Written by Connie Larkman
This week, as one church, the United Church of Christ begins 50 great days of Mission 4/1 Earth –– an intentional campaign of earth care and environmental advocacy. Easter Monday marks the start time to live into a shared commitment to green up, power down, and shout out for Planet Earth. Hundreds of UCC congregations have already pledged to be better stewards of our fragile planet, in dozens of energetic and imaginative ways.
"We are going to give a tree to each church family," said the Rev. Micah Schlobohm, pastor of the Nekoosa UCC, in Nekoosa, Wis. "We have purchased 100 trees and they are all going home with somebody. We are putting timecards in the bulletins, and we're setting aside a Saturday to clean up the riverbank behind the church. Doesn't sound like much, but it's full of poison sumac."
The Mission 4/1 Earth initiative has three goals –– more than 1 million hours of engaged earth care, 100,000 tree plantings in the United States and across the globe, and 100,000 letters on environmental concerns addressed to Congresspersons, local lawmakers and local media outlets.
Faith Community UCC of Prairie Grove, Ill., has already made a major effort in planting trees. Through the UCC partnership with the Arbor Day Foundation, the 30 member church has purchased 400 Give-a-tree cards, and hundreds of trees will be planted in national forests as a result. "We will be planting a tree on our property symbolizing the 400 trees in national forests we are planting [with purchase of the cards]," said Kelley Kepes, Faith Community UCC moderator. "We are having a special educational worship service April 21, with advocacy letters to be completed after during fellowship. We are also participating in a number of our local conservation district events during this time including our area Earth Day celebration."
At West Congregational UCC in Phoenix, Ariz., members are working around the challenges of drought and desert sun, setting up a milk-jug garden on the church patio for fresh vegetables and herbs. The congregation is also tallying up trees, planting four trees for Mission 4/1 Earth already.
The Christian Fellowship Congregational Church UCC in San Diego, Calif. is working with the City of San Diego and the Filtrexx Foundation to develop a large community garden on a vacant plot of city owned land next to the church. The Rev. J. Lee Hill Jr. indicated that the garden will use a new technology developed by the company to grow organic fruits and vegetables.
Interim pastor at Immanuel UCC, in Indianapolis, the Rev. John Gantt indicates collaboration is key to effective earth care. "We are collaborating with two neighborhood associations to plant trees, do clean up, and with an elementary school, preparing school gardens for this spring –– the children there are joining us, pledging volunteer hours to take care of the gardens. During Lent, our Sunday school kids are collecting dimes and taking donations to dig a well and buy tree seedlings for people (perhaps in Haiti), so Mission 4/1 Earth will be a 50-day extension of that project. At Pentecost we'll celebrate by giving everyone a red flower to plant. And more that we haven't thought of yet."
"It's been my experience that UCC people absolutely crave synergistic moments when we are connected deeply in shared mission, because, first, we know how to have wacky fun together and, second, we know we are walking in lock step toward reaching a common goal," said the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, executive minister of the UCC's Local Church Ministries. "I think it's because we can feel the power that comes from tallying up evidence for the thing that really matters most: the expressed love of God's people for God's world."
As Gantt mentioned, children of the UCC are playing a big role in Mission 4/1 Earth. Pastor Andrea Mericle of Peace United Church of Christ in Elkader, Iowa, shared that the children's sermons during Eastertide will focus on the environment and care for creation. At St. Paul UCC in Staunton, Ill., the children will be given Mission 4/1 Earth flower seed cards, and encouraged to plant and keep track of their flowers. The church also plans weekly tips in the bulletin on ways to rack up earth care hours, and an environmental justice movie night using the documentary UCC documentary "Strong Roots, Fragile Farms."
At the West Concord Union Church UCC in Concord, Mass., the Rev. Hannah Brown says the congregation will show respect for the earth on Mother's Day. "We are giving out timecards and resource sheets to encourage people to track their earth-friendly activities, and will wind up on Mother's Day honoring our Mother Earth writing advocacy letters."
The Rev. Robert Loesch, pastor of Zion's United Church of Christ in Sand Lake, N.Y., says he's a big supporter of the UCC's earth care goals. "Our congregation is looking forward to the Mission 4/1 Earth program in our local community. As a UCC pastor who has been engaged in environmental advocacy and outreach since the first Earth Day in 1970, I am pleased that the national UCC has developed this program for this year."
Since the earth care initiative runs from Easter Monday through Pentecost, there's still time to sign on as an earth steward. As Guess says, "Mission 4/1 Earth will be the United Church of Christ's next incredible shared witness to the world, and we need every single person, minister, church, camp, school, and agency of the UCC to become committed to making sure that these 50 days will be the life-changing, earth-blessing, and church-empowering moment we know it can be."
To count your efforts on the Mission 4/1 Earth tally board, report your earth care hours, trees planting and letters written as often as you like here.
If you want to know more about counting earth care hours, watch this video:
Share the goals of Mission 4/1 Earth with your family and friends and invite them to join the movement:
For more information on Mission 4/1 Earth: 50 Great Days, visit ucc.org/earth, read these previews, or join the movement on Facebook.