Eastertide is a season to rejoice, remember our baptism, and discern what Christ’s Resurrection means for United Methodists today. Amid that celebration this year is Earth Day, the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement in the United States, observed by communities around the world.
Even as United Methodists rejoice in Jesus’ Resurrection, we know that God’s creation is experiencing an extended Good Friday. The first job description God gave to humans was to till and keep the garden (Genesis 2:15). But those first humans quickly became distracted with a desire for power and a need to consume beyond the limits God set for them. Now the same systemic brokenness that damages our relationships with God and with one another also damages our relationship with the earth.
Human-caused environmental degradation is destroying God’s creation. We see it in the ways in which deforestation exacerbates flooding. We see it in the spread of tropical diseases to previously temperate climates. We see it in the ways in which warming temperatures diminish traditional agriculture and fishing practices and worsen extreme weather events.
And so, in the words of poet Wendell Berry, we practice resurrection. We plant trees, drill boreholes and distribute nets and vaccines. We supplement food and restock waters and respond to ever-increasing, ever-intensifying disasters. And we look toward the biblical vision of the New Jerusalem — a Spirit-led community with clean water, life-giving fruit trees, and peace among the nations.
Through the work of the United Methodist Committee on Relief, glimpses of the New Jerusalem are already breaking forth into this world. In Alaska, UMCOR is working alongside Native Alaskan communities threatened by the impacts of climate change. Flooding, shore erosion and melting permafrost are creating significant hazards to the Native Yu’pik village of Newtok, so they are moving the village to nearby Mertarvik. UMCOR is providing 21 in-home water systems to secure access to clean water for elders and vulnerable people. Further south, the recent rise in sea temperature in Bristol Bay was catastrophic to the salmon harvest on which Native Chignik villages rely for subsistence and economic support. They usually catch close to 14 million sockeye salmon per year, but in 2018, they only caught 128. UMCOR provided the Bristol Bay Native Association with a grant to provide five villages with food, pantry and household items to carry them through until the next harvest season.
With support from the Global Ministries EarthKeepers program, United Methodists are developing life-giving environmental projects in their own communities, ranging from neighborhood gardens to light-bulb exchanges to zero-waste initiatives. EarthKeeper Leigh Williams is launching a community silverware-lending library at First United Methodist Church in Cary, North Carolina. Community members will be able to check out silverware to use for parties and other gatherings rather than relying on disposable utensils for events. In Salt Lake City, EarthKeepers Terry Haven and Jay Vestal of Christ United Methodist Church are organizing an LED light-bulb exchange. The program will help people in low-income communities reduce their utility bills by giving them light-emitting diode bulbs that use less energy than compact fluorescent or incandescent bulbs.
On this Earth Day, United Methodists celebrate the risen Christ and through UMCOR, extend God’s mission to all of creation. This Eastertide, we invite all United Methodists to join us in responding to God’s call to till and keep the garden, that we might one day celebrate the resurrection and renewal of God’s creation.
The Rev. Jenny Phillips is the creation care program manager for Global Ministries.