|Couple serves God with green ministry
Matthew and Nancy Sleeth wash dishes at their home in Wilmore, Ky.
UMNS photos by Lisa Kelley.
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
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 talk to members at Centenary United Methodist Church in Lexington.
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
“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
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
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
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
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.
A 1,000-gallon rain barrel stores enough water to irrigate the Sleeths’
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/.
* Jasso is a freelance producer based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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