Holding up an apple (or other fruit) as you begin telling this story provides a focus. If no one responds to your questions, or if the group is too big, you can give your own answers. If appropriate, slice the fruit and hand out pieces to students.
Have you ever eaten an apple?
Do you like to have them sliced up? Or do you like to bite into a whole apple with your own teeth and have it go crunch? Do you like red apples? Green? Maybe golden?
After you've eaten the apple, what do you do with the core, the part with the seeds and the stem?
[Hold it up if you have a real apple.]
At home? At school? Here?
Someday, this apple core will rot. It will get mushy and brown. It will fall apart into smaller and smaller pieces. After a long while, those little pieces of apple core will be part of the dirt. That's called composting, when pieces of plants turn into dirt.
The apple seeds can grow in that dirt. The seeds can grow into apple trees. Those apple trees will make more apples. Those apples will have apple cores. And those apples cores will make more dirt, for more seeds, for more trees, for more apples.
That's the circle of life. Things change and turn into other things, and everything works together to create something new.
Here is a story about people in a Unitarian Universalist congregation, who changed how they did things. They decided to work together and create something new.
First, they decided they wanted to have a Green Sanctuary. A sanctuary is a sacred place, a place where you can be safe. The room where we have worship services is a sacred place, and that room is called a sanctuary.
Now, having a green sanctuary doesn't mean you have to paint the walls of that room green. Being green means you help things grow, like plants. They're green.
Being green means being part of the circle of life. Being green means taking care of the Earth, and treating the Earth like a sacred place. The Earth isn't just our home. The Earth is our sanctuary.
The Earth is too big for one person, or even one group, to take care of. So we all work together, and each of us takes care of the part where we are.
To help the Earth, the people in the congregation decided to make a garden and grow food. To have a garden, you need good dirt. To get good dirt, you need compost.
So, whenever the RE class has snacks on Sundays, they collect all the apple cores. Of course, they don't always eat apples. Some days they collect orange peels, or watermelon rinds, or the green leaves off strawberries. Banana peels, celery leaves, carrot tops, cherry pits... All of those plants can become compost.
They need a place to put all the plant pieces, so the plants can have time to turn into dirt.
The older kids got hammers and nails and wood. They built a big, sturdy box, called a compost bin. Some grownups helped.
That compost bin sits outside near the garden. And every Sunday, all the leftover plant pieces from all the RE classes go into the compost bin. The apple cores and the banana peels and the carrot tops and everything else get brown and mushy, then fall apart bit by bit. People put leaves and grass in there, too. It takes a while, but finally, all the plants compost and turn into good brown dirt.
The people in this congregation have Garden days. Everybody gets shovels and rakes. They take the compost, that good brown dirt, and they mix it in with the dirt that's already there.
In the spring, they plant seeds—tomatoes, cucumbers, strawberries, all kinds of good things to eat. Some flowers, too.
All through the summer on Sundays, some of the kids in the RE classes go out and water the plants. Some kids pull out weeds. Some mix in more compost. Parents and teachers help, too. There's always a lot to do in a garden.
But sometimes, it's nice to just sit and look at a garden. A lot of people do that. They watch the birds that come. They watch the butterflies. They touch the plants and sniff their flowers and listen to the humming of the bees.
Gardens are good places to be.
Especially when the food is ready to eat. You can pull a little red tomato off its green stem and pop it right into your mouth. You can eat a strawberry that's still warm from the sun. You can split open pea pods and eat the tiny green peas, one by one by one.
Yes, gardens are good places to be.
But not everyone has a garden. Not everyone has enough food to eat. So, the people in this congregation decided to share what they had grown. Some days, they pick the tomatoes and the cucumbers and the peas. They put them in bags and they take them to a food pantry, a place where anybody who's hungry can get something to eat. Sometimes the grownups and the older kids stay and help to cook food there. They make sandwiches and soup.
And if there's any food left over, any apple cores or carrot tops or celery leaves, they bring those plant pieces back to their garden and put them in the compost bin. There, the plant pieces will turn into good brown dirt, and the compost will help the garden grow again.
And so the circle of life goes on, around and around, and in the green sanctuary that is the Earth, people work together and help make things new.