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Episcopal bishop's wife promotes 'greening'

Gloria Waggoner sees her calling as sharing information about organic living practices that have gentle impact and that help protect the earth God created.

Gloria Waggoner
Gloria Waggoner

Beginning at her home in Paulsen House and at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, she envisions continued promotion of “greening”—earth stewardship—in the 43 churches of the Episcopal Diocese of Spokane over the next few years.

She is curator of Paulsen House, where she lives as wife of the Rt. Rev. James Waggoner, Jr.,  the current bishop of the diocese.

“Before we came, a significant quantity of synthetic chemicals was used each year in the garden and lawn at Paulsen House.  In the six years we have been here, we have been using organic methods, so the soil is once again healthy.  The plants and lawn are thriving, and the property is now organic,” she said.

Gloria likes a paraphrase of Genesis that calls people to admire God’s handiwork and work in harmony for the good of humankind.

“To be alive is to make choices,” she said.  “I hope we will make decisions that have a gentle impact on the global environment and exhibit consideration for all.”

So she encourages choices that reflect stewardship of the environment and mutual well-being through recycling, reusing, renewing, restoring and using only nontoxic responses.

Gloria believes that education is the first step in changing from “exposing ourselves, our children and our pets to toxic substances in our everyday lives” to adopting “a more thoughtful way of living.

“Allowing nature to work by encouraging beneficial insects, building healthy soil with compost and organic nutrients, plus using earth- and people-friendly products inside and outside our homes, we come to realize that there is no need to use toxic substances,” she said.

 “Just following directions in use of synthetic chemicals does not necessarily make them safe,” she said. 

“If we spray chemicals on the yard, we track them into the house, the school or office, where they can remain, in some cases up to two or more years in the carpet and on toys.

“It’s an invisible invasion everywhere,” she said.

Her love of stewardship grew from her love of gardening, learned from her great-grandmother, who had a formal rose garden using white marble mulch.

Born in Virginia, Gloria grew up in Ohio, West Virginia and Virginia.  Her husband, Jim, grew up in southern Ohio, she said, telling of their pilgrimage to the Northwest.  They met and married while both were music majors at Marshall University in Huntington, W. Va. 

After Jim chose to enter ministry, he served parishes for 21 years in West Virginia.  Gloria worked at home rearing their two sons.  In 2000, Jim was elected the eighth bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Spokane.

Gloria began gardening while their two sons were small, at a time when there was little information about chemicals people were using.

With small children, she questioned using chemicals inside or outside her home.  Early on, a friend showed her how to make compost and build soil, starting her 30-year pursuit of organic gardening and living.

“We have been given a great gift in the form of this planet, the earth,” she said.  “With that comes a responsibility to care for it.  There is no off-site dumping ground.  The earth is a self-contained entity, and we need to be thoughtful in how we use its resources.”

Gloria described some of the earth stewardship efforts at the cathedral and in the diocese.

In October, she led a discussion  on “Stewardship of the Environment” at the cathedral, looking at what it means in people’s lives and practice.

“We have done an inventory of our practices to see how we can better promote stewardship,” Gloria said.

“The cathedral is expanding its recycling and has stopped using styrofoam cups and plates,” she said.  “Styrofoam is toxic in its production, use and disposal, so we are now using cups, saucers, dishes and mugs,” she said.

Gloria offered information  about how churches can become more “green” at a booth at the Annual Diocesan Convention in October.

In the spring, she plans to work with an intergenerational group at St. John’s Cathedral to put in an organic vegetable, herb and flower garden in a field on cathedral property near Paulsen House.  She and other members will teach composting and organic gardening.  An Environmental Fair is planned for spring.

Gloria will also teach about letting beneficial insects live so they can do their jobs, rather than killing all insects with pesticides. 

For example, she said that even a dish-detergent-and-vegetable-oil mixture that deters aphids on roses affects helpful insects—ladybugs, lacewings and praying mantis.  She recommends spraying aphids off with water, allowing the beneficial insects to do their job.

As she develops programs at the cathedral, she shares them around the diocese.  She knows some churches have begun or are continuing earth stewardship programs.

Gloria’s resources offer suggestions for chemical alternatives:

• A 5 percent solution of apple cider vinegar kills weeds.  If sprayed, she advises taking care not to hit surrounding plants.

• Growing integrated lawns of clover, violets and grass suited to the area is a good conservation practice.  Clover and violets provide critical early spring food for pollinators and give an early flush of color.

• An early spring application of corn gluten—a natural by-product of corn processing—provides a safe pre-emergent weed-and-feed for lawns.  In the fall, a second application of corn gluten or an all-over light application of compost will build healthy soil, which supports a healthy, safe lawn.

Unlike synthetic chemical weed-and-feed products that destroy the living part of the soil, she said, corn gluten is safe and builds the soil.  It is available at several local feed stores.

Healthy soil is key to fewer problems in gardens and lawns, she said, listing some other options:

• Healthy soil promotes healthy grass and plants, which, in turn, wards off diseases and pests.  Pests bypass them and go to sick ones.

• Alfalfa pellets are another natural feed for gardens and lawns if correctly applied.

• Fine bark mulch breaks into compost and is a natural way to conserve moisture and discourage weeds.

• Planting compatible plants by each other draws pollinators.

• Organically grown dandelions are another early spring food for pollinators, and their early greens can be cooked.  For those wishing to kill them, she suggests digging them out, using a “carefully directed squirt” of vinegar or a specially designed garden flame thrower for eliminating weeds between sidewalk cracks.

• For house cleaning, she recommends vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice or ecologically safe products found in grocery stores.

• Orange-oil-based cleaners discourage insects and have some antiseptic properties.

• Beeswax and olive oil make bases for furniture polishes.

Gloria finds people responsive and interested. 

“We are turning a corner.  More ecological, safe and organic products are available. An internet search on organic gardening brings much information,” she said.

“Information is the key word,” she continued.  “We need to know there are resources that are easier and safer to use.  Even so-called ‘organic pesticides and herbicides’ need to be carefully researched, because they are not all safe or organic.”

Gloria Waggoner
Gloria Waggoner in Rosa Gallica boutique at Paulsen House

Gloria cooks with organic herbs from the Paulsen House herb, rose and perennial garden. She also grows beans, peas, lettuce and tomatoes. She harvests rose petals, herbs and perennial flowers for potpourri.

“We should be concerned about pesticides on and in the food we eat, not only in produce but also in meat,” she said, mentioning some local grocers and farmers’ markets as sources for organic foods.

Another offshoot of her interest in organics and natural products is Rosa Gallica, a lifestyle boutique she has opened in a basement room of Paulsen House.

Rosa Gallica, the name of her favorite rose bush, offers recycled products, fair-trade items such as organic chocolate, specialty items, handicrafts and organic coffee.

For information, call 624-3191 email

By Mary Stamp, The Fig Tree - © March 2006