First, my apologies for being less than faithful in my blogging lately. This is the time of year when two IRCC ministry programs overlap – the Garden and the Scrap ministry. It keeps my hopping and this year, the scrap ministry is more than usually challenging. Having written before of the Community Harvest garden, let me say a few words about the scrap ministry. Some years ago I was questioned by a reporter for the Canton Repository as part of an article he was writing about recycling in the County. I gave honest answers that left me less than satisfied with myself. Basically, I didn’t really recycle a lot of things because it required much more effort than just putting it out for the trash man to haul away. Recognizing Stark County’s status as the landfill capital of the Eastern U.S. rendered my ‘throw away’ mentality even worse in my own eyes.
Never being content with the private exercise of virtue, my newfound determination to recycle became a ministry for the congregation I shepherd. And being a goal setter, we now set new goals every year for tonnage in paper/cardboard and scrap metal. The goal for paper this year is 70,000 pounds. We’re on track.
Now, about scrap metal – what qualifies? Anything made of metal. I tell people we scrap from paper clips to bulldozers. No kidding – we have done both. Well, the bulldozer was actually a bucket trencher circa 1940’s – a bulldozer body with a 10’ bucket wheel instead of a blade. I can tell you the bucket wheel weighed at least as much as a blade would have. In fact, that was the project that resulted in my crew of helpers changing the name of their group (previously scrap corps or scrap elves) to ‘Scrap Dummies’. They adopted that name because I kept getting them into these impossible jobs and they kept coming back. Note: anything will fit on an 18’ trailer if you cut into enough pieces and make enough trips! Anyway – buckets of rusty nails, old cars and trucks – parts of old cars and trucks, auto-batteries, appliances of all sorts, steel or aluminum cans, old plumbing fixtures, pipes, dehumidifiers, air conditioners, furnaces, hot water heaters, aluminum siding/gutters… We have cleaned up farm dumps and ransacked houses scheduled for demolition. We have cut up at least four semi-box trailers. We’ve done a few house trailers too but those are losing propositions. We’ve sorted the brass and the big cast iron sound boards out of several upright pianos – the wooden parts serve other purposes in the garden and nativity set ministries. We know how to separate out non-ferrous, motors, etc. My two favorite tools are a gas powered cut off saw and a short handled eight- pound sledge-hammer. You can take things apart fairly quickly if you have no concern for ever putting them together again.
The scrap ministry is always a fair amount of work – and for what it’s worth – if those of us involved in it took part time jobs at minimum wage we could make the congregation more money than we get off the same amount of hours working scrap. But the landfills would be more full and people wouldn’t have this way to get rid of things and support a good cause in doing so. I love the scrap ministry!
For reasons I won’t go into at the moment, I switched the scrap goal this year from pounds (we have been exceeding 100.000 pounds per year the last few years) to dollars. This was done in January – i.e. before we knew about the pandemic! The ramifications of the pandemic are both deep and wide. All local congregations could tell their story! Among the other places IRCC has been touched by the pandemic – it hit the scrap ministry. The price of scrap was already comparatively low owing to the evolving trade situation with China (the biggest customer for U.S. scrap metal). The pandemic drove those prices down to next to nothing – at the worst - $20 per ton for basic steel – most of the time the last couple of years the pre-pandemic price has bounced between $60 and $100 per ton. And, like everyone else, the scrap yards shut down for a while and when they opened it was not for full regular hours and they weren’t always taking all the usual types of scrap. All this for the year we set out to raise $10,000 from scrap metal! Had we set a weight goal – even one higher than 100,000 pounds, we would already have hit it. But as it is, we worked hard to get half the money raised in 75% of the year. Which explains why I have not been blogging as regularly as usual. To meet the goal, we need to raise as much in this last quarter as we did in the first three. Hence, I designated the last quarter of the year – Operation Impossible Scrap Goal and set the weekly benchmarks necessary to accomplish it. Here in week two, we are on track – but just!
Although you may not be able to tell it yet – I did not write all this as a complaint. I wrote it as a lead up to the following sentiment I once heard expressed by Chuck Swindoll - God is in the habit of providing wonderful opportunities but He cleverly disguises them as hard work and seemingly impossible situations. That’s probably not an exact quote of Swindoll but close enough! I think God often wants us to answer a question for ourselves (He already knows the answer). You say you want something. You claim that feeding the hungry is a value you get behind. You think you want to make a difference in the local ecology and economy via recycling. You assert that these things are so – but how bad do you want them? Bad enough to glean commercial corn patches in the rain? Bad enough to process semi box trailers and bulldozers in the heat?
Even as Operation Impossible Scrap Goal was about to commence, before any formal word could get out, the phone calls started coming in. An HVAC contractor with a load of AC units and furnaces he wanted shed of. (One day of moving them. Three consecutive Monday evenings for the scrap dummies to process them. Three consecutive Tuesday mornings of hauling it all in.) This got us to the halfway point in time for the final quarter to begin. But more was to come. The new owner of an old body shop wanting to clean out a lot of stuff accumulated over the previous owner’s years of work. A guy with a couple of trucks to contribute. Nothing to it but work. I suppose God could just drop a dump truck load of Number 1 copper ($2.50 a pound currently) in our lap. But then we wouldn’t have to answer the question. We all have to answer it. I hope we always answer right.
Pastor and Author Terry Bailey, Senior Minister of Indian Run Christian Church