the camp, with return on Sept. 11. Cost, based on a maximum group size of nine people, will be around $600. No prior experience camping or canoeing is necessary, although there are requirements for gear and a passport, and participants should be in good physical condition. Registration and payment are due by June 2. Contact Camp Swatara for registration materials, call 717-933-8510.
  • The National Council of Churches seeks stories from “Great Green Congregations.” An announcement said, “Tell us what your church is doing for the earth, and the NCC will share your story to inspire others. We’ll also select one congregation to receive a $500 prize to support its environmental work.” The NCC is looking for congregations advocating for environmental justice at the local, state, and national levels; teaching about environmental justice and health in their churches and communities; hosting “Green Cleaning” fellowship activities; promoting wilderness protection through trips, education, and worship; supporting alternative transportation to worship; conserving energy and using green energy sources; reducing waste in all aspects of church life; and/or engaged in their own unique, location-specific eco-justice ministries. Go to  for submission guidelines. The deadline for sending congregational stories is April 30.
  • At a workshop on simple living held at Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren in Elgin, Ill., the presenter showed a 20-minute video called “The Story of Stuff.” This fast-paced, animated piece explains the processes and stories behind the stuff consumers buy and throw away. Find the video, and more, at

4) Had I Looked Around the Corner: Thoughts on William Stafford

By Brian Nixon

“I stand and dream another world instead,” wrote William Stafford in the year 1942. Stafford wrote this as a conscientious objector during World War II, stationed as a Civilian Public Servant in California.

As providence would have it, Stafford became Poetry Consultant of the Unites States Library of Congress in 1971 and Poet Laureate of Oregon in 1975.

Stafford is the author of over 60 books of poetry, verse, and stories. As a participant in the Church of the Brethren, William was a voice in the wilderness, seeking, as our quote above stated, “another world instead.”

My first encounter with Mr. Stafford came at the 1991 Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren, held in Portland, Ore. The theme that year was “Behold! The Wonder of God’s Presence.”

I drove up with a friend of mine, Isaac Docter, and camped out just north of the city. We drove into Portland daily to hear lectures on a variety of topics: peace, justice, Native American issues, and most importantly, how to follow Jesus. I still have vivid memories of my time listening to artists, storytellers, theologians, and musicians. However, in hindsight, it was at this conference that I had one of my greatest disappointments: not meeting William Stafford.

As an impressionable college student, I looked over the plethora of lectures, seeing one that read, “Poetry Reading: William Stafford.” This sounded great to me, but I was unsure of exactly who Stafford was. As a member of the Church of the Brethren, I had heard of Mr. Stafford, but was not yet quite “into” him. I knew he published a book of poetry with Brethren Press called “A Scripture of Leaves,” and was well loved among the Brethren folk.

But as I stood there and looked at the other conference offerings, I finally decided upon a folk group concert instead (you see, I was “into” music). Imagine that! I chose a now-forgotten folk group over William Stafford!

I went to the folk concert and listened. I sat there, unimpressed. Mainly because I knew I should be at the Stafford reading (something was nagging me that he was important). So, when the opportunity arose, I left the concert and ran over to the room where Stafford was reading. I looked in the door; the room was packed.

I decided to sit outside the room, listening to the final couple of poems. To this day, I don’t remember which poems he finished his reading with. And even more disappointing, I didn’t look into the room to see Mr. Stafford reading the poems.

Had I looked around the corner, I would have seen the poet that, over the next 15 years of my life, would bring me great pleasure and thought; someone I would turn to over and over again.

To make up for my mistake of not getting his book at the Brethren conference, I called Brethren Press (a couple years after) to see if they had his book, A Scripture of Leaves. To my great surprise, they did. Even a greater surprise was that the book was one of the last signed copies. It now sits prominently on my shelf.

I now collect William Stafford books. And since that first great purchase, I have found many treasures. My favorite is a first edition signed copy of Traveling Through the Dark (a collectors dream, largely because it was the book he won the National Book Award in 1963).

Yet through all this collecting and book searching, I have found Stafford, through his poetry, to be a gentle reminder that there is another way of living. And as Christians, we do, indeed, look for “another world instead”: the coming of God’s kingdom, the establishment of His world, a dream that is really a reality yet unseen.

So until then, we abide, live, and work for building the Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

And somehow William Stafford knew this, for in his poem, Reading The Big Weather (found in A Scripture of Leaves), he summarized the tension of living for Kingdom and waiting for the Kingdom:

Reading the Big Weather

Mornings we see our breath. Weeds
sturdy for winter are waiting down
by the tracks. Birds, high and silent,
pass almost invisible over town.

Time, always almost ready
to happen, leans over our shoulders reading
the headlines for something not there. “Republicans
Control Congress”–the year spins on unheeding.

The moon drops back toward the sun, a sickle
gone faint in the dawn: there is a weather
of things that happen too faint for headlines,
but tremendous, like willows touching the river.

This earth we are riding keeps trying to tell us
something with its continuous scripture of leaves.


–Brian Nixon is a pastor, writer, musician, and family man from Costa Mesa, Calif. This article was first published by ASSIST News Service at . “Reading the Big Weather” is reprinted with permission from Brethren Press. Order A Scripture of Leaves from Brethren Press for $12.95 plus shipping and handling, call 800-441-3712. To learn more about William Stafford’s early poems pick up the new release by Graywolf Press, “Another World Instead.”

Newsline is produced by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of news services for the Church of the Brethren General Board,  or 800-323-8039 ext. 260. Wendy McFadden contributed to this report. Newsline appears every other Wednesday, with other special issues sent as needed. The next regularly scheduled issue is set for April 23. Newsline stories may be reprinted if Newsline is cited as the source. For more Brethren news and features, subscribe to “Messenger” magazine, call 800-323-8039 ext. 247.
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