Written by Emily Mullins
What began as a reoccurring event at the UCC's Center for Environmental Justice in Port Orchard, Wash., has become a series of educational opportunities that will take place throughout the country. The UCC's Environmental Justice Ministries will continue its "Train the Trainer" programs in 2013 with four new events beginning in April, with the potential for more dates and locations to be added during the year.
The upcoming events will take place April 12-14 in Sharon, Conn., May 31-June 2 in Denver, Colo., July 19-21 in Port Orchard, Wash., and August 13-15 in Alexandria, Minn.
"We not only want to teach people about environmental justice, but we want to get them involved in their own backyards," said Jim Deming, UCC minister for environmental justice and the program leader. "That is why we needed to go around the country."
The Train the Trainer events originated as a partnership between the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries and the Pacific Northwest Conference to fill a need for environmental education. The first three events took place last year at the UCC's Center for Environmental Justice at Pilgrim Firs Camp and Conference Center, but in an effort to cut down on the carbon emissions caused by travel to Washington and to curtail the curriculum to meet local needs, the group decided to hold the events at different locations this year, Deming said. Using video, discussions and hands-on learning opportunities, the events offer curriculum designed for participants to take what they learn and share it with their congregations and communities afterward.
"We call it a ‘Train the Trainer' event because we give attendees the tools to reach out to their communities and hold themselves accountable," said Deming. "These are not feel-good weekend retreats – they have a component of responsibly to go back home and take action."
One of the highlights of each event is the immersion experience, where attendees visit a local site plagued by environmental concerns. In Port Orchard, the group visited the Port of Seattle, which, although beautiful, is polluted by diesel exhaust that is harmful to people and wildlife. At the Connecticut event, the group will visit the area's last coal-fired plant and have the opportunity to talk to people who live in the area about their experiences.
"We're not trying to be tourists, but trying to understand in-depth the issues that are happening," Deming said. "We want to lift the curtain and look behind it."
As more congregations ask for this type of education, Deming says he expects to host more workshops and for attendance to grow. The events are ecumenical and open to all, and while most people are involved with their churches in some way, other people have attended simply because they have a personal interest. Regardless of the reason, Deming feels that building a community of people who care about environmental concerns is important to make lasting change.
"Peer support is really important when doing something revolutionary, and caring for the earth is revolutionary right now," Deming said. "If you come with an open mind and a willing spirit, you are welcome."
Registration for the April event in Sharon, Conn., is currently open. To register for the event or for more information, click here.
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.
Here's a preview of Mission 4/1 Earth: 50 Great Days.
Visit ucc.org/earth for more information or join the movement on Facebook.