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Jun 16, 2011 | The Rev. Susan Barnes

Austin Church Removes Tons of Leaves to Prevent Wild Fires

St. Matthew's LeavesPerched high in the Northwest hills of Austin, St. Matthew’s church and school are set on six and a half acres. The vision of David Barrow, architect of the buildings and the master plan, was that the limestone-faced buildings and the live-oak and salvia planting around them would reflect the Texas Hill Country to which the campus is a kind of gateway.   Landscaping with drought-tolerant native plants has been responsible stewardship, as well, in the arid climate, and the live-oak leaves have served as mulch for the ground beneath.


That very ground cover, however, proved to be a serious fire hazard in the current drought. After recent wildfires hit other parts of Austin, Jim Michael saw a study by the city showing that St. Matthew’s campus was at high risk and brought it to his fellow vestry members’ attention. Estimates to remove the leaves professionally proved too great an unbudgeted expense so the vestry took it on and invited others to join in a Saturday leaf-clearing effort. Second-year vestry member Eby Whatley, mother of five, dubbed herself the Leaf Boss and gathered bags, rented trailers, and found a location that would take the leaves without charge.  


Early on a scorching June Saturday morning—the day before Pentecost—most of the vestry members and dozens of other people showed up for the effort, including a recent-church visitor, Aaron Whitney. Important among them were thirty-five parents and members of Boy Scout Troop 512, which has been meeting at St. Matthew’s for decades, led by Scoutmaster Jack Gindler. In five hours of work the volunteers—aged 5 to 75—filled 500 bags of leaves, weighing an estimated six tons: six trailer loads. It was an astonishing feat accomplished in concert by people who care for St. Matthew’s and another way of living out the stewardship of the space the congregation is blessed to have.