Written by Emily Mullins
Community Church of Durham, UCC has long been concerned with environmental issues. The New Hampshire congregation has a committee in charge of finding ways to reduce its carbon footprint. The pastor focused her doctoral work in environmental spiritualty, and the congregation is looking into the possibility of installing solar panels.
"The environment is definitely an issue that is underscored in many of our initiatives," said Paula Norbert, the church's Christian education director. "There is just a lot of consciousness surrounding it, and it directly connects to our faith and desire to care for one another."
But it's not just the congregation leadership that has an interest in environmental causes. The second and third graders from Kristin Forselius' Sunday school class chose to focus their spring service project on protecting the environment and saving trees. The 10-week project comprised both fundraising and educational components. They wrote a play, "Should We Plant a Seed?" that combined environmental statistics with relevant scripture. They also created and sold 558 "seed balls" and were able to donate $597.08 to the Strafford Rivers Conservancy, a nonprofit land trust in Dover, N.H., that the children chose as their recipient.
"We do an offering during each Sunday school class, so I wanted to illustrate what it actually means when we put money into that basket," Forselius said. "We started with a conversation about what they value and all of their suggestions were deeply connected with earth."
Aligning with these goals, the UCC National Headquarters has announced an ambitious new all-church initiative, Mission 4/1 Earth, coming in April 2013. The program encourages all congregations to incorporate environmental initiatives into their curriculum to make a positive difference for the planet and to instill consciousness in their members.
Like Mission 4/1 Earth, the goal of the Durham UCC project was not only to do something good for the planet, but to help the children feel empowered and know that they can make a difference, Forselius said. By letting them take the lead, the students were able to maintain a connection and see their hard work pay off in the end. They were also able to see what can be accomplished at a local level by giving back to the community. Norbert adds that environmental initiatives like this align with the church's open and affirming views and their social justice and outreach missions.
"We are trying to help the kids understand that our connection to our faith and to this community means we are called to care for God's earth," Norbert said. "By starting them young and educating them on the issues, it begins to translate into practices they share with their families."
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 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.
About Mission 4/1 Earth, Forselius said, "Our church is huge into sustainability, so this is definitely a program we will want to learn more about."
Here's a preview of Mission 4/1 Earth: 50 Great Days.
Visit ucc.org/earth for more information.