The artful display in the sanctuary of Wellesley Congregational (Village) Church told the story in a worshipful way: the wheelbarrow and rake, the well-known photo of Earth taken from the Moon, flowers and greens and recycling bags…and a young tree, awaiting its permanent home.
Such was the setting last spring when the Mass ReLeaf ministry of the Massachusetts Conference, and Director Neal Seaborn, received the church's Abernethy Award, honoring exemplary spirit and practice of service to others.
Over the past several years, the involvement of the UCC and other religious organizations in the earth’s environmental stewardship movement has gathered momentum. In towns and cities across America, people of many faiths are rolling up their sleeves in practical and far-reaching ways in response to a faith-filled call to re-examine what it means to be human and how we must live on this planet for survival.
In 2005, the Massachusetts Conference and the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) Urban and Community Forestry Program established a state-wide environmental social action facilitation ministry - the MassReLeaf Ministry - as a part of this national religious-environmental movement.
The MassReLeaf Ministry recently completed 11 years - facilitating 42 tree-care projects led by 45 local religious organizations of multiple faiths and other local organizations - on public and access qualified lands across Massachusetts. Together, they have planted 744 mature trees. In addition, Mass ReLeaf has provided 290 seedling trees to Conference churches to emphasize the importance of planting trees in municipalities and offered planting help as well. Their ministry has benefited dozens of communities and hundreds of people living in urban areas.
Why plant trees? First the benefits provided by urban and community forests to municipalities must be understood, not to mention the impact of planning and executing tree care projects on the people taking part in these projects.
Our urban and community forests provide:
- As much as 50% noise reduction to municipalities compared to barren municipalities.
- Cooling shade replete with winter/summer cyclical effects for personal use by the people in the community
- Visual screening which satisfies a basic human need for privacy
- Enhanced property values by as much as much as 25 to 30%
- Business economic growth due to municipal attractiveness.
- A sense of community pride of the people (due to appearance of the community and involvement of the people in community activities)
- Reduction of crime in the municipalities by as much as 28 to 30% less)
- and even a more rapid recovery from illnesses (2 ½ times faster)
Urban and community forests reduce levels of pollutants that seriously impact human physical, mental and emotional health. An average urban tree absorbs about 15 times the pollution absorbed by a tree located in a pristine forest, an average of about .46 tons (900 pounds) of toxic gases per year. And at the same time, each tree absorbs an average of about five pounds of minute solid particles that cause severe asthma, emphysema and lung cancer in humans.
And finally, urban and community forests:
- Reduce heating and cooling needs for residential buildings thereby reducing costs.
- Reduce the “urban heat island effect" (localized heating due to the preponderance of black topped surfaces) to provide a more human-friendly living environment.
- Reduce rainfall runoff and erosion, thereby improving water quality and quicker re-charge of local aquifers.
- Function as habitat for wildlife to enrich human enjoyment of these creatures.
- Contribute to the reduction of global climate change for the long term security of the Earth.
To learn more about this exciting ministry, visit macucc.org/massreleafministry
or contact Neal Seaborn at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos: Top, Mass ReLeaf Director Neal Seaborn, Wellesley Congregational Church pastoral residents Joshua Fitterling and Megan Snell, and Eric Seaborn of the DCR, after the awards ceremony; Below, Neal Seaborn and Wellesley Congregational Senior Pastor Sarah Sarchet Butter plant a tree while Eric Seaborn supervises. Photos by Heather MacFarlane.
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