When members from five Fremont, Calif., United Church of Christ congregations plant willow trees along the city's Sabercat Creek on April 20, they will be earning more than just earth-care hours toward their Mission 4/1 Earth goal. They will also be helping to restore the habitat of a certain species of frog that has recently been threatened by environmental damage. And, to the Rev. Jeffrey Spencer, that is pretty neat.
"It's fun to be doing something that has immediate impact while planting trees, which is one of our goals," said the senior pastor of Niles Discovery Church UCC. "And doing habitat restoration is also important to this particular frog."
Spencer's congregation and four other Fremont-based UCCs are working together to celebrate Mission 4/1 Earth, the UCC's church-wide earth care initiative that begins Easter Monday, April 1. The congregations have collaborated in the past on projects like joint worship services for Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, so it just seemed natural to join forces in this important initiative as well, Spencer said. While they are still in the early planning phases, Spencer says the group has a few activities nailed down, like the April tree planting, a trash cleanup day at Fremont's Lake Elizabeth, and a screening of Bitter Seeds, a documentary about the negative effects of genetically modified seeds on farmers in India. Other ideas, like an environmental advocacy letter-writing party, are in the works.
"It just seemed logical to work together on this as a way to try to build some energy between congregations," Spencer explains, adding that the congregations' 400-500 collective members can make a bigger impact than any one congregation could make alone. "I think that it's really important to have enough different activities so individuals in the five congregations can find something they are passionate about and can connect with."
The congregations plan to use their church newsletters, email blasts and social media to spread the word about group activities, and will also encourage members to engage in earth care on their own and at home. While some details, such as how to keep track of earth-care hours, are still undecided, Spencer says he really likes the flexibility of Mission 4/1 Earth, which offers suggestions and resources on how to participate, but also lets congregations and individuals tailor the program to meet their needs and interests. But what Spencer likes even more is that the UCC is coming together to recognize the importance of protecting our planet and is taking collective action toward making real change.
"There is nothing more important that the church can do than speak to moral issues of the day – and climate change is the moral issue of our day," said Spencer. "But speaking doesn't just mean words, it also means action, being out there participating and making a difference."
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.
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.