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Church Land Use

Submitted by Kimberly Richmond
Submitting Organization The United Methodist Creation Justice Movement
Church and Society 1 Committee Moves to Adopt 33 to 1
Plenary Vote on Main Motion (Consent Calendar); For: 686; Against: 36

When God created the heavens and the earth, God put into place systems and cycles that would be life promoting and sustaining and made humans caretakers of all life on earth.

God gave the earth water, which is essential for all life, and created a cycle of cleansing, renewal, and release that makes the water that God gave us in the beginning usable and life-supporting still today.

God gave the earth soil where life abounds, filled with microorganisms vital to the health and fertility of the soil; where life can grow and thrive, taking nutrients and water from the soil to support the growth of plants; and where life is renewed when microorganisms perform the process of decay following death and bring forth new, fertile soil through the process.

God gave the earth plants that grow from the combination of nutrients in the soil, the sunlight, and the water, and that are used as food and shelter by other life forms on earth. These plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen, which cleans the air and provides humans and other animals with oxygen they require to live. Through transpiration, these plants release water into the air that cools the air and becomes the basis for precipitation that releases water back to the ground for use, once again, by plants and other animals.

God created humans, animals, creatures of the sea, and birds of the air, to live upon the earth.

And God created all these things, and more, to work together in harmony in a manner that promotes and sustains all life on earth. When we work together as our Creator intended, God multiplies the fruits of our labors and brings forth more and more blessings.

At present, humans are not working together in harmony with the rest of Creation as God intended. We are in the midst of a biodiversity and wildlife crisis that is so extreme it is often referred to as the Sixth Extinction. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, more than 30,000 species go extinct annually. Other wildlife studies reveal that mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish have seen a devastating 69% drop in numbers, on average, since 1970, with populations in Latin America and the Caribbean suffering far worse with an average decline of 94%.

While prior mass extinction events in history were due to natural causes, this one is being caused by humans through land conversion, habitat destruction and fragmentation, use of chemical pesticides and biocides, as well as other harmful synthetic chemicals that persist in the environment known as “forever chemicals,” water pollution, and air pollution, including excessive release of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels, which is causing the climate crisis.

The good news is this: Since human actions are the cause of these problems, they can also be the solution. And, because God created the earth to incorporate life-promoting and life-sustaining systems, we humans can follow God’s intended order and renew the life-giving abilities of these systems that we have been harming.

Therefore, as United Methodists and persons of faith who wish to promote and sustain life and follow God’s intended order for Creation, be it resolved that all local churches and other holders of church lands, such as camp and retreat centers, as well as offices of general boards and agencies, conference offices and district locations, implement actions in their settings that bring their land back in harmony with God’s intentions and systems.

The following are examples of such steps:

• Evaluate the vegetation on your land and identify the species that are present. Determine which of those are native to your location, which are non-native, and which are non-native invasives. Plants and wildlife have evolved over time to complement and depend upon each other, so plants that are native to a location are required to promote biodiversity of species and support pollinators and other wildlife. Additionally, only certain pollinators will fertilize certain species, so location-specific (native) pollinators are needed to continue certain plant species.

• Plant at least three native trees in a cluster so that they will support each other through storms, much as we humans support each other through the storms of life. It has been determined that trees and other plants form below-ground connections that help promote the health of the group and strengthen each other against strong winds. Additionally, trees provide shade in hot weather, cool the air with their transpiration, slow down the rain hitting the ground during downpours, facilitate water absorption versus runoff and flooding, clean the air by absorbing carbon dioxide, and release oxygen that wildlife and humans require to live.

• Remove non-native invasive species because they will often out-compete the native species, causing a decrease in biodiversity for the area and using more water than do native species.

• Replace at least 50% of the lawn, over time, with native plant species. Lawns promote water runoff rather than absorption, are often a place where chemical fertilizers and pesticides are used that runoff into and pollute nearby water sources, need to be mowed and trimmed using fossil fuel powered machinery, and do absolutely nothing to support pollinators, insects, birds, other wildlife, or healthy soil, water, and air.

• Discontinue the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and other biocides to promote soil health and fertility.

• Include edible native species in these plantings to make the landscape supportive of humans as well as wildlife while they clean and cool the air and slow the rain. Food forests or forest gardens are one version of this, where they more closely mimic the ecosystems and patterns already found in Creation.

• Work with an agricultural extension agency to create a teaching garden or farm if the church has sufficient acreage. Restoring the land by using regenerative agricultural techniques provides education and a witness to congregation and community.

• Plant a rain garden in areas where water runoff from hard surfaces flows into storm drains or nearby creeks and rivers. A rain garden will serve to absorb some of the runoff, slow down the flow, and even clean the water before it hits the storm drain or closest stream.

• Convert to renewable energy sources some, or all, of the facility’s energy needs and let the sun, wind, and water provided by the Creator supply the power. Often the change will be financially beneficial, as well.

• Curtail the destruction of existing forests, wetlands, peatlands, and grasslands by identifying and supporting projects and organizations that will. These areas, which are vital for absorbing the carbon dioxide causing climate change, are also essential for halting the destruction and fragmentation of habitat that is needed to maintain the biodiversity of the species on earth.

• Restore wildfire-damaged and degraded forests, wetlands, peatlands, and grasslands by identifying and supporting projects and organizations that will. Restoration will increase carbon absorption and habitat needed for improved biodiversity.

• Avoid purchases that contribute to deforestation. Commit to purchasing lumber, food, building materials, and paper products that are sustainably sourced and produced, or reduce the use of paper products, for example, by forgoing the use of disposable plates and cups for church events.

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