Written by Connie Larkman
A church with moxie, on a mission to celebrate and care for God's creation. That's the best description for Kirkwood UCC's approach to Mission 4/1 Earth.
"We certainly need to pay attention to caring for creation, as we care for each other," said Gary Garrett, a member of the Atlanta church, an engineer by trade and person with a real passion for environmental issues. Garrett continued, "As Wendell Berry says, "You cannot know that life is holy if you are content to live from economic practices that daily destroy life and diminish its possibility."
Garrett, one of a team of six Kirkwood members ramping up ways to engage their neighbors in environmental education and action during the UCC's Mission 4/1Earth all-church initiative that begins Easter Monday, April 1, says the church is pledging 500 hours of earth care, will plant 50 trees and write 50 letters over the course of the 50 day event. Those are goals set by the congregation of 80-100 members. The UCC-wide goals –– one million hours of earth care, 100,000 trees planted and 100,000 advocacy letters sent between Easter Monday and Pentecost Sunday (May 19).
"Mission 4/1 Earth is about recognizing the holiness of the things which have become ordinary to us (trees, service, political power) and becoming active participants in them," said Jordyne Krumroy, another of the Kirkwood UCC's environmental planning team. "As we seek to worship, love and serve, we must remember that God permeates the most tangible aspects of creation, and that our care of this earth is care of all that is holy."
The church, which got its start just five years ago in a coffeehouse in Atlanta's Kirkwood neighborhood, is setting up strategic community partnerships to help achieve the congregation's Mission 4/1 Earth goals. Collaborating with Trees Atlanta works to green up their neighborhood. "We're trying to work with them to see if there is some place we can plant in Kirkwood," said Garrett. Trees Atlanta provides the trees and "typically a couple of volunteers can plant two or three trees in a morning." Trees Atlanta, founded in 1985 and responsible for planting some 90,000 trees in the city, is just one of the environmental groups Kirkwood UCC will be collaborating with.
Another organization, Georgia Interfaith Power & Light, will provide a speaker to talk on April 7 about caring for creation, and over Earth Day weekend on April 20, another partnership will send a group of Kirkwood UCC volunteers to the Decatur Kitchen Garden Global Growers village, where they will be working alongside refugees from Burma, Burundi and Republic of Congo.
Karen Mann, a founding member of Kirkwood UCC who works with the Global Growers Network, says Mission 4/1 Earth provides "an incredible opportunity to affect change both in the national conversation around environmental issues and in the practical steps toward sustainability within our local communities. This is why I believe that UCC must come together as one church and why I am committed to working for Mission 4/1 Earth. We cannot be silent nor can we sit back passively and let others do the work for us."
The planning team is also talking about a bike day at Kirkwood UCC, proposed for April 28, inviting members to meet up along a designated route and ride together to church. There will be a blessing of the bikes, and minor bike repair and tune ups offered to the congregation and surrounding community. "Screen on the Green" – with an environmental film to be shown on church grounds – is also in the works with a tentative date of May 11. In addition, the church is planning a 4/1 Earth Mission Minute during church each Sunday from April 7 through May 19.
"I think we have to be careful to remember that this mission is not a marketing effort, but a way to usher in the remembrance of our call to care for creation." Krumroy says. "As we seek to worship God through creation care, it's important that we speak up for the environmental injustices done, and that the Church begins to loudly repair the ways in which we've ignored creation."
The Kirkwood UCC Mission 4/1 Earth planning team will be using social media to publicize their events and plan to post a 4/1 Earth time card on the church website to make it easy to count earth care hours.
And for the kickoff event –– Garret says the congregation is planning to plant a tree on Easter Sunday, in the park or in Pastor Susannah Davis' front yard.
The United Church of Christ has been working for environmental justice for almost 30 years, and hopes Mission 4/1 Earth provides an opportunity for a shared mission campaign to live out our faith — in unity, as one church — for the sake of our fragile planet.
Through the Arbor Day Foundation, participants in Mission 4/1 Earth can buy trees that will be sent to them for planting, and purchase Give-A-Tree cards, noting that trees will be planted on their behalf by the U.S. Forest service in a national forest.
For more information, check the Mission 4/1 Earth link on the Arbor Day Foundation website.
Get a preview of Mission 4/1 Earth: 50 Great Days.
Visit ucc.org/earth for more information or join the movement on Facebook.
"Martin Luther King said that the moral arc of the universe bends towards justice, and yet nothing about ushering in justice came without strife," said Krumroy. "So too it is with Mission 4/1 Earth. While we can do good in our individual communities, we must unite as people of faith who live for and through a greater call, seeing that our spiritual and earthly communities are without boundaries."