From pine cones to planting trees

It didn’t a lot of convincing to get members of St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Dunbar, Ontario on board with the ELCIC Reformation Challenge, and specifically the initiative around tree planting.
Situated an hour south of Ottawa, and just north of the St. Lawrence River and the ever-populous 401 highway, the small 100-house community of Dunbar has experienced significant tree loss over the past few years.
“It is typically considered ‘dangerous’ when you get below 30 percent of land covered with trees,” said Rev. Jo Barkley-Probst, pastor of St. Luke’s. “Right now, our area is down to about 13 percent tree cover, and they are still cutting down trees. Farmers are cutting back trees from our area all the way to the 401; it’s like the pioneer days with everyone clearing land. Even the wildlife has nowhere to go.”
In early February of 2016, the Ontario congregation decided to participate in the ELCIC Reformation Challenge by raising at least $500 to go towards the Canadian Lutheran World Relief (CLWR)-Lutheran World Federation project to plant 150,000 tree seedlings in Lalibela, Ethiopia. Fundraising began on Reformation Sunday, and by early December, the $500 goal was reached. With an average service attendance of 17, the rural congregation remarkably met its goal in less than two months. By Christmas Eve, $600 had been raised for the planting of trees in Africa.
Near the beginning of the new year, one of the church’s members gave an impassioned presentation about the rapid deforestation going on in the local region. This prompted the congregation to support a motion to get started on a local tree-planting initiative, working in partnership with the South Nation Conservation Authority.
“The Conservation Authority was created when the level of trees reached 30 percent,” Barkley-Probst said. “As our local issue become well-known, those in positions of power feared for the ecosystem, so they established the conservation authority. But unfortunately they haven’t been able to stop it from happening here, as we are currently down to below 15 percent. Just hearing those numbers really influenced our decision to get on board with this.”
In an effort to take a stand against the removal of trees locally, Barkley-Probst and his congregation have already taken the appropriate steps in dealing with the issues found at home. 
“We have some land here behind the church that we plan to use for planting, and there are other families in the congregation that also have available land,” he said. “Even if we can just buy some smaller deciduous trees, and have members take them home to plant, we would be making steps in the right direction. Obviously, this is still something that we are just beginning to work on and figure out the logistics of it all. This year has been a lot of planning, but next year we will be doing the implementation.”
Although showing much pleasure with his congregation’s donations and their willingness to help out with local planting, Barkley-Probst knew exactly what he was getting into with his “extremely generous bunch.”
“Just last year we gave away over a third of our yearly budget,” he said. “It is a very, very generous congregation; if you ask for anything, they will go over the top. Much like this initiative, in which we asked for $500 dollars in a year, and they raised $600 in less than two months. Over the years, we have raised close to $30,000 for CLWR through our yearly global hunger barbeques, and have more recently begun what we like to call a ‘hymn fest’ that helps raise money for the local foodbank.”
In typical St. Luke’s fashion, the congregation helped think up many creative ways to monitor and track their donations towards the tree planting fundraiser.
Upon the promise of Barkley-Probst to create a display to help with the fundraising efforts, one of the church’s younger members brought in a large bag of pine cones from her property and suggested that the pine cones could be used as a representation of trees for the display.
After a handful of ideas were considered, a two-dimensional wall display was created. Small tree stickers from a local craft store were used to represent the number of trees the congregation had provided through their donations. Each tree sticker represented 10 trees, and the bag of pine cones was left under the wall display. Those making donations towards the $500 goal were directed to either take one or more pine cones home as a token of appreciation, or to feed them to the squirrels who could in turn plant some trees of their own.
“I really appreciated the physical pine cone aspect, it brings real life into this concept” Barkley-Probst said. “A congregation of our size just didn’t have the resources to sponsor a family [another area of the ELCIC Reformation Challenge], so we just looked at the various ideas, and the planting of trees seemed to be the area that was easy enough to promote. I knew that our people would get behind it. Who knew that all it would take was some pine cones and little bit of construction paper!”