Written by Emily Mullins
The United Church of Christ is celebrating overwhelming support of its Mission 4/1 Earth campaign, as congregations throughout the country continue to tally and report their hours, trees and letters. As of May 28, UCC churches and members have logged nearly 520,000 earth care hours, planted almost 95,000 trees and wrote more than 48,000 letters of environmental advocacy. While the 50-day campaign may be over, the need to live greenly and sustainably continues. For churches that want to make a long-term commitment to earth care, faith-based environmental organizations offer training and certification programs that take sustainability to the next level.
"We are inspired by the number of UCC congregations that cared for the environment in countless ways during Mission 4/1 Earth," said the Rev. Linda Jaramillo, UCC executive minister of Justice and Witness Ministries. "It is clear that our members have a sincere interest in and awareness of the need to protect the earth, and we hope they continue on this path even though the campaign has ended."
GreenFaith, an organization that aims to inspire, educate and mobilize people of diverse religious backgrounds for environmental leadership, and one of the UCC's partners during Mission 4/1 Earth, offers two programs for congregations that want to make a long-term environmental impact. Its Fellowship Program is credited as North America's only comprehensive education and training program to turn clergy and lay leaders into environmental leaders. Since beginning six years ago, more than 110 fellows from diverse religious backgrounds have completed the 18-month program. The application deadline for the Class of 2014 has been extended until June 15.
The Rev. Kim Morrow, associate minister and director of Sustainable Living Ministry at First Plymouth Church in Lincoln, Neb., is a member of the 2013 GreenFaith Fellowship Program class. After starting the Sustainable Living Ministry program at the church in 2010, Morrow thought she could benefit from some training in the religious environmental field and from being part of a larger community of people doing similar work. Some of the congregation's successes include offering organic cooking classes, hosting environmental speakers and panel discussions, switching to fair trade coffee, discontinuing the use of Styrofoam cups, using eco-friendly cleaners, increasing recycling efforts, and building a rain garden.
"Two different people sent me a link to the GreenFaith Fellowship program within the same month, and when I finally clicked on it and explored it, I knew immediately that it was something I wanted to pursue," Morrow said. "The program has helped me to give the Sustainable Living Ministry a more professional and deeply-rooted perspective, as well as the confidence to know that we are on to something profound and very much needed in our world today."
The GreenFaith Certification Program is a two-year environmental leadership program for congregations to become GreenFaith Sanctuaries. The five-step process includes a number of requirements in areas of spirituality, environmental justice, stewardship and communications, as well as additional requirements to maintain the certification. Stanley Congregational Church UCC in Chatham, N.J., completed the program in Nov. 2011, and Congregational Church in Cumberland (Md.) UCC and the United Church of Santa Fe (N.M.) UCC are in the middle of the process. In total, nearly 60 congregations in 22 states have completed or are working on completing the certification.
The program provides resources, one-on-one coaching, support, and networking opportunities to help churches offer environmental programming, and is customizable to each congregation's abilities. Some of Stanley Congregational Church's efforts included buying all of its energy from renewable sources, serving vegetarian, local and organic food at church events, establishing a rain garden on church property, and supporting the creation of water wells in Mozambique, Africa.
"The 10-member 'Stanley Goes Green' Committee was formally recognized by the church board in May 2009 and began the complex process to achieve certification as a GreenFaith Sanctuary," said Nancy Presnell, chair of the committee. "Our process has been well supported by the congregation and we will continue to encourage our members to make changes in their behavior which will exhibit our belief that we are stewards of the earth and, as a people of faith, are called to care for creation and advocate for justice."
For more information about GreenFaith and its programs visit the organization's website.