Worm Bin Lenten Story, the how to and the why(s)

IMG_2767The How To…I want to tell you the story of my journey through Lent this year (and last year too).  Red-wriggler worms have played the staring role.  It began in January 2015 or so when mother of young 2nd grader told me that her class was learning about vermicomposting.

From wikapedia: Vermicompost is the product or process of composting using various worms, usually red wigglers, white worms, and other earthworms to create a heterogeneous mixture of decomposing vegetable or food waste, bedding materials, and vermicast.

Ah-ha. We could do that too in church!  But – the problem was posed – the first twist in plot.  We are a very urban church.  We don’t have much outside space, and the outside space we have isn’t very secure and we have a problem already attracting rats.  Rats. Gross. But the beautiful thing about vermicomposting (or worm composting as I’ve been calling it), is it all takes places in a neat plastic bin, and when done correctly doesn’t smell, doesn’t attract flies or other unwanted-creatures.

Twist in Plot #2:  Where to get the worms?  Solution:  Worms, like most everything else can be bought on-line. The worms came in a green pouch and I ordered the starter pack materials including pumice and grit. I ordered more supplies this year.




I also ordered the green worm bin, which stacked in layers encourages the the worms to wriggler upward to find more food.  The worm-bin can be re-used each year.  It sits on a table, so just in case I don’t mix things properly, we won’t have a rodent-friend pay a visit.


Each week, I add about a 1/2 pound of scraps from the kitchen.  These are things that I would otherwise throw away.  These are things I consider trash.   IMG_2315 

These discarded bits include veggie scraps, fruit peels and cores, coffee grounds, crushed up egg shells, and the insides from tea bags.  I learned that the worms eat the scraps faster when I make the bits smaller, so when I’m feeling ambitious, I first put them in the food processor.  Other times, I put in the food in whole.   When I do put the food in whole, I realize how much food that I buy I throw away.  This week, I put in 2 forgotten potatoes, a moldy pear, and a bag of kale that went bad.  This process of examining my food scraps each week is beginning to teach me to about meal planning and to become more intentional about what I buy.  Slowly (I haven’t fully gotten the 221c5bc4-2d38-4f1a-846e-890bab384b2bmessage yet), this worm bin is teaching me to be a better steward of what I have been given. 

Then after about a week, the worms turn that which I would have thrown away — scraps and just food waste — into compost.  This is the worm casings.  The worm castings is essentially their poop.  And it this worm-poop that provides the fertilizer (compost) for new life.


SO WHY are we composting for Lent???  What does this worm-composting have to do with Jesus Christ?  Why or why or why oh why….?

I talk about it more here in my “Theology of Worm Composting,” but here is the shorter version:

  1. Worm-composting shows the process of how God takes the things that we would throw away and brings in beautiful new life.  Or, as Pastor Roger would say how God takes us out of the “death-tending ways of the world” and offers us new life.  This is the message of the whole Bible, and the message we especially honor during the Lenten Season.
  2. Worm-composting connects me deeply to the God’s good creation.  Especially living in an urban environment, I give God thanks for the time I get to play hands-deep in the soil with these worms.  It is hands deep in the soil, I get to feel and experience new life.  And then I consider – where in the world is God breathing in new life?  In what unexpected places should I look?
  3. Worm-composting is fun. Shouldn’t life be fun?  Shouldn’t church be fun too?

And here is what we have done week by week:

First week of Lent:   

We took the compost-worm casings – POOP –  from last year’s bin and planted green onions and asparagus.  We watered the pots and set them on the window in my office.

We also set up this year’s compost bin, adding in the right mixture of greens (veggie/ fruit scraps) and brown (pumice, grit and brown leaves).  We added in the worms.   We asked, where do we see new life growing? How does God bring about new life?

(SIDE NOTE:  Last year, the bin lived on the deck outside of my house. (I continued to compost until about July when the worms got too hot and died.  😦  They like temps 40-80 degrees.  Hey worms, me too!   …  But they left a lot of good compost for this year’s pile.)

Second week of Lent:

We watered the plants that we planted the previous week.  We marveled at how much new life – aka compost casing poop- the worms created in only one week.

Third week of Lent:

In worship play, the time during the sermon when the ages 3-10 have their own worship activity, we played with the worm bin, adding 1/2 lb of veg/ fruit scraps and brown leaves.  We talked about how it is important to have the right materials for the worm bin — not too much or too little of anything. We talked about how we too should build our faith on a strong foundation based on the story of the house built on rock from Matthew 7.  We asked, what is the right foundation for faith in God?  (Our answer was a combination of reading the Bible, going to church, and reflecting on our faith within the greater world.)

