Written by Connie Larkman
Young people from five United Church of Christ churches in Southside St. Louis will be joining forces to imagine God's dream for the earth, and work to make it reality during Mission 4/1 Earth. The youth, as part of a weekend "lock-in experience" at Epiphany UCC will be immersed in projects from planting flowers in the park to picking up trash in the church neighborhood and doing yard work for elderly church members.
"The idea came out of desire on the part of our small youth group for a mission experience," said the Rev. Mary Albert, pastor of Epiphany UCC. "Because of our small size (we have anywhere from zero to three youth in the teen class each week), I wondered if we could partner with other small churches to do something together. Our youth were excited about that possibility."
That excitement spilled over into other St. Louis churches and fueled plans for the Mission 4/1 Earth retreat experience. Epiphany UCC already has a "Green Team" that has turned the church's south lawn into a Serenity Garden and natural wildlife habitat. The church uses the backyard for small-scale urban farming, growing vegetables to help stock its food pantry, and NEVER uses styrofoam and disposal dishware. The congregation proudly points to several other steps taken to "green" its worship and mission life, voting to become a "Whole Earth Church." The Epiphany youth want to move that environmental activism a big step further during the weekend of April 13-14, teaming up with teens from Grace UCC, Mt. Tabor UCC, Carondelet UCC, and Hope UCC for earth care and advocacy.
"Other congregations were happy to partner in this project," said Albert, "because it was something we could do together than we cannot do alone."
Thirteen-year-old Sylvie Williams, a youth member of the Epiphany "Green Team," is looking forward to working for Mission 4/1Earth. "This is a way for people in the community and neighboring churches to do something that matters," Sylvie said. "It will build a stronger community."
The teens have been advised to show up for the weekend retreat Saturday morning dressed in old clothes, ready to work. With a scriptural foundation for a partnership with God as stewards of the earth (Genesis 1), the group will spend several hours working on hands-on earth care projects, recycling, picking up trash and planting flowers. After lunch, the youth will turn to advocacy, preparing for an "Earth Expo," open to the public, where they will showcase different environmental issues they support –– from water conservation and solar power to problems with toxic landfills.
Following a group dinner, the teens will be on hand at Epiphany UCC's spring concert, to invite guests of "Groovin' into Spring" to tour the expo later Saturday evening. The young advocates are planning to share sample letters to lawmakers or offer petitions to collect signatures of their neighbors interested in ecology.
"Even though people know about it [the importance of earth care], they aren't doing anything about it," Sylvie said. "I hope that coming to the event will raise awareness and they will start doing simple things every day to help the earth."
Sunday morning the youth will be worship leaders in an Earth-themed service. The teens will help with music and an art and drama presentation of the creation story. They will also share what they learn during the expo experience and invite the whole congregation to tour the "Earth Expo" to sign advocacy letters.
"The whole experience of working with the youth have been amazing," said Bella M. Winters, Eden Theological Seminary student serving as Student Pastor at Epiphany UCC. "I have learned that they are very capable to care and be great stewards over the Earth God gave us to enjoy. They are much more knowledgeable of "green care" than the generations before. They are very brave and accept the challenge to ensure that "green" is before the church on a regular basis. Each Sunday in Morning Youth Class, I am amazed at the information they bring to the class to enlighten not only me, but all of the congregants at Epiphany UCC."
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, or purchase Give-A-Tree cards noting that trees will be planted on their behalf by the U.S. Forest service in a national forest. The Mission 4/1 Earth website also has options for planting trees globally.
For more information on tree planting opportunities, check the Purchase and Plant Trees link on the Mission 4/1 Earth website.
Get a preview of Mission 4/1 Earth: 50 Great Days.
Visit ucc.org/earth for more information or join the movement on Facebook.