By Michelle Okabayashi November 22, 2019 | ATLANTA
Global Ministries commissioned 67 new EarthKeepers from 24 United Methodist regional conferences through an online service, Nov. 19, 2019.
EarthKeepers, a training program of Global Ministries and the United Methodist Committee on Relief, is designed to equip United Methodist clergy and laity to lead their communities in environmental stewardship. All EarthKeepers are expected to launch an environmental project in their communities as part of their work.
The online commissioning, while untraditional, allowed the EarthKeepers to live out their commitment to environmental stewardship. The online service made it possible for participants to celebrate with their home communities while also saving the environmental cost of travel to a central location for the commissioning. Bishop Larry Goodpaster of the Southeast Jurisdiction; Thomas Kemper, general secretary for Global Ministries; and the Rev. Jenny Phillips, Creation Care program manager, led the service.
“We know that we fail to recognize, serve and heed God in Christ anytime our lifestyles and consumption cause irreparable harm to the environment. Yet, we are trapped in systems that make it very difficult to participate in the modern world while allowing for the flourishing of creation,” Kemper said, explaining the need for the EarthKeepers program.
He then turned to address the EarthKeepers being commissioned that night specifically: “As we commission you tonight, we implore you to make your actions match the urgency of this moment.”
Rosina Snow, one of the newly commissioned EarthKeepers, sees the urgency through her church in Charlottesville, Virginia. “If humanity must figure this out in a short period of time,” she said, “we want to be ahead of the curve, shining forth what is possible: a carbon-neutral building, vegetable gardens and biodiversity demonstration projects on our grounds, and ministries that defy harmful policies.” Wesley Memorial UMC, where Snow serves as the director of Christian discipleship, is a sanctuary church, and through this ministry they see the connection between migration and climate change. As a result. the church “is striving to embody what it is to follow Jesus Christ as these complex, intersecting problems unfold,” explained Snow. “We want our ministries, our building and our grounds to manifest a vision of ecological renewal and human dignity.” Snow’s work as an EarthKeeper will support this vision.
The Rev. Crystal Paul-Watson also sees the connection between loving God and caring for creation. “The love of God,” she noted, “is manifested in how we treat one another and how good we are to God’s creation.” Paul-Watson of Warwick, New York, was commissioned alongside her mother Lavanda Paul from Mobile, Alabama. They are working together from their different locations to teach families about creation care and specifically to encourage organic gardening. Paul is focused on collecting original seeds and teaching others how to do the same to preserve plant varieties. Paul-Watson is creating a curriculum about gardening and will teach about gardening, fellowship without waste, and learning about creation theology and multiculturalism. Together, they will encourage families to return to gardening and propagate original seeds to increase plant diversity. This represents just one of the wide variety of projects the 2019 EarthKeepers will implement in the months ahead, ranging from community gardens and increasing food security, to reducing single-use plastics and establishing rainwater-collection systems, as well as creation care education, energy audits and increasing green spaces in urban communities.
Some 200 EarthKeepers have been commissioned since the program began in 2016. EarthKeepers spend three and a half days in specialized training, immersed in discussions on theology, United Methodist resources, community organizing and anti-racism, and then use what they learn to develop an environmental project for their churches and communities. It serves as both a launchpad for people looking to turn an idea into action and an incubator for people who want to deepen an existing ministry. Participants develop plans in conversation with their peers, troubleshooting ideas and sharing strategies.