Connecting with God’s creation

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From beehives to recycling, parishes embrace the pope’s call to be stewards of the earth

The constant, industrious hum from thousands of honeybees surrounds Rick Samyn as he uses a J-shaped tool to pry a frame from a hive box. Carefully lifting it out, he examines the crawling masses of bees on the frame.

When Samyn finds the queen, he points her out to a group of Franciscan volunteers who are spending a week in the Tacoma area learning about bees and beekeeping. “Oh, she’s big,” one of the young women observes.

Samyn, pastoral assistant for social ministry — and head beekeeper — at St. Leo the Great Parish in Tacoma, knows that bees have the power to teach humans about more than pollination. Through their simple but vital work, living in an interdependent community, they illustrate the sanctity of creation, and the importance of connections with others.

The Green Bag Team effort was inspired by Pope Francis’ call to care for the earth. Photo: Janis Olson

For nearly a decade, beekeeping has been part of the social ministry efforts at St. Leo’s, through its L’Honey Project. Beekeeping, Samyn said, gets people thinking. “They develop a relationship with the bees. They see a need for flowers to feed the bees, then the need for open spaces, and so on,” he said. “They begin to see the world a little differently.”

That awareness of God’s creation and the human responsibility to care for it was expressed by Pope Francis in his 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’.

In celebration of the encyclical’s second anniversary, an effort began in Seattle to create a support network of organizations and 15 parishes, including St. Leo’s, that already are fostering care for creation — through activities, educational events and prayer services. The goal is sharing tips and best practices, promoting the members’ ministries and inspiring others to join the care for creation effort (see below).

“It would be great if there was a creation care group in every parish in the diocese,” said Patty Bowman, executive director of the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center, which joined with the Archdiocese of Seattle’s Missions Office and interfaith organization Earth Ministry to begin the network.

Creation care efforts don’t have to be complicated.

“We want to encourage wherever you want to plug in and start,” Bowman said. That could be liturgy, prayer, advocacy, education or hands-on activities. In 2017, for example, Mary, Queen of Peace Parish in Sammamish hosted a blessing of animals, while Seattle’s Christ Our Hope Parish sponsored a Duwamish River ecological tour.

In Laudato Si’, Bowman said, Pope Francis talks about taking small steps, like recycling. A small step may not seem like it has much effect, “but it does — it changes you,” Bowman said. “He’s calling for conversion. It is a spiritual effort to use a reusable cup, to sort trash.”

Going green on Whidbey

On Whidbey Island, St. Hubert Parish in Langley has been involved in the care for creation movement since 2010, inspired by the words of St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.

Six years ago, the 330-household parish that loves to pray developed a novena, “God Saw That It Was Good,” said Elizabeth Guss, St. Hubert’s pastoral assistant. The prayer booklets include reflections for natural locations around the island. Parishioners pray individually or in small groups each day of the novena, which ends on Earth Day, April 22.

sewingBell Moore, a member of the Green Bag Team at St. Hubert Parish in Langley, sews reusable shopping bags that are given away at farmers markets and other gatherings on Whidbey Island. Photo: Janis Olson

Soon other denominations asked to join; by 2017, nine churches on the island were participating. The novena jump-started interfaith efforts, Guss said: Although the congregations had participated in Earth Day activities together, “when we became more intentional about coming together in prayer, it really grew.”

In 2016, St. Hubert’s became a Greening Congregation, through an Earth Ministry certification program for churches that promote care for creation. Each church is guided by its own mission statement and a plan for achieving that vision.

St. Hubert’s two-year plan, crafted by its 11-member “Green Team,” lists more than 40 action items, including recycling, composting, educational events, interfaith prayer gatherings and youth-friendly work parties to restore local community land. The parish also has a Green Bag Team, a group of women who sew reusable shopping bags from donated fabric, then distribute the bags free of charge at farmers markets and street fairs on the island.

To St. Hubert’s pastor, Father Rick Spicer, the parish’s response to Laudato Si’ is “awakening people’s awareness of taking care of the planet, in quiet ways … something as simple as quietly trying to conserve water and electricity.”

