Lent & the Last Straw...

It’s hard to believe, but I have been with JRBP now for nine months. When I started working here last summer, one of the first projects I learned about from my predecessor, Christa Gammon, was The Last Straw movement, a grassroots effort to reduce or eliminate the use of single-use plastics in the watershed, specifically the Springfield metro area. Since then we have shared a number of articles on JRBP social media about the growing (and largely unstudied) threat of microplastics in our water. Now, another segment of the Ozarks has been introduced to The Last Straw Movement – the faith community, specifically two Episcopal Churches in Springfield and Ozark. (Full disclosure: I’ve been an Episcopalian for almost 30 years.)

Fr. Tim Coppinger, rector of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Ozark, joined JRBP as a member not long after I started working here. Ironically, he had been looking for a project relating to environmental stewardship for St. Matthew’s, as part of the Episcopal Church’s Creation Care initiative, which was adopted by their General Convention last year. “We began to talk about how we could make this a goal at the congregational level, and the idea of reducing our use of foam and plastic products naturally came to the forefront of our discussion,” said Coppinger. “Soon after, we were made aware of The Last Straw and initiated conversation with JRBP to become a partner in it.” As part of a feeding ministry, the parish uses 500 individual plastic or foam plates, cups, bowls and carryout boxes per month, and Coppinger is hoping to make the switch to more sustainable products.

But besides his work at St. Matthew’s, Coppinger also has personal reasons for participating: his two children, studying marine biology and biological engineering. “We have begun to notice businesses, such as restaurants, that are taking steps toward reducing plastic usage and being more environmentally minded, and we purposefully try to patronize businesses that do,” said Coppinger.

Soon after Coppinger joined JRBP and began discussing the possibility of St. Matthew’s joining The Last Straw, I happened to notice that my own parish, St. John’s Episcopal Church in Midtown Springfield, had switched to biodegradable coffee cups. Two years ago, St. John’s switched from Styrofoam plates and cups for its coffee hour at the request of several parishioners, since then, the parish has established a “Green Team” to research other ways that they can be more environmentally responsible in the future.

Fr. David Kendrick, rector of St. John’s, noted that they have already experienced positive results from the parish’s commitment to “go green”. “One visitor who had just moved here from California, saw the paper cups and said that this was going to be her parish,” noted Kendrick.

Both Coppinger and Kendrick have noted that the changes have been largely well-received in their parishes, as well as by fellow clergy in both the Episcopal Church and other denominations. Coppinger is aware of at least two more Episcopal Churches in Southwest Missouri that have done away with plastic and use only glass, china and compostable paper in their food and beverage service. He hopes to present The Last Straw to other churches in Ozark.

“The Last Straw has shown the members of our church that even small actions, done at the local level, make a difference and can be great encouragement to a church to look outside its four walls to get involved and to become a partner in the betterment of its community,” said Coppinger.  “Even the smallest congregation can become an example to other churches and organizations to get involved and work together, creating opportunities for unity and fellowship, as well as protecting the environment.”

As I write this blog, the season of Lent in the church calendar is winding down, and Episcopalians and others are preparing for Easter. A recent feature story in the Washington Post recently discussed how churches from a variety of denominations across the United States and the World are making environmental stewardship and sustainability part of their ministries this Lent.  One Lutheran pastor noted that these “green” Lenten disciplines are “asking people to give up convenience … and be more intentional with things and the Earth.”

 “As a church in the Ozarks, where we are affected in many ways, economically, recreationally, and even spiritually, by the benefits of clean water.  I hope that the members of our church and denomination will become actively involved in endeavors to become better stewards of our many natural resources, specifically our local water,” said Coppinger. 

We’re excited here at JRBP to announce these new participants in The Last Straw movement. We’ll be recognizing both parishes very soon with their own Last Straw stickers to display and we hope other faith-based organizations will consider joining as well.

 We’ll see you downstream.