As the Rev. Horace Bushnell, whose ideas about religious liberalism helped lay the foundations for the United Church of Christ, once said, "Man, nature and God are all tied together as an organic whole." This is the inspiration that will bring youth from throughout Connecticut to rake, plant, and prune at a local park in Hartford during a Mission 4/1 Earth event sponsored by the UCC's Connecticut Conference.
"Back in the 1850s, the Rev. Bushnell was instrumental in setting aside parkland in Hartford," said Debby Kirk, the Connecticut Conference's director of Giv², a program that brings youth and adults together to conduct local service projects. "Someone hundreds of years ago had the foresight to provide open spaces for people, so one of the things we want to lift up in our service work is how important nature is to our spiritual nourishment."
The Connecticut Conference's Giv² program will host the spring clean-up day April 20 for youth grades 6-12. Participants will spend the day cleaning up Hartford's Keney Park, helping to preserve the space for children and families in the community. While it's too early to tell exactly how many youth will sign up, Kirk said there has been a lot of interest from congregations in all parts of the state.
"When we saw the information about Mission 4/1 Earth, we thought it would be nice to do one state-wide event that would bring all of the youth together," Kirk said. "We are trying to remind folks of the power of nature and that even small acts of caring for the earth make a difference to people around us."
The Missouri Mid-South Conference is also encouraging collective participation in Mission 4/1 Earth. Its upcoming event, titled "Seeing the Forest through the Trees," will take place April 13-14 at the Shannondale Community Center in Salem, Mo., and will serve as the kickoff for the 50-day earth care initiative. The event will offer workshops and hands-on activities like stream cleaning, advocacy letter-writing, natural soap-making and storytelling. Attendees will be given a tree to plant at home or in their community, and there will be presentations by environmental experts followed by a camp fire and a bluegrass band.
"We selected that name to try to help people think about the bigger picture in terms of environmental awareness and their connection to the earth," said the Rev. Marc Wessels, associate conference minister of the Missouri Mid-South Conference, who has a doctorate in Christian environmental ethics. "Nature has value beyond what we assign to it – that is the philosophy, having that bigger picture."
The council of the Missouri Mid-South Conference adopted Mission 4/1 Earth as a conference-wide project, and encouraged its associations and congregations to adopt it as well. Wessels said the majority of the state's 148 congregations are participating in some way, and they are hoping for about 100 attendees at the kickoff event. The conference will host another event toward the end of Mission 4/1 Earth to celebrate all of the work accomplished during the 50 days at Camp MoVal, the conference's camp and retreat center in Union, Mo.
"The kickoff event is just to get people started," Wessels said. "We hope to take congregations that aren't doing anything, make them aware, and inspire them do something, and we hope to get congregations that are already doing something to take it up a notch.
"Mission 4/1 Earth is something I have been waiting for our denomination to work toward," Wessels continued. "The UCC has long supported environmental justice issues, but this raises it to a level that is really significant and comes at crucial time."
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.
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.
To learn more about how to count earth care hours, watch this.
Share the goals of Mission 4/1 Earth with your family and friends and invite them to join the movement.