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Earth Day 2020 honored across six islands

By Staff | May 6, 2020

PHOTO PROVIDED Nancy and Chip Roach ring the bell at the Captiva Chapel by the Sea.

Church bells pealed and conch shells sounded to mark Earth Day across the Barrier Islands.

April 22 was the historic 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day. TOGETHER – A Way Forward, a local interfaith environmental initiative, encouraged people to honor the planet. Rather than gathering in person, participants gathered in spirit and in unison from wherever they were at 6 p.m., joining in song, contemplation, prayer, and thanksgiving across six islands.

Church bells rang from Saint Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church on Sanibel and the Captiva Chapel by the Sea. Bells rang on Upper Captiva and at Saint John’s Episcopal Church on Pine Island. An ancient Calusa conch shell was blown on Useppa Island. Even Cabbage Key residents joined in.

For inspiration, TOGETHER offered “Honoring Earth Together 2020: A Collection of Readings to Mark the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day.” It included a variety of poems, prayers, hymns, quotes and essays, many of which highlighted the interconnection of spirituality and the environment. The curated selections were both secular and sacred – an ancient Jewish prayer, a Mary Oliver poem, the Book of Job, a prayer for the Earth by the Rev. Ellen Sloan, a Sufi chant, a hymn by the Rev. John Danner.

Participant Linda Scherer took turns reading the collection with a close friend to the songs of the birds and the wind in the trees. She said the readings “touched our hearts as messages of renewal and hope As God’s children, we have a responsibility to treat our Mother with tenderness and compassion.”

PHOTO PROVIDED The sound of an ancient Calusa conch shell on Useppa Island,

“Each year, as we celebrate Earth Day, we are reminded that we are recipients of God’s blessing,” Priest-in-Charge Alan Kelmereit, with Saint Michael and All Angels, said. “We are also reminded of the responsibility we have to care for this Earth and to use its bounty wisely. The readings we received and the bells we heard are part of our shared awareness of this great holy gift.”

Virginia Martin Amsler organized a ceremony on Useppa with close friends and family.

“All generations participated,” she said. “‘Thank you God!’ and ‘Thank you Earth!’ were the cheers heard by the egret on the beach. A grandmother, a mother, her college aged daughter and high school son, a young mother with two young girls, an elementary school teacher, a pilot, two dogs, and a cat, all gathered in respectful distance on the beach. In a feeling of joy and gratitude a Calusa conch shell amplified our voices raised to the sky.”

At the Captiva Chapel by the Sea, Nancy Roach and Board of Associates Vice President Chip Roach rang the bell fifty times. They were joined by the Rev. Larry Marshall, pastor of the congregation.

“It has been interesting to me how much the environment has improved since people have been staying home and not driving their cars,” Marshall said. “It’s an opportunity for us to make a statement that if we care for the environment, it will clear up. As a boy, I grew up in a town that had three steel mills around it – the air was red, the river was red Now it’s been restored, and the fish have returned. There is hope if we’re willing to work together If we do something about it, there are results.”

PHOTO PROVIDED Sandy Ehlers reads at the Shell Point Retirement Community.

TOGETHER member Peter Blaze Corcoran reflected on the day.

“Today’s political, economic, and health crises created a context for Earth Day 2020 that make it even more critical to celebrate our interfaith harmony and to commit to our care for creation,” he said.

For more about TOGETHER, or for a copy of the “Honoring Earth Together 2020: A Collection of Readings to Mark the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day,” email togetherawayforward@gmail.com.