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The Earth Care Project With Gretchen And Jon Nickel 

From Oregon To The Low Country, The Nickel’s Are Finding Ways To Care For The Earth.

Root & Vine spoke with Jon Nickel and his wife Gretchen about their love for the environment, “First of all, it’s real simple. We’re from Portland, Oregon. And I think Oregon is known for tree huggers, environmentalists, and the outdoors.”  

The Nickel’s are warm, inviting, genial and passionate about environmentalism. And quick to share a joke as the conversation continues.

Following their retirement in 2005, with time spent in Panama City – both are quick to clarify not the city in Florida, but the city in Panama, South America – they returned to the U.S. and settled in the low country region of South Carolina.

Photo Courtesy Jon and Gretchen Nickel

While retirement might slow some down, not Jon and Gretchen Nickel, after ten years in Panama, the Nickel’s hit the ground running in their new community, with their enthusiasm for caring for the earth leading them and their deep religious faith.

John continued, “Back in my younger days, I spent a lot of time climbing mountains in the Cascades. And Gretchen has a long-time gardening interest in cultivating. So that’s where it all comes from, the fact that we were in a very environmentally conscious part of the country.“

When prompted to share more about their enthusiasm for caring for the earth, Gretchen Nickel spoke of her early childhood in the church and the rural environment of the Pacific Northwest, “I think it was just in my heart because I spent so much time outdoors in Oregon. I don’t recall it being a big part of where I was brought up in the Lutheran church. I grew up in a rural, crop-growing area, and I can still remember planes dropping pesticides on the fields while we were going up and down the freeway, and that was an alarming thing. And so you start paying attention after a while to what’s going on around you.”

Photo Courtesy Jon and Gretchen Nickel

John jumps in and adds, “Yeah, I think for me the interconnection between environmental issues and the Presbyterian Church came in 2018 when Gretchen I went to Charleston, to a Presbyterian meeting, and kind of a weekend introduction to all kinds of topics and subjects and you could pick whatever you wanted. And we picked somebody from the national church who was going to give us a lecture on ‘Earth Care,’ and we signed up – more or less out of curiosity.”

Upon returning from Charleston, SC, the Nickel’s created an Earth Care program in their church and community, utilizing what they’d learned in the seminar.

“We came back from Charleston,” Jon said, “And we’re here in the low country, and the environment is a big, big part of kind of why we’re in this neighborhood. Why don’t we see if we can get our local Presbyterian church involved in this – and it took off. We lit a match, and we had a forest fire,” Jon laughed, “Now that’s a bad analogy! But anyway, we had lots of support and lots of people interested.”

From there, their ministry grew. The Nickel’s invited their fellow congregants to join them in an Adopt A Highway Program and then a river cleanup. The Nickel’s loved that inviting and involving their community members helped create shared interests, which led to improvements in the community and the local environment. 

As the momentum grew, other congregants shared their passions as well. In fact, one church member who was an avid birdwatcher became involved in implementing a safety system for the birds who would routinely fly into the large glass windows at their church.

According to their website, the Presbyterian Church sponsors a program for congregations to get certified annually as “Earth Care Congregations” by demonstrating “active caring for God’s creation in four areas:  Worship, Outreach, Education, and Facilities.”

Image Courtesy Lowcountry Presbyterian Church

With the leadership of the Nickel’s, Lowcountry Presbyterian has been bestowed with Earth Care Congregation status each year since 2019 and is one of only a few churches in South Carolina to hold this certification. 

Jon and Gretchen Nickel are dedicated to doing the work, and they believe in doing the little things that make a big difference in the long run. As they both agreed, changing the world is a giant, daunting concept, but inviting your community makes it easier and more enjoyable.

As long as people like Gretchen and Jon Nickel out there caring for the earth, our future remains bright.

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