The idea behind the event — to provide the 64 attendees with an opportunity to worship, share their best practices and explore a few environmental projects in Cleveland, home of the UCC's national offices. LinK participants spent their time immersed in Mission 4/1 Earth, the all-church initiative for earth care and environmental advocacy, learning how the UCC is carrying it out here, and sharing ideas on how they can carry that work back to the places they call home.
The LinK program helps strengthen relationships between ministries of local churches, clergy and lay leaders and the national setting of the UCC. Jan Gomoll, the UCC executive for administration and planning, says in addition to the 64 visitors, 16 UCC staff members participated in the two-day event. That group of 80 people spent a good portion of the day Wednesday April 17 on buses, touring a number of spots in Cleveland to learn more about how America's environmental movement started and how it is being embraced by the people of Northeast Ohio.
The group visited the West Side Market, home to dozens of vendors that sell locally-grown produce and other foods, and a bicycle co-op that accepts used bike donations and repurposes them to children and adults. The participants also heard about the history of the Cuyahoga River, which caught fire in 1969 because of oil-covered debris that collected on the surface of the water. It was that event which ignited a national environmental movement that resulted in the creation of the Clean Water Act and the Environmental Protection Agency.
"I was really excited to see how vibrant the market seems, and the individual vendors that are well-supported by their community," said the Rev. Mollie Landers, of Portland, Maine. She is a member of the Outdoor Ministries Association. "I love to bike and be outside and move my body, so I think it's great there is an engaging way to teach people a new skill they can consider in getting to work or school, or a way to be outside. I like their work to earn a bike, and the investment that it creates."
LinK participant Jing (Cathy) Zhang, who studied at UCC-related Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, serves congregations in Beijing as a lay leader and a guest preacher. She is concerned about China's polluted environment and hopes that churches there can contribute to earth care in both Sunday teaching and daily practices."The UCC and the Disciples of Christ have had a long history of ministry in China," said Zhang, a resident of Beijing and LinK participant. "They've been trying to be good witnesses in China and the tree-planting they do there has been supported for many years. It's good to share this work with the local churches to show they can do something here and globally."
Massachusetts Conference Minister the Rev. Jim Antal, a Boston native, gave the sermon at a welcoming worship on Tuesday afternoon, cautioning those in the Amistad Chapel that, "If we continue to behave in a way that we think is normal, life on this planet will end."
The Rev. Suzanne Adele Schmidt, pastor at Trinity UCC in in Manchester, Md., said her congregation has already exceeded its Mission 4/1 Earth goals, even though it isn't in an eco-conscious neighborhood.
"The county where I pastor is a fairly conservative county. We don't even say the word 'sustainability,'" Schmidt said. "I think the UCC at the national setting has developed such a beautiful program that everyone can feel and find a way to plug into."
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 began 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 video.
Share the goals of Mission 4/1 Earth with your family and friends and invite them to join the movement.