We’ve asked our staff to help us unpack the complex justice issues that we’re working on. Using our General Synod pronouncements as the basis for these reflections, we hope to provide insights into the issues you care about that are rooted in our shared faith, and can inform your advocacy efforts. This month, UCC Rev. Meighan Pritchard, Pastor of Prospect Congregational UCC in Seattle and environmental justice advocate, illuminates our call to care for the earth and invites us to engage in the Mission 4/1 Earth Campaign.
Mission 4/1 Earth and the Call to Earth Care
This week marks the launch of a denomination-wide campaign called Mission 4/1 Earth. From April 1 (Easter Monday) through May 19 (Pentecost), congregations are encouraged to contribute time and energy toward three goals:
• 1 million hours of earth care,
• 100,000 trees planted all over the world, and
• 100,000 earth-care advocacy letters written to elected officials and news media.
Almost since the inception of the UCC in 1957, there have been General Synod (GS) resolutions concerning environmental issues, e.g., nuclear testing (1963), energy development (1977), Christian life style and ecology (1975), and many more. This year General Synod participants will consider resolutions on carbon-neutral church buildings, mountaintop-removal coal mining in Appalachia, and divestment from fossil-fuel companies.
In a 2007 report to GS 26, the UCC National Environmental and Energy Task Force outlined four major areas of environmental concern: energy and climate change, water, toxic waste, and globalization. The report stated:
“We are calling church leaders in every expression of the United Church of Christ to name these vital problems and to frame them theologically; to say, "We care," and to make that concern central to our self-understanding as the United Church of Christ. We also call on church leaders to name an alternative reality, to inspire us to believe in--and work toward living out--another paradigm for a more sustainable ecological relationship between humans and the rest of creation.” [UCC National Environmental and Energy Task Force, "The United Church of Christ: Toward a National Environmental Focus," report to the General Synod XXVI, 2007, 18.]
Scripture also urges us to live in harmony with creation and to take on what may seem to be insurmountable challenges. On Easter Sunday, the lectionary reading from John 20:1-18 showed three of Jesus' followers coming to the tomb and finding it empty. Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved then return to their homes. Mary Magdalene, however, continues to seek Jesus. As one person — a woman in a patriarchal society, a Jew under a system of Roman oppression — she might have given up and gone home, too, fearful and disempowered. But she remained, determined to do everything in her power, and she became the first person commissioned by Christ to spread the good news of resurrection.
We have choices about the environmental issues that we face in the 21st century. We can "return to our homes," like Peter and the other disciple--that is, we can live in fear, feeling powerless to do anything, perhaps denying the seriousness of the problems, pretending that we can continue to exhaust the planet's resources without consequences. Or we can take our cue from Mary Magdalene: commit ourselves fully to the realities of our situation and determine to take every action we can to address the problems at hand.
In Isaiah 65:17-25 (another Easter reading), Isaiah gives a vision of new heavens and a new earth—an earth where children grow to adulthood rather than dying from disease, famine, war, violence, or overwork. This is an earth where everyone is free from oppression and living in harmony with each other, with the animals, and with the land. People have enough to build their own home and live in it, to sow their own crops and harvest them. There is a balance.
Our world today is out of balance. Yet we are invited to live into this vision of a balanced world and do our best to make it so—not in denial of reality, but in working lovingly to bring it about. We are not called to fix everything. We are, however, called to do whatever we can. Mission 4/1 Earth is an opportunity for us to pull together as a denomination to seek ways to reduce our carbon footprint, live more lightly on the planet, educate ourselves about the issues, and explore how our faith journey intersects with this work. Ideally, Mission 4/1 Earth will spark such fervor for the work of earth care that this effort will not end on May 19 but will become a defining piece of our UCC identity. Just as Jesus’ work did not end at the cross but continues even today, so will the need continue to address climate change and other environmental issues long after any one campaign or individual effort. The UCC is in this work for the long haul.