Written by Anthony Moujaes
United Church of Christ congregations across the country came together as one church during the last 50 days, in major effort 4/1 Earth, caring for God’s creation in creative ways, making a massive commitment of time and resources to protect the planet.
As the environmental initiative ended May 19, on Pentecost Sunday, a steady stream of reports grew to a flood of more than 200 filed on the ucc.org/earth website during the last weekend of the campaign. The most recent numbers on Monday, May 20, include 373,560 earth care hours, 72,501 trees planted around the world, and 26,760 environmental advocacy letters written. And while hundreds of churches have reported in their efforts for Mission 4/1 Earth, more congregations are still tallying their results, which will continue to be counted in the final total.
“Reports from individuals and congregations are literally pouring in this week, and it will take some time, we know, before we'll know how close we came to the big goals we set for ourselves,” said the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, executive minister of the UCC’s Local Church Ministries, referring to the project goals of 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. “But we already know that Mission 4/1 Earth has been embraced broadly and creatively across our church, and we can claim victory even as the tallies continue to climb daily, even hourly.”
The different projects dreamed up by UCC congregations and detailed in the more than 1,600 reports have been effective and astounding. Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Wheaton, Md., made the deal of a lifetime, in what the Rev. Stephen Anderson counts “as a great victory of incalculable worth for Mission 4/1 Earth.” Pilgrim Church contracted to sell three acres of forest behind its building, with more than 100 mature trees, to Montgomery County. The church property will be added to the county’s Glenmont Park, saving the land from development and preserving it for the citizens to enjoy in perpetuity. “We tried back in 2007 to sell this forest to the county, and back then they weren’t interested,” Anderson said. “But this time, they made us an offer and we accepted. We get excited because it’s a real quality of life issue for our community.”
In Rhode Island, churches worked together for a common goal of planting trees in Haiti. The UCC Rhode Island Conference has long supported the education of a Haitian agronomy student. This year, as part of Mission 4/1 Earth, Newman Congregational UCC in East Providence R.I., raised money to enable that student, Fleurantin-Labbe Feniet, to plant 132 fruit trees in Haiti. Ray Frackelton, the church’s Green-Team founder (and the Rhode Island Conference’s representative to the UCC's New England Regional Environmental Ministries) says the congregation worked together to pull that off. “We advertised this opportunity using specially-designed posters, offering envelopes, Mother's Day alternative gift cards, and information in our newsletter and from the pulpit,” he said. “We appealed to two overlapping interests: our Green Team's focus on mitigating global warming, and our church's long-standing mission commitments in Haiti, perhaps the nation most vulnerable to the impacts of global warming.” Adding to Newman Congregational’s effort are donations from Seekonk Congregational UCC, Beneficent Congregational Church UCC in Providence, and the Rhode Island Conference, which is plate-sharing the offering from the conference’s annual spring meeting. The conference and churches hope to help Feniet and his classmates meet their goal of planting at least 500 trees, most of them fruit trees to help with both nutrition and income in Haiti.
The people of St. Paul UCC in Stanton, Ill., decided to focus on the little things everyone can do to contribute to earth care. Members set up some recycling bins in the church (since there is no curbside pick-up for recycling in Staunton) and talked frequently about how daily habits help or harm the planet. Those little things – remembering to turn off lights and water, shopping at thrift stores, buying locally, recycling – made a big difference, said Brett Palmer, St. Paul UCC’s Mission 4/1 Earth coordinator. “Amazingly, all of us doing our small part added up very quickly,” Palmer said. “We originally had set a goal of 1,500 hours and last Sunday passed 5,000 hours! As of the final count today [Monday], we have racked up over 6,000 hours (6,772 to be exact), planted 100 trees and written 55 letters.”
In San Bernardino, Calif., members of First Congregational UCC got rid of unused household items and helped others in their community at the same time. “Our congregation put a ton of work into our giant rummage sale, re-using and recycling enormous amounts of household goods and providing extremely low-cost, and sometimes free, belongings for many with limited incomes,” said the Rev. Petra Malleis-Sternberg. “We had 175 different individual volunteers working HARD on this huge project – 3,437 hours!”
In Florida, at UCC at The Villages, Maureen McCoy said the people in her community kept at it over the course of 50 days, showing their faith in the planet with a variety of projects. “We have been busy doing Earth hours and writing advocacy letters since April 1, with 375 hours and 115 letters so far! We plan to plant several trees in our meditation/memorial garden in the next few weeks, as we are just building it. This is such a wonderful mission to care for our Earth!”
Pastor Chris Alexander of Countryside Community Church in Omaha, Neb., helped plan the church’s worship series on environmental care and helped host the chat room conversation for website television program “Darkwood Brew,” which concluded a seven-week series called "On Earth As It Is In Heaven" last night. “It’s been a great campaign, we've raised some awareness, made some new habits, and had a lot of fun connecting with each other and creation in new ways. Thanks Mission 4/1 Earth!"
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.