Yakima: Wesley UMC’s recycling projects help keep members active in the community through exercising creation stewardship while answering the need of organizing overflowing trash. (Top) Lou Miley organizes plastics while (above) Lou Miley, the Revs. Elmer Bigham and Steve Schroeder organize aluminum cans.

By The Rev. Elmer Bigham | Photos by Pastor Scott Klepach, Jr.

Elmer Bigham is the driving force behind a very significant community ministry of Wesley United Methodist Church in Yakima.  He and other older adults can often be found in the church’s parking lot receiving and organizing tons of items that will eventually find their way to recycling centers in the Yakima area.  This glimpse of their ministry just might spark readers’ imaginations of what might be possible in their own communities.  Elmer is a retired United Methodist pastor and a member of the Conference Council on Older Adult Ministries.

Yakima, Wash. – Wesley United Methodist Church, 30 some years ago, set out an apple bin to collect aluminum cans for a Boy Scout project. That project has long since gone away, but the recycling project has blossomed into one of the largest privately-operated recycling programs in the Yakima area.

Wesley UMCs motto is “Serving Christ, Community and Creation”. The recycling program fulfills all three of those segments. The people involved in the program are all retired members of the church, committed “followers of the way”. Most of them admit that if they weren’t involved in this program they might just be at home watching TV. This project keeps them moving, keeps them thinking and keeps them in community. This group is the core of the ongoing men’s Bible study that meets weekly to discuss the coming Sunday’s texts.

The recycling area is open 24/7 for people to bring their contributions. We find that we have people from Yakima, Selah, West Valley and Tieton who contribute material. The church is known throughout the community as “the recycling church”. We receive frequent thanks from people for our service to the community. There are often six or seven vehicles in the lot as people distribute their material. There are few recycling places left in operation. The waste company got tired of dealing with the trash continually left by the bins. That is a small problem for us, but community support has been a deterrent as frequent customers often tell others what they may leave and what they can’t.

Don Reinmuth and the Rev. Elmer Bigham, load up recyclables. “Recycling for us is very much tending the garden and doing what we can to leave things in better condition that when we came,” shares Bigham.

Finally, creation is served by recycling materials rather than putting them into a landfill where they will linger for generations. In 2016, we recycled over 700,000 pounds of cardboard, newspaper, shredded paper material, aluminum cans, tin cans, plastic bottles, milk containers. The original apple bin has expanded into four trailers and numerous bins to contain the other items. Operating the program involves an estimated 400 hours of volunteer time a month.

As we carry out our work, two images stand out for us. The first is the image of “Spaceship Earth” that was current twenty or thirty years ago. The resources of the planet are finite and indiscriminate and careless use will at some point result in catastrophe. The second image is from Genesis where God directs the humans to tend the garden. Recycling for us is very much tending the garden and doing what we can to leave things in better condition that when we came.

Elmer Bigham is a retired pastor and is a guest writer for this month’s installment of Nurturing Elders and Others.

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