United Church of Christ

UCC tree campaign helping planet 'restore itself,' even during pandemic

In Pennsylvania, a retired United Church of Christ minister saw his 100-tree donation as something he could do for God's creation while sheltering at home during the coronavirus pandemic.

In Wisconsin, a congregation gave money to plant 200 trees to encourage its members to "do one thing" for the environment.

In Colorado, a church chipped in enough for 200 trees as part of its "Whole Earth Church" ministry.

Tree planting First Church Berkeley 2/8/20The three are among hundreds of UCC donations received so far as part of the Three Great Loves Tree Planting Campaign, timed to coincide with an ecumenical Faith Climate Action Week, now underway through April 26. It's all in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, which is Wednesday, April 22.

'Let's help the Earth restore itself'

The Rev. David Akers, retired in Audubon, Pa., after serving as a UCC pastor in Oregon, learned about the campaign through a UCC email. "I like to support any effort of the UCC where the church is doing tangible things to make the world a better place," he said of his $100 campaign contribution. "Planting trees is a great way to be responsible for our planet – reducing the carbon footprint and providing habitat for the birds and animals. During these days when we are sheltering at home, it is wonderful to be able to do something for the environment. We have a long way to go to replace all the forests we have cut down."

At Greendale (Wis.) Community Church, UCC, a member of the of the congregation's Do One Thing environmental group was the first to notice the campaign via UCC Environmental Ministries communiques. The church's mission board made a $200 contribution.

The congregation would have celebrated that donation as part of a planned Earth emphasis at the church Sunday, April 19, said its pastor, the Rev. David Gaeth – had in-person gatherings not been canceled because of the pandemic. He said there would have been a sermon by a member of the Creation Care Team of the UCC Wisconsin Conference, solar power resources from a local organization, a presentation by Wisconsin Interfaith Power & Light, adult-education classes on environmental topics, and more.

Instead, in an email bulletin for Greendale Community's live-streamed worship, Gaeth included hopeful facts about the climate benefits that have come with the pandemic’s global slowdown. He mentioned concrete steps the church has been taking to improve the environment. And he included a link to the UCC tree campaign, "where you can pick a place in need for your tree to be planted." "At a time when we are unsure of the future and wondering what is to come, let's reach out and help the Earth restore itself," he wrote.

'Every action, big or small, is paramount'

In Englewood, Colo., First Plymouth Congregational Church, UCC, learned about the campaign through UCC emails and Facebook posts and saw it as a good fit for the congregation's "Whole Earth Church" ministry. The church gave $200.

"First Plymouth has been an environmentally active and green-conscious congregation for decades," said the Rev. Jenny Shultz-Thomas, its senior minister. "While we understand that planting trees, in isolation from other carbon-sequestrating practices, is not enough, we are committed to taking necessary steps as a community to both minimize the damage we create from our own footprint and to educate our members and friends about best practices in 'loving creation.'"

Daffodil & tree, Cleveland, 4/20/20Tree planting was one of the "climate-conscious practices" that members could choose during First Plymouth's "#LentWithLess" emphasis. Eating meat-free meals and fasting from single-use plastics were among the others.

"Unfortunately, we are too late to turn the clock back on the current climate crisis, which I think points directly to the kinds of disease and disaster that we are seeing with this novel coronavirus pandemic," Shultz-Thomas said. "However, it's never too late to change our ways. Like so many environmental activists and Earth-loving, faithful friends, we at First Plymouth understand that every action we take towards curbing the scientist-predicted trajectory of the planet's health, whether big or small, is paramount if we are to care for our neighbors, our children and for creation. May it be so!"

5 ways to plant trees

UCC Environmental Ministries is tracking the denomination's tree count and encouraging additional commitments this week, which can be pledged on the campaign webpage.

The UCC total stood at 3,428 trees as of Monday morning, April 20, including dollars donated and plantings reported by local churches and individuals, said the Rev. Brooks Berndt, minister for environmental justice. The UCC hopes to see that number grow during the April 17-26 Action Week sponsored by Interfaith Power & Light, which Berndt described as "the largest faith-based organization in the country devoted to addressing the climate crisis."

In light of the COVD-19 outbreak, the environmental ministries and Three Great Loves teams are encouraging congregations, families and individuals to embrace the opportunity in whatever creative ways they can.

"Our efforts are efforts of hope, to plant trees of hope," said the Rev. David Sigmund, Three Great Loves ambassador. "Trees to help heal the earth. And we are one voice in a chorus, along with many ecumenical and interfaith partners."

All five ways to donate have drawn UCC contributions since the campaign was announced on Feb. 14. Berndt said the April 20 subtotals were:

Sigmund said he hopes people will keep on planting and giving through April 26 and beyond – despite, or even because of, the pandemic. "Together, from wherever we shelter, we encourage all who are able to give seedlings of hope."

3 Great Loves is a denomination-wide mission initiative telling the stories of how we live out God’s love through the lens of 3 Great Loves: Love of Neighbor, Love of Children, and Love of Creation. To share the stories of how we, as a united church, live out God’s love in missional, measurable, and meaningful ways, please visit 3greatloves.org.

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