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Thousands of rural churches have celebrated Soil and Water Stewardship Sunday annually since 1955, when the National Association of Conservation Districts first published resources to support this observance.

Thousands of rural churches have celebrated Soil and Water Stewardship Sunday annually since 1955, when the National Association of Conservation Districts first published resources to support this observance.

The theme for 2002 is “The Gift of Trees,” and the suggested date for the celebration is April 28th. The materials have a solid biblical base. They are available from the Farm Service Office in most counties across the nation. Many provide the resources to churches at little or no cost.

In recent years, the NACD—comprised of more than 2,500 county and watershed groups—has tried to make the materials relevant to urban as well as rural churches. Themes have included water purity, habitat for wildlife, soil conservation and vegetation.

This year’s material focuses on how God has blessed humankind with trees. In their natural state trees provide shade, habitat for birds and beasts, stability for soil, and food in the form of fruits and nuts. Converted into products, trees provide fuel, paper, chemicals, building materials and a host of other things for our comfort and well-being.

Trees are a renewable resource. As they are cut and used, new trees can be planted and in time harvested. We are encouraged to be good stewards by planting and caring for trees.

Urban sprawl has destroyed many acres of forests in recent decades. But across North America there are millions of acres more in trees than there were in 1955 when this observance began. In turn, this has improved air quality as the trees process our carbon monoxide and convert it into oxygen.

The reforesting of America has also improved water quality as the root systems slowed soil erosion. Trees are rebuilding and improving the fertility of our soils.

The suggested Bible study for this year focuses on Jesus as a carpenter. It considers passages in which Jesus draws spiritual insights from trees and their products, and it focuses on how Jesus came to build, repair and beautify lives and relationships. Both adult and youth Sunday school classes can use this study.

In addition, suggestions for an order of service, possible texts, seeds as starters for sermons, and a litany are also provided. And material appropriate for children’s Sunday schools and summertime day camps is also available.

Millions of acres of land in this county are owned and tended to by Baptists, so we have a stewardship responsibility here. Furthermore, when churches of several faith families come together around a common purpose, good things will likely happen.

Soil and water stewardship efforts must be local and be driven by community support. They must include farmers, ranchers, suburbanites. And they are best when built on a biblical base.

Gary Farley is partner in the Center for Rural Church leadership, Carrollton, Ala.

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