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Ryan Gillikin of Immanuel, Bay Minette, creates holy compost

In the back yard of Immanuel Church, Bay Minette, there’s a small white picket fence enclosure about three feet square. Inside is a pile of holy compost. A gardening fork leans close by against the parish house wall.

"What is holy compost?" you may well ask. In this case, it's made from wilted altar flowers and shredded Sunday service leaflets. Vestry member Ryan Gillikin started this in Lent as her most recent creative idea for ministry at Immanuel. She noticed waste and suggested a better plan. Altar flowers and greenery in Immanuel are mostly home grown and arranged. Arrangements are kept in a refrigerator between Sundays and often get two or three uses, with a touch of weekly refreshing. In a congregation of 27, there's happily not often a need to send flowers to sick folks or shut-ins. Ryan noticed that when blossoms and greens wilted they were put into the garbage and the potential for holy mulch was wasted.

Ryan (left) also noticed that service leaflets went into a wastebasket on the way to a landfill. She remembered hearing me express concern that inserts with the Sunday Bible readings were also consigned to trash—a thoughtless disrespect for the sacred Scripture. She also remembered the words of Ash Wednesday: "Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return." Paper, included? Yes. Trees come from the dust of the earth, and paper comes from trees. Why not send paper – including paper bearing sacred words – back to dust to nurture the ageless cycle of growth?

A designated basket is now in Immanuel's vestibule and another in Immanuel's office. Service leaflets, Scripture inserts, and other paper are put into these baskets. From time to time, Ryan collects the paper, shreds it, soaks the shreds in water until they’re really soggy, and adds them to the holy compost heap. She turns the compost with the nearby fork. It will be a while before there's mulch ready for use, but when it's ready, it will be used in Immanuel's lovely old churchyard around venerable camellias or newer plantings in the Memorial Garden where ashes of Immanuel's loved ones are interred.

Ryan has a passion for outreach ministry. She readily agreed to become Immanuel's representative for Episcopal Relief and Development, and along with her mother and sidekick, Randi Evans, attended the ERD training in early January. The two returned with ideas and enthusiasm. During Lent, Ryan led several adult forums on the work of ERD, provided special Prayers of the People for Lenten worship, and distributed ERD mite boxes at the beginning of Lent. On Easter morning, the ERD box offerings totaled $300.00. Not bad for a church of 27 members with a holy mulch pile in the back yard.

The Rev. Albert Kennington is Vicar of Immanuel Church, Bay Minette.


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