Couple Serves God With Green Ministry
By Carlos Jasso*
April 17, 2009 | WILMORE, Ky. (UMNS)
Matthew and Nancy Sleeth hang their laundry to dry on a clothesline outside their home near Lexington - something you don't see much these days.
They live a simple life in a simple house, a stark contrast to the couple's busy work schedule in a mad rush to talk to as many people as possible "before it's too late."
The Sleeths don't consider themselves radicals. They are just ordinary people who have altered their lifestyle to save the earth and to serve God. In the last two years, the couple has spoken more than 850 times to United Methodist congregations and other groups, encouraging them to live greener.
A few years ago, Matthew Sleeth quit his job as an emergency room physician and moved with his wife and two kids to follow a calling from God.
"One day I picked up the Bible and read the gospel of Matthew and learned about Christ and was blown away," he says. "We began a process of changing our lives to try to be more humble in the way that we lived."
Sleeth wrote a book, "Serve God, Save The Planet," in which he details how he and his family adopted a less materialistic lifestyle, and he describes the joy it has brought them.
Making that change wasn't easy, Sleeth says.
"For me, the hardest thing was to give up my identity - both in the way that I lived and in my lifestyle and with saying I'm the chief of staff at the hospital - and instead to say I'm following a path that Christ set before us to become meeker. And I'm hugging trees for Jesus to boot."
He and his wife tell United Methodist churches that creation care parallels Wesleyan theology, since it stresses solid stewardship and appreciation for the beauty of the earth.
Sleeth grew up in a United Methodist church.
Going back to the future
In her kitchen, as lasagna cooks in the oven, Nancy Sleeth describes the lifestyle changes the family has adopted. The sauce is made with tomatoes she grew in her garden - a garden watered from a 1,000-gallon rain barrel and fertilized with compost made from discarded trash and food waste.
The thermostat at the house is set at a chilly 67 degrees. Dishes are hand-washed with environmentally friendly detergent and the never-used dishwasher serves as a spice rack. Cloth napkins are used, and every appliance is disconnected from the outlet when not in use. A Toyota Prius hybrid automobile sits in the driveway.
The house is not a big house. In fact, it's the size of the garage at the Sleeths' old house.
If the year were 1950 instead of 2009, the sight of clothes hanging outside wouldn't garner a second look. But with today's technology, it's unusual to see shirts, napkins and socks blowing in the wind. It's like seeing a classic car going down the highway.
"Every one of our grandparents used to live somewhat more like what I'm living," Matthew Sleeth says. "Nobody had a lot of these technologies, and yet they still had good lives."
"Science, government, business ... they are all part of the answer to our environmental problems, but they've also been a huge part of our problem as well," Nancy Sleeth says, as she hangs clothes on the wire. "And we believe that the only way to fix these problems is by a change of the heart."
Saving and serving
The Sleeths travel from state to state, talking in churches with one mission in mind: to save the earth. Their message is that anyone can make slight changes to be better stewards of natural resources. Being part of the solution can be as simple as starting to recycle and switching to energy-saving light bulbs.
"One person really can make a difference," says Julia Burnett, a member of Centenary United Methodist Church in Lexington, where the Sleeths spoke recently.
Burnett got the church to switch to a more environmentally friendly heating and cooling system. But she says the hard part is trying to get individuals to change. "A lot of people feel a lot of guilt, so then they do nothing," she says.
The Sleeths have committed themselves to leading by example, but they admit it's hard to live the way they do. They do it because they say it is God's calling.
Matthew Sleeth says his one regret is "only that I didn't change sooner. Only that I didn't begin what I'm doing sooner in life. But we begin when we begin."
More information about the Sleeths' ministry and speaking engagements is available on their Web site at www.servegodsavetheplanet.org. The Sleeths, along with their daughter, Emma, also blog regularly on their Blessed Earth Web site, at www.blessed-earth.org/.
Editor's Note: Today (April 22) is Earth Day.