What began as a fundraising concert has turned into a year-long ELCIC Reformation Challenge project for a handful of Eastern Synod congregations this year. In September of 2016, the seven churches making up the Niagara Ministry Area hosted a free will offering at a concert featuring young local talent, a Niagara-based Lutheran choir, and Strong Water Women – hand drum singers from the Fort Erie Native Friendship Centre.
Niagara Ministry Area Dean, Thomas Arth is thrilled with how much has come out of this September event, and just how far the local congregations have been able to go in support of the Reformation Challenge.
“After our seven small-ish congregations chose to raise funds for planting trees, we knew that we would have to hold some sort of event as a way to promote our efforts,” Arth said. “Following the success of our concert, we decided that we would divide the funds three ways. We gave some to Canadian Lutheran World Relief for planting trees in Ethiopia, another portion went to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) for their olive tree initiative, and the remaining money was given for the planting of trees in our local Heartland Forest.”
The Heartland Forest – situated near Niagara Falls, just southwest of Clifton Hill – will see those trees planted on Earth Day 2017, April 22.
According to Arth, there couldn’t be a better place for those trees to grow.
“It is just a beautiful place,” he said. “They have pathways through the forest, playgrounds for kids, and there is even a tree house. Also, everything is fully accessible for wheelchairs and those using walkers. One of their projects involves the planting of edible nut and fruit trees, so we decided that we would give to that aspect.”
On top of the nut and fruit trees, the Heartland Forest will also be planting another very important tree on Earth Day.
“Prior to our fundraising concert, the Strong Water Women requested that we include a white pine as one of our trees to be planted,” Arth said. The members of the Strong Water Women shared that the significance of the white pine is that it is often seen as a symbol of peace and a place to lay down weapons.
“Thankfully those at the Heartland Forest were able to fulfill our request,” Arth noted. The white pine will be planted along with the other trees later in April.
Currently, the Niagara Ministry Area is finalizing plans for a joint service in commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the reformation to be held this September.
“At first we figured that we would have to try to decide which of our seven churches we would use to host the commemorative event,” Arth said. “But after some thinking we determined that a neutral location would work quite well. And as it turned out, the Heartland Forest – where the trees will be planted – has a lovely building facility that we are able to use, so we will be holding it right there.”
The September joint service will include a free-will offering. For Arth, the plan for that money is quite simple.
“What we are looking into doing with the offering from this coming service is to put it towards another area of the Reformation Challenge, the ELCJHL scholarships.”