Pastor Tim Tomson, of St. Mary's Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and McKees Rocks Mayor Jack Muhr don't believe in the doctrine of "separation of church and state" when it comes to cleaning up the borough.
They jointed with McKees Rocks Councilman Keith Schwab in cleaning litter on McCoy Road, Island Avenue and the ramps of the McKees Rocks Bridge in time for the influx of parishioners driving to Easter Sunday services.
The threesome netted more than 30 bags of bottles, cans, candy wrappers, Styrofoam cups, potato chip bags and other refuse during cleanup detail April 6-7 in preparation for Easter.
The Rev. Tomson said they received a number of positive comments from people who said they were doing a good job, gave them a thumbs up or said God bless them for the work they were doing.
The cleanup had special significance for Father Tomson because it was Holy Week. McKees Rocks is home to more than a dozen ethnic parishes. Every year, many former residents return for Easter worship in their home parishes, where they were raised and received religious instruction.
Father Tomson, who has been pastor at St. Mary's for six years, said he was embarrassed by the litter on borough highways.
"It looked like a pig sty," Father Tomson remembered telling Mr. Muhr, who agreed something had to be done. Mr. Muhr enlisted the help of Mr. Schwab, who represents the ward where St. Mary's is, and, together, they tackled the project.
They picked up most of the debris by hand and used rakes to snag hard-to-reach litter discarded on the hillside on McCoy Road. After two days, they accomplished their goal, but Father Tomson said he saw a bottle dumped on the roadway a day later.
"Litter is like weeds," he said. "You try to eliminate them, but they pop right back."
In light of the stubborn nature of the litter problem, he said, he has been talking with the mayor about cleaning up the two ramps from the McKees Rocks Bridge to the Bottoms every other week.
While reflecting on his experience as a litter fighter, Father Tomson said there was both a spiritual and a practical aspect to the effort.
"God asks us to be good stewards, to take care of God's creation. He has given us a pristine world, and it is up to us to take care of it. It is God's gift to us."
He said there was a practical reason for cleaning up litter, one which political leaders who wrestle with keeping municipal spending within tight budgets can relate to.
Litter creates costs for the borough. Discarded trash ends up in the municipal pump station and workers have to be called out to clean the pumps. It clogs up storm sewers, which have to be cleaned out by maintenance crews, Father Tomson said.
He said that, in Europe, there is not nearly as much litter as there is in America.
"Here, people don't think. They just toss it out of their cars without a second thought. It's ridiculous" he said.
Bob Podurgiel is a freelance writer.