Fourth week of Lent:

In gathering time, the time when the children/ youth and families ages baby to grade 12 meet before Sunday School, we had a worm-bin demonstration to start our 2nd and 3rd bins.  We added in a bag of fruit/ veg and a bag of brown leaves.  We also played with the worms.

Fifth week of Lent:

31db229c-8a1b-4078-a08b-0e0fbd970ea4 We marveled at the new growth in just four weeks.  We have wonderful new green onions and asparagus.  We sampled the green onions grown from the plants.  In Chinese culture, green onions have healing properties.  We each hurt and suffer in different ways.   How is God our healer?  How is God calling us to be healers of others?


Palm/ Passion Sunday:

For 11 am  worship play,  we reviewed what we have done so far in light of the Holy Week story.  We talked about how God revealed God-self to humanity in a little tiny baby, Jesus Christ.  And then in growing up, going from being 0 to 1 to 2 to 3 to 4 to 5 to 6 to 7 to 8 to 9 to about 33 years old, God experienced what it was like to be human.  Jesus started out small and grew into an adult all the time experiencing the joys and pains of being human.  We talked about how our plants have grown in 6 weeks and how Jesus probably grew plants too. We talked about how Jesus ate meals probably often from plants like these.

We talked about the Maundy Thursday  and how that was the last meal that Jesus ate with his friends.  We ate a bit of green onion.  And then, we pulled out the green onions and talked about Good Friday as a very sad day. We talked about how God gave God whole self for the world.  We talked about how God knows our pain.

We also talked about the stillness of Holy Saturday about waiting for the hope of Easter.



It’s coming!!!!!  We will yell Alleluia! and use the worm-bin compost story to tell the story Easter Resurrection.   Then, like last year, we will plant new plants for my office and for each child to take home.

Post Easter:

You are invited to visit my office and look at the worm-bin in action.  I hope to continue it throughout the year.  Perhaps it can be the starter pile for a NYAPC urban garden?




The Theology of Worm Composting…

Worm Composting.  If you’ve been around the church this Lenten season (or last Lenten season), you might know that I’ve become sort of obsessed with the worm composting bin and their tiny crawly red-wriggler residents.

I’m obsessed with these tiny-little friends because, in sort of a quirky way, they connect me deeper to my faith in God.  My hope is that with the children of the church will feel his deep connection too. So, going into the 4th week of Lent in the second year of worm composting, here is what worms have taught me about God so far.


Hands Deep Transformation

1.) These worms deeply connect me to God’s good creation and teach me to be a good steward of it.   Especially in a largely urban area surrounded by pavement and traffic, I find the connection to the earth that the worms provide to be highly transformative.  When I cook, rather than just throwing my veggie/ fruit scraps away, I’m attentive to the extra bits, carefully saving them in a bag for the worms.  In saving my scraps, I’m more attentive to my waste.  I’m more attentive to the bounty given to us through the soil and our calling to be good stewards of what we have received.  I look forward to having a full bag to “feed” the worms, and to dump in the food for them.  I love stirring the bin, often by hand, and seeing my red wriggler “friends” crawling about.  I’m amazed by the speed in which they multiply and consume.  I’m amazed about how they take the bits that we would throw away and turn them into the basis for new life. 

2.) These worms teach me about the spiritual practice of patience.  I’m now in my second  year of worm composting.  Last year, I really wanted to get the worms going quickly so I dumped in LOTS of leftovers, and I wasn’t really careful to what I dumped in.  I would occasionally dump in a whole forgotten apple, not bothering to chop it up or even take off the plastic label.  Two practical lessons were learned here. First, a worm has an easier time with a smaller thing.  A smaller thing takes far less time to break down than a larger thing.  Pretty obvious.  Second, plastic, even small plastic things like labels aren’t compostable.  Duh.  Yes, of course. I had to go through the whole bin bit by bit and separate the pieces, take out the plastic and break down the parts.  So, the big lesson is not to hurry, not to skip steps, and to be purposeful about the practice. It is the same about faith.  Faith isn’t something that can be hurried to achieve an end goal.  Faith is also something that is practiced again and again again..

