During a meeting last December, the members of Colonial Church in Prairie Village UCC's justice and witness committee discussed what they would like to accomplish in 2013. Energized by the upcoming Mission 4/1 Earth campaign, the UCC's church-wide earth care initiative beginning April 1, they tossed around a few ideas, like a tree planting or a party with local environmental groups.
But by the end of the meeting, what started out as a simple brainstorming session quickly turned into a plan for a two-day, community-wide event with a keynote address by author and environmental activist Bill McKibben.
"It all started with a wine and cheese brainstorming session," said the Rev. Aaron Roberts, senior pastor of the Prairie Village, Kan., church.
The event will kick off April 13 when the church will have a booth at the local high school's Eco Fair. An annual event, the fair features activities and booths sponsored by environmentally-conscious companies and draws hundreds of attendees. The Prairie Village UCC booth will be equipped with the tools to encourage people to write environmental advocacy letters, which will count toward the Mission 4/1 Earth goal of sending 100,000 letters to government representatives. Roberts hopes to collect between 500-600 letters throughout the evening.
The event will continue the next day beginning with an environmentally-themed worship service at Prairie Village UCC, followed by a community tree planting with volunteers from the congregation and the local elementary school. Last summer's drought caused the community to lose a number of trees, including a few on the church lawn, so community members can sign up prior to the event to have a tree planted on their property. The group will reconvene at Prairie Village UCC, where a few trees will also be planted.
The day will culminate at a church dinner that evening, which will be followed by a keynote address and Q-and-A session led by McKibben via Skype. Tickets for the dinner are $20 each, and Roberts expects 150-200 people to participate in events throughout the day.
"We are really excited about it," said Roberts. "This is really just continuing the work that has already begun in local congregations in the Kansas City area. [The environment] is a big issue for a lot of people."
Prairie Village UCC has vamped up its environmental efforts since Roberts came to the church two-and-a-half years ago. The church joined Kansas Interfaith Power and Light, an organization that seeks to engage faith communities in environmental stewardship through energy conservation, and the Sustainable Sanctuary Coalition, an interfaith nonprofit that helps churches become environmental advocates. Prairie Village UCC recently conducted an energy audit on its building and made some changes based on the results to make the building more efficient. The youth group also conducts tests on the steam behind the church a few times a year to make sure the water is clean and safe.
One of the main goals Roberts hopes to achieve through the April event is to continue the current enthusiasm his congregation has for environmental issues. The other is to spread the momentum into the community and set an example for others.
"A lot of people don't realize what churches do," Roberts explains. "We would love to have the broader community see that we are about serving."
"Plus we want to have fun," he adds. "That's the other side of it."
The United Church of Christ has been working for environmental justice for almost 30 years, and recognizes the opportunity for a shared mission campaign to live out our faith — in unity, as one church — for the sake of our fragile planet Earth.
With the help of UCC congregations everywhere, Mission 4/1 Earth, which begins Easter Monday 2013, hopes to accomplish more than 1 million hours of engaged earth care, 100,000 tree plantings across the globe, and 100,000 advocacy letters written and sent on environmental concerns.
Here's a preview of Mission 4/1 Earth: 50 Great Days.