Marysville church gives bees winter sanctuary

MARYSVILLE — The congregation of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Marysville looks after its own, even when those congregation members have six legs instead of two.

Near the end of summer this year, church members discovered they’d gained some uninvited tenants in the form of a colony of bees that had built a huge hive in the church’s outdoor rafters. Not only did the congregation welcome its new guests, but church members recently teamed up with Marysville firefighters to help keep the bees warm during the winter.

On Nov. 24, church member Richard Billings donned protective beekeeping attire and ascended in the Marysville Fire Department’s ladder truck to the church’s rafters, two and a half stories above ground, where he boarded up the hive to insulate its heat.

The Rev. Mary Allen, the church’s rector, admitted that her first call after the hive was discovered was to the exterminator, especially since she’s “deathly allergic” to bee stings. When the exterminators and experts at the Washington State University extension campus identified them as honey bees, however, Allen agreed with their recommendation that the bees be saved, given that honey bees have become scarce to the point of near-endangerment.

“Honey bees aren’t aggressive about stinging like yellowjackets,” Allen said. “So I stopped worrying and saw it instead as a wonderful example of the natural abundance in God’s creations.”

The congregation’s Christian compassion toward the bees has extended not only to making them part of the church’s Sunday morning welcoming ritual, but also to blessing the colony on Oct. 3, during the traditional blessing of the animals on St. Francis Day. Given the size of the hive, as many as 12,000 bees could have received the church’s blessing that day.

“The man from the extension campus said that he’s never seen a hive that big,” Allen said. “After we first spotted it, I watched it double in size within about two or three weeks. It’s probably about two feet across and a foot and a half deep, but we don’t have plans for that part of the church to tell us for sure,” she laughed.

Allen noted that the church’s leadership had joked before about setting up hives in their back property to make “Holy Honey” and their own beeswax candles, as a number of convents and monasteries do. Now, one of the church vestry members, Janice Saulewicz, is seriously looking into reseeding their lawn with a clover and wildflower mix.

“We want something that will attract them and feed them,” Saulewicz said.

Mike Wray, the church’s senior warden, cited the bees as a living example of faith and faithfulness in the midst of the church’s annual stewardship campaign.

“They’re capable of keeping their own hive at a constant temperature of 97.3 degrees, and will even feed off their own honey,” Wray said. “Perhaps we can learn from this community sharing our space.”

“Without regard to our concerns or worries, they build their hive, make their honey and comb, content with what they have,” Allen said.

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