Written by Anthony Moujaes
Ninety trees purchased to honor a mother’s 90th birthday, 12 trees planted by a 73 year old in his backyard, and 72 trees gifted and planted for those who can’t afford them. Those are just some of the more than 116,000 trees planted around the globe by members caring for creation during the United Church of Christ’s Mission 4/1 Earth environmental initiative. As one church, the UCC has collectively planted 116,407 trees as of today, May 30, exceeding an ambitious goal of 100,000 trees planted during the 50 days from Easter Monday to Pentecost.
Jane Palmstrom of First Congregational Church of Ravenna, Ohio, couldn’t be more pleased that her daughter, Mary, purchased trees through the UCC partnership with Arbor Day Foundation to celebrate her 90th birthday on May 13. "I couldn’t have asked for a better gift," Jane said. "My kids know me very well! I planted three trees on my own, and had to scramble to find a place in my yard to put them."
"During the course of those 50 days, we have heard profound stories from hundreds of our people and churches that have been challenged and forever changed by Mission 4/1 Earth, and their commitment to environmental justice and earth care has been deepened in significant ways," said the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, one of the UCC’s national officers. "It has been so exciting to see and hear how Mission 4/1 Earth met folk right where they were, but also took them to a significant new place of understanding and commitment to earth care. This is what changing lives is all about."
John W. Cunningham Jr., a member of Freidens UCC in Indianapolis, is all about changing lives, with trees. He said he has been giving away free trees to anyone who wants one, and even helping plant them. Cunningham grows hundreds of trees — maple, walnut, pecan and apple trees – and says he really enjoys giving trees to those who want and need them. "It makes me feel useful, knowing that I'm trying to help the planet and maybe make someone else feel good, too." He also gives away produce from his fruit trees to feed those less fortunate. "It makes them happy," Cunningham said, "and myself very happy, too."
In more than 2,000 reports, UCC churches have been sharing stories detailing their tree planting efforts, some planting trees by the hundreds, others listing just one. John Messerschmitt of Pittsfield, Mass., planted 12 trees in his backyard. "Facilitated by the Arbor Day Foundation, I made the mistake of doing it myself at age 73," Messerschmitt said. "But it was worth the sore back!"
As of Thursday May 30, 96,463 trees have been or will be planted in the United States by UCC congregations in their communities, or purchased through a partnership with the Arbor Day Foundation, which provided trees for sale and pledge cards for trees the organization will plant in one of the U.S. national forests.
UCC members are also planting trees in 13 other countries around the globe. With more reports still coming in, here is the Mission 4/1 Earth tree count as of today, May 30: Afghanistan, 46; China, 525; Democratic Republic of Congo, 10; Ecuador, 45; Ghana, 271; Haiti, 437; India, 37; Kenya, 8,397; Nicaragua, 261; Palestine, 1,336; Peru, 2,548; South Sudan, 1,200; and Uganda, 4,831.
Carolyn Rundorff of Bethel UCC, Beaverton, Ore., had her Sunday school class decorate small note cards that were sold during coffee hour each Sunday in May for $1. The money was used to plant trees in Haiti as part of UCC minister Susan Smith’s "Water for Life" project. While Carolyn hoped to plant 40 trees, her congregation generously contributed enough to plant 152 trees in small villages in Haiti to help with their water problems. Rundorff said, "Glad our efforts helped reach the goal!"
To count your efforts on the Mission 4/1 Earth tally board, report your earth care hours, trees planting and letters written here.
For more information on Mission 4/1 Earth: 50 Great Days, visit ucc.org/earth, or read the stories of UCC congregations showing their faith in planet Earth here.