Caring for Creation—an Earth Day Sunday Field Trip

By Reverend Doctor Cory Sparks, Director of the Institute of Nonprofit Excellence Louisiana Association of Nonprofit Organizations

When John Taylor was a boy growing up in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans, cypress trees were so thick in nearby Bayou Bienvenue that he didn’t need a paddle for his pirogue. He could pull himself along by grabbing the cypress knees.

Aaron Viles, Rayne Caring For Creation Committee member and Gulf Restoration Network board member discusses the state of advocacy efforts to restore the Bayou and Louisiana's coastal wetlands with John Taylor, Lower Ninth Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development.

Aaron Viles, Rayne Caring For Creation Committee member and Gulf Restoration Network board member discusses the state of advocacy efforts to restore the Bayou and Louisiana's coastal wetlands with John Taylor, Lower Ninth Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development.

Decades later, saltwater intrusion from the now closed Mississippi River Gulf Outlet has turned the same stretch of bayou into a “ghost swamp” of dead trees, open water and marsh.

Taylor recently spoke to a field trip group from the Rayne Memorial United Methodist Church in New Orleans. Church members, including the youth group, gathered at the Bayou Bienvenue viewing platform in the Lower 9th Ward. They learned about the saltwater intrusion damaged the bayou, and the way this loss contributed to Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of the Lower 9. Rayne Memorial organized the field trip to help their members learn more about the issue.

Rayne Memorial United Methodist Church group learning about coastal issues and restoration methods.

Rayne Memorial United Methodist Church group learning about coastal issues and restoration solutions.

Helen Rose Patterson, faith outreach coordinator for the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition, then connected the story of Bayou Bienvenue to the larger issue of coastal land loss in Louisiana. Louisiana has lost an area of land the size of Delaware since World War II. And while it’s hard to comprehend that 2,000 square miles of land have disappeared, it’s easy to see the change in the now-degraded bayou. Patterson and Taylor hope that soon visitors will not only learn about the effects of wetlands loss, they’ll also view ways to restore the coast – all without having to travel outside the city.

The Rayne Memorial field trip also celebrated Earth Day Sunday, a national celebration of creation care that features special worship services and environmental talks. In Louisiana, Earth Day Sunday is coordinated by the Louisiana Interchurch Conference (LIC). The LIC is made up of 17 different Christian denominations. Members include the Roman Catholic dioceses of the state as well as historically African American denominations, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians and United Methodists, among others.

Rayne Memorial UMC children exploring Bayou Bienvenue.

Rayne Memorial UMC children exploring Bayou Bienvenue.

Kids playing on the CSED Labyrinth during the field trip.

Kids playing on the CSED Labyrinth during the field trip.

The LIC has worked for decades to raise awareness of the threat to coastal wetlands. In 1988, the LIC hosted the first statewide hearings on wetlands restoration. A driving force of that effort, Rob Gorman, became founding board chair of the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, a member organization of the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition.

This year, the LIC partnered with the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition to publish a wetlands bulletin insert for Earth Day Sunday. The flier reminded worshipers that God made the heavens, the earth and the seas – and our beautiful wetlands. It called on Christians to care for this part of creation by supporting the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition and its goal to utilize the natural power of the river to support our wetlands and wildlife.

Rayne Memorial United Methodist Church showing their support for coastal restoration.

Rayne Memorial United Methodist Church showing their support for coastal restoration.

If your church, synagogue, mosque or temple would like to schedule a field trip to the Bayou Bienvenue viewing platform, please contact Helen Rose Patterson via email at PattersonH@nwf.org.

If you would like to stay up-to-date on coastal issues and receive information relevant to your area, sign up for the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition email list here!

Rev. Dr. Cory Sparks is Director of the Institute of Nonprofit Excellence of the Louisiana Association of Nonprofit Organizations. In this role he strengthens nonprofits to strengthen the state. He is an ordained United Methodist minister of the Louisiana Conference who has served churches in New Orleans and suburban Lafayette, Louisiana. Rev. Dr. Sparks is the Chair of the Commission on Stewardship of the Environment of the Louisiana Interchurch Conference. He also is a board member of the ecumenical group Christian Renewal New Orleans and President Elect of the New Orleans Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Rev. Dr. Sparks holds an A.B. from Columbia University, an M.Div. from Southern Methodist University, and a Doctorate in American History from Louisiana State University. During seminary he was a Ministry Fellow of the Fund for Theological Education (now the Fund for Theological Exploration).