3.) These worms teach me about God’s Holy Spirit existing everywhere in the midst of life.   Man oh man.  You should have seen the children in worship play this past week.  (And you could, by volunteering to teach/ help with us… just email ALICE!) They were holding the worms, they were dumping in new veggie/ fruit scraps, they were mixing up the whole thing, and cleaning up afterward.  Everyone was able to help from our 2.5 year old to our 4 and 5 year olds to our 9 and 10 year olds (and everyone in between).  Everyone himgres-6ad a job to do.  Everyone could participate.  Everyone could LOVE(?!?!?!) on these worms.   It was my plan that we could TALK about the worm bin in worship play but not that we would necessarily get our hands DEEP into the compost too.  But then, suddenly it just worked and the children and the adults were asking:  “Can I hold one?” “Me too; I want to hold a worm.” “Here’s mine.” “I’ll share with you.” “Can you help me?” “Can I help you?”  And the time was up, and we were still having fun, still experiencing the movement of the Spirit in our midst. 

These worms show me how God invites us to life out of the “death-tending ways of the31db229c-8a1b-4078-a08b-0e0fbd970ea4 world.”  In sermons, in conversation and in Pastor Roger’s Book Theology in the Trenches,  Pastor Roger is often speaks of “how the cross exposes the fact that the violent-death tending ways of the world are not God’s way in the world.  Indeed, God’s love and justice are at work in the world to bring life out of these death-tending perversions.” (p.109)

How might I translate that statement into something that could drive our children’s ministry?  And then last year, totally awesome then second grader told me about Red-Wriggler worms.

These red wiggler worms take what we would normally throw away and over time they turn what we would normally consider to be trash into compost.  They turn our trash into life giving soil.  God takes what we we see as used up and forgotten and breathes in new life creating something new.  That is what God does all over the Bible. 

That is what God did for Abraham and Sarah in the birth of a child.  That is what God does delivering the people out of bondage in Egypt.  That is what God does with Ruth and Naomi when they are lost in a foreign land. That is what God does with the disciples’ impatience and foolishness.  That is what God does with us — telling us and showing us that there is nothing that can separate us from God’s love for us. God promises to always be with us, and in that promise God is always bringing in new life especially in ways we don’t expect. We are then to look for all the ways that God is calling us out of the death tending-ways of the world and beckoning us toward life abundant.

For me, this Lent, it begins with worms.  To me, they serve as a bearer of God’s compassionate life-giving love to the world.  They are just under the soil.  Just dig.


Many blessings,


Food for Thought – on “Let Your Life Speak” by Parker Palmer

dying seed IIIFrances remembered this quote from Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak, and thought it relevant for Alice’s Lenten compost project with the children:  “I love the fact that the word humus – the decayed, vegetable matter that feeds the roots of plants – comes from the same word as humility.  It is a blessed etymology.  It helps me understand that the humiliating events of life, the events that leave ‘mud on my face’ or that ‘make my name mud’ may create the fertile soil in which something new can grow.”  (103)


Food for Thought-Thich Nhat Han

IMG_5055From Thich Nhat Hanh’s Transformation and Healing: Sutra on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness“When we’re angry, our anger is our very self. To suppress or chase away our anger is to suppress or chase away ourselves. When we’re joyful, we are joy. When we’re angry, we are anger. When we love, we are love. When we hate, we are hatred. When anger is born, we can be aware that anger is an energy in us, and we can change that energy into another kind of energy. If we want to transform it, first we have to know how to accept it. For example, a garbage can filled with decomposing and smelly organic material can be transformed into compost and later into beautiful roses. At first, we may see the garbage and the flowers as separate and opposite, but when we look deeply, we see that the flowers already exist in the garbage, and the garbage already exists in the flowers. The beautiful rose contains the garbage in it; if we look carefully, we can see that. It only takes one week for a flower to become garbage. The smelly garbage already contains beautiful flowers and fragrant herbs, such as coriander and basil. When a good organic gardener looks into the garbage can, she can see that, and so she does not feel sad or disgusted. Instead, she values the garbage and doesn’t discriminate against it. It takes only a few months for garbage to transform into fragrant herbs and flowers. We also need the insight and nondual vision of the organic gardener with regard to anger and despair. We need not be afraid of them or reject them. We know that anger is a kind of garbage, but that it’s within our power to transform it. We need it in the way the organic gardener needs compost. If we know how to accept our anger, we already have some peace and joy. Gradually we can transform anger completely.”