For the Rev. Kim Morrow, taking care of God’s green earth always was at the crux of her ministry.
And she considered herself a very eco-conscious person, so when she was invited to measure her ecological footprint, she was confident the score would reflect that conviction.
“I couldn’t believe the number,” Morrow confessed in her sermon at First-Plymouth Church last month. “If everyone on the planet lived the way I do, we would need 5.68 Earths to sustain the people the world ... 5.68 Earths!”
This from a minister who uses only cloth shopping bags, doesn’t eat meat and drives a Prius. A pastor whose very title is Minister of Sustainable Living.
Measuring one’s ecological footprint -- the impact one’s lifestyle choices has on the environment -- takes into account many of the things we take for granted in our lives: roomy homes, luxurious daily showers, green lawns, cool homes in the summer, warm homes in the winter, cellphones, laptops, iPads and other can’t-live-without electronics.
“The fact is that we are living way beyond our means. We are all using resources as if we have 5.68 or seven or eight Earths to support our rates of consumption,” Morrow said in her sermon.
“But we don’t. We only have one Earth. And it is an Earth in peril.”
And so Morrow kicked off Mission 4/1 Earth at First-Plymouth Church on April 1. Mission 4/1 Earth is a national program of the United Church of Christ. Over 50 days, UCC members were asked to give one million hours of service to earth care, plant 100,000 trees and write 100,000 environmental advocacy letters.
First-Plymouth set its own goals: 7,000 hours of earth care, 100 trees and 1,000 signatures on environmental advocacy petitions to Lincoln Electrical System, the state natural resources committee and Congress.
When Mission 4/1 Earth officially concludes Sunday, First-Plymouth will have met or surpassed all of its goals -- including planting 429 trees, Morrow said.
Although First-Plymouth congregants embraced Mission 4/1 Earth, their concerted effort to save the environment and create a sustainable globe is a longtime church focus.
And the church is among the growing number of religions -- Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist -- committed to ecological sustainability.
All share the same conviction:
The earth is God’s work.
We are responsible for the ways in which we use and abuse it.
As people of faith, it is a moral imperative we care for the earth and all that lives upon it.
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Morrow was a student at California's Pacific School of Religion, when she saw Al Gore’s film, “Inconvenient Truth.”
“It really shook me to the core," she recalled. "I asked why am I not devoting all my professional energies to the issue of climate change.”
First-Plymouth Senior Pastor Jim Keck gave her that opportunity in 2010 when he asked her to start a sustainable living ministry.
“He thought it … would help to show First-Plymouth values as a forward thinking spiritual community.”
As far as she can tell, Morrow may be the only pastor with the title of minister of sustainable living in the United States.
But she is far from alone among clergy, bishops and popes, who over the past 25 plus years have called churches and congregants into action.
Morrow is a fellow in GreenFaith, an international interfaith organization dedicated to inspiring, educating and mobilizing people of diverse religious backgrounds for environmental leadership.
She is also among a small group of Lincoln pastors forming a local interfaith sustainable living group.
At First-Plymouth, the sustainable living ministry is integrated into the church’s core concepts of faith, love and live.
“We seek to raise consciousness in the congregation and community about environmental sustainability," Morrow said."About the links between faith and environment, food and farming and climate and even things like water and public health. We seek to show how all of these things are interconnected and affect one another.”
The church carries it out through a variety of programs and missions including a Saturday morning organic cooking class. Foods prepared are then served at a Sunday evening potluck and environmental program. Other initiatives include biking to church Sunday, adopting a two-mile stretch of U.S. 77, switching to non-toxic cleaning materials and serving Fair Trade coffee after all services and church programs.
“We have saved two acres of rainforest with Arbor Day coffee,” Morrow said.
Even before Morrow came to First Plymouth, the church stopped using Styrofoam coffee cups and switched to ceramic cups which are religiously washed by the Dish Disciples.
“It seems like a small thing, but it is a big thing,” Morrow said, especially when you consider that effort keeps approximately 1,400 Styrofoam cups out of the landfill each week.
Interest continues to grow at the church, but more must be done -- and quickly, Morrow said.
On May 10, scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration announced that world carbon dioxide levels reached the tipping point, 400 parts per million -- the level climatologists say marks the point of no return or turn around.
It adds to an urgency long feared by world religious leaders.
In 1990, Pope John Paul II talked of the impending “ecological crisis” and “an urgent moral need for a new solidarity.”
In 1986, his Excellency Dr. Abdullah Omar Naseef, secretary general of the Muslim World League, Assisi, issued a “Muslim Declaration on Nature.” Hindu, Buddhist and Jewish leaders all say the tenets of their faith and their lives are founded on the principle that God charged us -- humankind -- to care for the earth and all that is on it.
"What does Earth have to do with Christianity," Morrow asked her congregation. “For most of Christian history, the answer has been ‘not a lot.’ In fact, to be quite truthful, Christianity has been part of the problem. Our tradition has taken to heart God’s instruction to Adam and Eve in Genesis 1:28: ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’
“We have taken this as carte-blanche permission to use natural resources as if we all have 5.68 Earths to spare.
"Only when we have given thanks for the life that pulses within every blade of grass, within every living creature, within every handful of earth, that we will know the signature of God's endlessly creative presence on this one Earth."