Mission 4/1 Earth is once again in full swing throughout the United Church of Christ's New England conferences and churches. While this five-conference initiative is promoting 76 days of environmental activism, education and awareness from April 1 to June 15, the group is rallying around one goal in particular: no more Styrofoam. The Styrofoam-Free Contest, an initiative of the Green Team at Newtown (Conn.) Congregational Church, has been opened to all New England congregations in hopes that churches will be inspired to stop using the non-biodegradable product that wreaks havoc on the earth.
"A lot of people come and go in our building, so it's a tough thing to get out there and a message I think will take a little bit of time," said Barbara Donahue, member of the Green Team at Newtown Congregational and organizer of the contest. "But I hope the contest will raise the awareness and it won't be an issue going forward."
Newtown Congregational banned the use of Styrofoam products in the church as one of its efforts toward becoming a Green Congregation through the Connecticut Conference of the UCC's Green Congregations program. But, somehow, the products just kept showing up throughout the building. The Green Team came up with the idea for the contest to reiterate the church's goal to stop using Styrofoam, and the Connecticut Conference thought it would make a great project for all New England UCCs, particularly during Mission 4/1 Earth.
"One of the things we were having a tough time with is that, even though the church was deemed to be Styrofoam free, it kept showing up at coffee hour and at different places throughout the building, even though we had been putting the word out to not buy it or donate it," said Donahue. "We thought the contest would be an inexpensive way to get the word out and also be a 'thank you' to participants."
To participate in the contest, congregations need to make a public commitment to be Styrofoam free, and prohibit use of all Styrofoam products in their building and at outside events. The church then needs to create a way to publicize its commitment – for example, with a video, poster, song, poem, or skit – and submit the creation to the Newtown Congregational Green Team, which will judge the contest. The judges are looking for entries that are creative, fun and will help spread the word about the importance of being Styrofoam free. There is no limit on the number of entries a church can submit, but the Green Team requests that entries be submitted via YouTube video link if possible to make judging easier. The deadline to submit entries to Newtown Congregational is June 1.
The winning church will receive $100 to put toward a green project and a one-of-a-kind trophy designed by the Connecticut Conference's Environmental Ministries Team.
"There are a lot of ways to do it and I think it can be up to each church to decide what's best with the culture of their congregation," said Patricia Bjorling, the Connecticut Conference's associate conference minister for Generosity Ministries. "But the most important thing is for each church to formally say, 'This is it for us – no more Styrofoam.'"
All five UCC conferences in the New England area – Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine – decided collectively to participate in another year of Mission 4/1 Earth, the UCC's earth-care initiative that debuted last spring. The New England conferences and their congregations are striving to generate 75,000 earth care hours, plant 50,000 trees locally and globally, and write 5,000 letters of environmental advocacy, and the Connecticut Conference is hosting a webpage to keep track of the progress. While the campaign is still in its early stages, Bjorling said she is so far encouraged by the response from New England churches, one which recently shared its plans to plant trees in Peru.
The conferences plan to host Mission 4/1 Earth for at least the next two years to give as many of their congregations the chance to participate as possible.
"We all have to do our small parts and the church has to set the example," Bjorling said. "Climate change, caring for the earth – they are moral issues and Christian issues. We have to model behavior for the rest of the world."