Caleb James shows off the raised beds he’s constructed at Jones Memorial UMC in Washington, DC. PHOTO: COURTESY OF THE JAMES FAMILY
By Christie R. House December 7, 2021 | ATLANTA
On December 2, 2021, Global Ministries commissioned 17 new EarthKeepers in an online service officiated by Bishop LaTrelle Easterling of the Baltimore-Washington and Peninsula-Delaware United Methodist annual conferences. “Those who have committed themselves to this EarthKeeper ministry recognize and are being consecrated to a commitment to serve Christ in the world,” the bishop affirmed. “EarthKeepers are moving disciples from theory to praxis.”
Fifteen EarthKeepers from nine U.S. annual conferences and two from the Manila Episcopal Area were affirmed in a call to the ministry of creation care in their churches and communities. This year marks the fifth anniversary of the EarthKeepers program and the second training to be offered online due to of COVID-19.
The Global Ministries EarthKeepers program trains and equips United Methodists for environmental stewardship. Participants discuss theology, resources, community organizing and anti-racism. EarthKeepers then use what they learn to develop an environmental project, often in partnerships with their local churches and communities. It is helpful for people who are just starting out with an idea they want to put into action, but also for those who want to deepen an existing ministry, because the program offers a network to develop plans in conversation with peers – a place to try out ideas and share strategies.
Roland Fernandes, Global Ministries’ general secretary, commended the EarthKeepers for their commitment and initiative. “Training EarthKeepers to develop environmental projects within their local communities is essential to global sustainability efforts,” he said. “Your efforts are crucial in helping to lead The United Methodist Church to fulfill our task as stewards of God’s creation, and there is a great deal of work to do. As we commission you tonight, we implore you to make your actions match the urgency of this moment.”
The Rev. Jenny Phillips, senior technical advisor for Environmental Sustainability and director of the Global Ministries EarthKeepers program, anchored her homily in Luke 1:68-79, the prophesy of Zechariah at the birth of his son, John. “This season of Advent is about waiting, waiting for the end of the world that we know as we wait for the inbreaking of God’s realm,” she said.
“The EarthKeepers are ready. They are actively looking for God to break forth a new world marked by redemption for all people and all of creation. These EarthKeepers are looking at their own communities and their local ecosystems, figuring out what resources they have on hand right now to address environmental challenges where they are, and they are taking action now.”
Practical ways to work for positive change
Projects from this group of EarthKeepers include community and church gardens to provide fresh produce in food deserts, replanting an urban tree canopy in West Ohio, solar panel installations and the development of various networks of like-minded groups that bring communities together to work on solutions for environmental hazards and ways to tackle the causes of climate change.
Among the commissioned EarthKeepers are three youth participants. One of those, Caleb James, from Washington, D.C., is working with his congregation and community on the Jones Memorial United Methodist Church garden. The church provides food for those in need once a month, and James plans to supply fresh produce to the pantry. He hopes to demonstrate how raised-bed gardens can increase the nutrition in a person’s diet and encourage more people to grow their own food.
“This project is an example of giving back to God’s creation,” James said. “We as humans have over-consumed a lot of our planet and are currently suffering the consequences. This project will help spread the word and set an example for our future.”
James is a second-generation EarthKeeper. His father, the Rev. Cary James Jr., was commissioned two years ago. “Being a second generation EarthKeeper feels good,” Caleb James said. “I received my interest in caring for creation from my father who grew up on a farm. He taught me that one of the ways to demonstrate our love of God and neighbor is caring for creation. Environmental stewardship must occur over multiple generations.”
Renewable energy and disaster risk reduction
Two projects from this cohort focus on solar energy promotion and installation. Katie Pryor, from the North Texas Conference, serves as the director for Neighborhood Services with Owenwood Farm. She’s been working on bringing solar power to the Owenwood church building. Owenwood was a UMC congregation until 2017, when the congregation closed and White Rock UMC opened a second campus – as a farm – on the seven-acre Owenwood property. The closest food market to this East Dallas neighborhood is 4½ miles away, creating a fresh food desert in the area, especially for low-income neighbors without transportation.
Owenwood Farm was looking for ways to lower its energy footprint and costs and free up resources to invest back into the farm. Pryor said that taking the EarthKeepers training really helped her to think through the steps of her project, starting with an energy audit of the current building.
“The audit alerted us to a lot of things that weren’t the best. We installed new doors to stop the air seeping out. We are taking it step-by-step. We don’t expect it to be an overnight project. But once we start saving money from solar-powered energy, we can fund other projects.”
A second solar project, being developed by Josephine Cedillo, will demonstrate and promote the practical use of solar energy among churches and their communities in Quezon City in the Philippines. Cedillo says the project will focus on “awareness-raising and capacity-building on climate and renewable energy. We also plan to put up renewable energy demonstration sites that will interlink the church work on climate mitigation and community disaster risk reduction.”
Caleb James recommends EarthKeepers and hopes that more young people will get involved. “Climate change has increased levels of uncertainty about our future. We need more young people to act now, because without action, our future will be increasingly dominated by the heatwaves, storms and floods from years of not caring for creation. Young people are not only victims of climate change, we are also valuable contributors to climate action!”