Earth Day has been a serious event for Zion United Church of Christ of Taborton in Sand Lake, N.Y., since the Rev. Robert Loesch joined the congregation seven years ago. This year, with Earth Day falling right in the middle of Mission 4/1 Earth, the group is particularly excited. The church's location, on a wooded mountaintop near the banks of the Hudson River, reminds most members of Zion UCC to be respectful of the natural beauty that surrounds them and mindful of the need to protect it. So the extra efforts of the UCC's 50-day earth care initiative are really just an extension of their everyday lifestyles.
"When I came here, I decided to work with the congregation to raise awareness about the area's natural resources, but also tie them to national environmental issues," said Loesch. "When Mission 4/1 Earth came along, I thought it fit in perfectly with what we're already doing."
Zion UCC's Earth Day celebration on April 21 will begin with an environmental worship service and a blessing of pets and all of nature's animals. Following that will be a highway litter cleanup, promotion of the congregation's year-round comprehensive recycling program, and the presentation of educational displays from more than 30 local and regional environmental organizations and church groups.
But one of the highlights of the annual event is the opportunity for people to take time and enjoy the nature around them. Several church members will bring their kayaks, provide lessons, and allow participants to paddle around Little Bowman Pond. One member who is an environmentalist will offer casting lessons, and novice and experienced fishermen alike can fish off the docks. A local environmental alliance will lead hikes through the woods and identify different plants and wildlife along the way. Loesch plans to find an expert to demonstrate water sampling and discuss the quality of the pond and the different insects and organisms that inhabit it.
"What we try to do is have a variety of activities," Loesch said. "Most of the activities are educational, spiritual, scientific and recreational."
Loesch believes that knowing how to enjoy nature is almost as important as knowing how to care for it. Living among the woods, lakes and mountains, most of Zion's members already participate in activities like hunting and fishing. But Loesch likes to use this event to introduce its nearly 300 attendees to new ways of enjoying the outdoors with the hopes that they also will want to embrace and protect our planet Earth.
"I find that most people who enjoy being outside and enjoy activities have a natural appreciation for the entire interrelationship and interdependence of nature, and understand the balance that is required to protect certain species," Loesch said. "We only have one planet and each of us is responsible for doing our part."
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.