St. Hubert’s also belongs to the eight-member Greening Congregations Collaborative of Whidbey Island, which sponsors Earth Day activities and other educational events throughout the year. In 2015, it hosted a seven-week series examining Laudato Si’, with each week hosted by a different church. Higher-than-expected attendance showed that “we were effective working together as faith communities in care for creation,” Guss said.

The collaborative helped get the state’s Toxic-Free Kids and Family Act (phasing out certain flame retardants) passed in 2016. It began 2018 by hosting a four-week series on climate change, using resources developed by the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center.

“We have a strong profile of faith communities saying that care for creation is a moral issue,” Guss said. “It’s been quite remarkable. It’s been humbling.”

The harmony of bees

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St. Leo Parish, which has been a Greening Congregation for three years, is focusing its creation stewardship efforts on more than bees. The 863-household parish has started a recycling program, is improving energy efficiency, and is planning a green space on the church campus to be enjoyed by all ages, said Samyn, the pastoral assistant for social ministry.

But the L’Honey Project remains its major creation care ministry.

Samyn and his apprentice beekeeper John Clemens, a member of the pastoral council, work with a variety of parishioners and other volunteers to tend the bees, make and sell products from the hives and provide meaningful work for the adults with developmental disabilities who live in the nearby L’Arche Tahoma Hope community.

Two of the L’Honey apiaries are located at L’Arche Farm and Gardens, where the bees pollinate crops and orchards. Members of the community work at the farm; the food they harvest is sold at local farmers markets as well as supplying the food bank at the St. Leo Food Connection ministry. Beeswax candles, soaps and honey (jarred and labeled by L’Arche residents) are some of the products made by Samyn and volunteers; $1 from each sale supports L’Arche Tahoma Hope.

A beehive is more than a place of production, however. It’s a superorganism, Samyn explained, where all the many parts work together to ensure the survival of the whole. By tending and observing bees, humans “can find out how we can create behaviors that allow us to live in harmony like the bees,” he said.

Clemens recounts once eyeing a bee that landed on his glove, man and bee curious about each other. “It was like we were praying together in nature, saying a prayer of praise: We have all that we need and we share it with others,” Clemens said.

“Making that personal connection with God’s creation is so critical in our ability to achieve our full human potential,” Samyn said. “My prayer is that what we do will be some small way of making Laudato Si’ real in our parish and community.” 

Parish partners

These parishes in the Archdiocese of Seattle helped launch “A New Solidarity with Creation” efforts in 2017:

Bellingham – Church of the Assumption, Sacred Heart

Edmonds – Holy Rosary

Federal Way – St. Theresa

Kirkland – Holy Family

Langley – St. Hubert

Port Townsend – St. Mary Star of the Sea

Sammamish – Mary, Queen of Peace

Seattle – Christ Our Hope, Holy Rosary, Our Lady of Guadalupe, St. James Cathedral, St. Joseph, St. Patrick

Tacoma – St. Leo the Great


Laudato Si’ network, SUMMIT

Every month, a Laudato Si’ leadership team meets in Seattle to develop resources, plan events and help parishes implement creation care activities.

The team sprang from a 2017 meeting of organizations, including 15 parishes, searching for ways to build on Pope Francis’ encyclical about environmental stewardship.

Team leaders represent three parishes, the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center, the archdiocese’s Missions Office, Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, Earth Ministry, JustFaith Ministries and Seattle University.

Their efforts have included creating “A New Solidarity with Creation” resource and event page on the IPJC website, and hosting a Season of Creation Mass and resource fair at St. James Cathedral in fall 2017.

This year, the group is organizing “Care for the Earth, Care for the Poor: A Laudato Si’ Summit” that will be held June 2 at Seattle University. The summit will connect Pope Francis’ 2015 message of creation stewardship with his 2017 “Share the Journey” initiative supporting migrants and refugees.

“Being impacted by the environment can be a push factor for immigrants,” said Kelly Hickman, assistant director of the archdiocese’s Missions Office. “Brothers and sisters are suffering because of our choices.”

To learn more about the summit, get downloadable care for creation resources or invite an expert to speak at a parish, school or organizational event, visit (click on “programs”) or call IPJC at 206-223-1138.

Northwest Catholic - April 2018

Michelle Bruno

Michelle Bruno is a member of Kent’s Holy Spirit Parish. Contact her at