Written by Connie Larkman
A small Oregon congregation that decided digging in the dirt was a good way to "Be the Church" is being recognized for the rain garden and native hedgerow that resulted. Clackamas United Church of Christ (CUCC), Milwaukie, Oregon, is the first winner of the UCC "Be the Church of the Month" contest, for living into the statement, "Protect the environment," and will be collecting a prize from UCC Resources, along with congratulations and bragging rights.
Lori Prouty, who entered the June contest on behalf of the church, was surprised at the honor—initially. "First thing I did was to put my glasses on to make sure I was reading the announcement correctly!" she said. "Then, after a little prayer of thanks to you for recognizing all the people who worked so hard on these projects, I started to share the exciting news with people! It's true that each statement on the 'Be the Church' banner reflects flawlessly what we believe and how we want to live, and we are so happy to be chosen as the first winner for what we do to 'Protect the environment.'"
The nine-month "Be the Church of the Month" contest invites UCC congregations across the denomination to send entries demonstrating how they are living out each of the nine values proclaimed on the denomination's "Be the Church" banner. The nine value statements reflect the UCC's mission of extravagant welcome. Each month, the contest focuses on a different statement, and encourages congregations to share –– in emailed text, photos and video –– what they are doing in their communities to put these statements into practice.
Clackamas UCC took home the top prize in the June contest for ecological stewardship. The congregation, long-committed to being earth-friendly, created guidelines, like using earth friendly products, recycling, reducing the use of paper products, eliminating pesticides and planting native species on church property. In late 2013, members and community volunteers installed a large rain garden and removed and replaced an existing non-native hedge, as part of a long-term vision plan which came to fruition with the assistance of a $4,400 grant from a local water conservation district.
"This rain garden, with its treatment of runoff water and use of native plants, is part of our continual commitment to the stewardship of our planet," Prouty said. "For the hedgerow, after years of constant trimming and the expense and maintenance of a 330' laurel hedge, we were more than excited to replace the non-native laurel hedge with all species of beautiful plants and trees native to our area."
The church continued to live into creation care, holding public information seminars to give others the opportunity to learn to build a rain garden, and other ways to treat rainwater and soil runoff.
"Neighbors who were involved in our rain garden and hedgerow installations went back home and, with the help of the Soil and Water Conservation District, completed their own water conservation projects with great success," Prouty said. "We inspired them, and they are inspiring others as well!"
That type of pay-it-forward attitude helped Clackamas UCC wrap up the June award. "We received entries from churches ranging from as far Northeast as Maine and as far Northwest as Oregon," said Aimée Jannsohn, the marketing manager of the UCC Publishing, Identity, and Communication team. "Our team had a difficult time choosing a winner—every contestant is doing remarkable things to protect the environment. Clackamas United Church of Christ's rain garden and native hedgerow are especially impressive, and we hope this will inspire other churches to care for the Earth and make their community a better place."
The UCC communications team is now accepting entries for the July contest, highlighting the "Be the Church" statement: "Care for the poor." Information, photos, and video documenting how churches live out this month's "Be the Church" statement should be sent to Jannsohn before the July 22 deadline.
"It's been a very exciting process so far," Jannsohn said. "We look forward to the coming months and seeing all of the amazing things our churches are doing to live out the 'Be the Church' values."
Just like Clackamas UCC. "We believe that God calls us to take care of our natural environment by facilitating the creation and maintenance of healthy, livable and sustainable communities," Prouty said. "To believe is to care; to care is to act."