Earth Day at Eloheh and the EcoReformation
by Cherice Bock & Solveig Nilsen-Goodin
(Originally posted on Watershed Discipleship blog, permission to repost by authors.)
Solveig Nilsen-Goodin is the pastor of the Wilderness Way Community in Portland, OR, and she had the seed of this idea when she began thinking about what her community might do to mark the EcoReformation this year, the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.
The goal of thinking of this year as an EcoReformation is to define what reformation means in this time and place in history, particularly with regard to ecological destruction and climate crisis. Martin Luther is reported to have said, “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”
Solveig heard about an international, child-led initiative called “Plant for the Planet,” and when she sought and received a small grant from Thrivent, she floated the idea to Randy and Edith Woodley of Eloheh Farm and Cherice Bock at North Valley Friends about working together to plant some trees.
After raising over $3000 between our three groups, planning and purchasing the trees and shrubs, publicizing the event on Facebook and through our networks, we gathered on April 22 to plant. Randy and Edith spent the day prior to the event digging holes with their backhoe, which made the work much easier! We started off by introducing ourselves, explaining what we’re doing and why, and sharing in some music together led by Seth Martin and friends.
Part of the goal of the event was to get kids involved in planting trees that would help make our Willamette Valley watershed healthier into their futures. We had quite a few kids there, and they helped out a bit! Mostly they had fun playing with one another and with the Woodleys’ variety of farm animals. However, one youth acted as photographer and videographer, creating a beautiful video of the day.
We planted 140 trees by lunch time! (The remaining 10 were planted the next day.) The rain held off until we broke for lunch, then a shower passed over as we ate in the Woodleys’ greenhouse. Once we were ready to get back to work, the clouds broke, and we enjoyed some April sunshine. Throughout the afternoon, we staked some of the trees and did detail work to make sure each plant was planted properly. Then we spent some time relaxing around a picnic table, sharing stories in the sunshine, and developing connections between the people in our three groups.
A couple weeks later, Solveig and some students shared about this project at the annual gathering of the Oregon Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. They hoped to inspire other congregations to similar actions: planting trees to contribute to “Plant for the Planet,” and to follow the leadings of the Holy Spirit in the EcoReformation. Here is what they shared:
Student 1: Two weeks ago, on Earth Day, our church, the Wilderness Way Community, partnered with North Valley Friends Church and Eloheh Farm…
Student 2: …to plant 150 trees that will grow into a food forest on Eloheh Farm.
Student 3: Eloheh Farm is a teaching farm of an Indigenous family in Newberg.
Student: 1 “Eloheh” is a Cherokee Indian word representing harmony, balance, well-being and abundance.
Student 2: For about 500 years, since about the time Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenburg…
Student 3: …Indigenous peoples of our country have had their lands, cultures, and children stolen from them.
Student 1: When we raised $3,000 to purchase and plant trees for a food forest for Eloheh Farm…
Student 3: We were helping our planet…
Student 2: …and we were also helping in a small way to heal the wounds of five centuries…
Student 1: …and restore the abundance of the land to the people who remember how to live in harmony with the land.
Student 2: Our Synod is encouraging every congregation in Oregon to start an EcoReformation Project this year.
Student 3: Our tree planting was the first EcoReformation Project of this 500th anniversary year!
Student 1: In fact, we kids from Wilderness Way want to see how many trees we can plant as a whole synod before assembly time next year!
Student 2: Let the children lead. Partner with other congregations. Find ways that planting trees can restore abundance to Indigenous or underprivileged communities. Use your Thrivent Action Team grant funds to get started!
Student 3: And when you do, email us through our website. Tell us your stories and let us know how many trees you planted.
Student 1: We will keep the official count and report our total to a children-led group called Plant for the Planet.
Student 2: The children of Plant for the Planet hold the official United Nations tree counter. They have helped inspire countries to plant over 14 billion trees so far. But we need to plant one trillion trees!
Student 1: With our 150 trees, and their 14 billion…
All students together: …we only have 985 billion, 999 million, 999 thousand, 850 trees left to go!
Student 2: As Martin Luther said, “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree today.”
Student 3: We don’t want to live in a world that is going to pieces.
Student 1: Please join us children in planting trees and other projects for the EcoReformation.
This watershed discipleship event allowed us to come together across divides, gathering Lutherans, Native Americans, and Quakers, along with other friends, to care for our little corner of creation. We addressed the environmental situation we face, listening to our children and encouraging their leadership into a healthy future by planting trees and bushes that will help cycle carbon dioxide and regulate the local water cycle. Many of these plants will also help the social systems in our area, contributing a variety of healthy nuts, fruits, and berries to the local food system.
We acted as disciples in our watershed, building relationships with one another and our region, and working toward healing the old wounds caused by colonialism and divisions within the church.
We also took steps toward being disciples of our watersheds. The Woodleys researched the best native species needed to reestablish the former habitat of the Pacific Northwest, and they shared some of what they learned with the rest of us. We looked at the soil and its species up close, and learned a little bit about what it takes to care for this place in which we live. We thought about the metaphor of the biodiverse forest, with each species playing its part in order to contribute to the health and wholeness of all. Through this and other metaphors, we heard the voice of God whispering through the young leaves, promising an ancient forest to our children and grandchildren, speaking shalom and reconciliation.