Creation Care Enhances UMCOR Ministries through Awareness and Collaboration

An Interview with UMCOR Creation Care Manager, Rev. Jenny Phillips


By Cindy Haverkamp, PNWUMC Creation Care Connector

In 2018, natural disasters caused $160 billion in damage and claimed 10,400 lives. Climate models for the future project an increase in the intensity and frequency of these events and scientists are, increasingly, attributing their cause and fury to human activities and choices. In light of these facts, UMCOR and the PNW Conference Office link disaster preparedness and response to the Creation Care portfolio, providing resources and sharing ideas for how United Methodists might respond.

I recently interviewed Rev. Jenny Phillips, UMCOR’s Creation Care Program Manager, and my predecessor in the Pacific NW Conference, where she is a clergy member. We engaged in conversation about how UMCOR’s refugee relief and disaster response heritage connects to its mandate to care for creation. UMCOR celebrated 75 years of service in 2015, and it turns out the connection between sustainability and disaster response started back in the late 1940s. 

Here is what I learned:

Cindy: Why and when did UMCOR decide to include Creation Care to its portfolio of services?

Rev. Phillips: While my position as Creation Care Program Manager is relatively new, UMCOR has been engaged in work that is “creation care” for much of its history, through its work in sustainable agriculture, food security, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), and more. My colleague, Christi House, shared this about UMCOR’s dedication to Creation Care, “In 1948, eight years after its founding, General Conference added “rehabilitation” to UMCOR’s mandate. That is when the well-building, concern for deforestation, and sustainable agriculture came into the picture. The rehabilitation work was scaled up in the 1950s, and really took off under J. Harry Haines, UMCOR’s director from 1966 to 1983.”

As a member of UMCOR’s Sustainable Development Team, my portfolio includes the EarthKeepers program, which equips United Methodists to engage in all kinds of Creation Care ministries. Here’s the video (LINK) from the e-commissioning that shows the breadth of EarthKeepers projects. The purpose of the program is to increase the capacity of United Methodists to engage in meaningful, effective ministries that respond to climate change, environmental degradation and environmental injustice.

EarthKeepers trainings are held each year and include field trips to deepen United Methodists’ knowledge of environmental issues.

Cindy: Does UMCOR’s call to respond to natural disasters impact your work?

Rev. Phillips: Global Ministries’ strategic plan calls for increasing humanitarian assistance by more fully integrating disaster response with long-range sustainable development. What this looks like in practical terms is conversation and planning related to disaster recovery and sustainable development programs that increase resilience for vulnerable communities in a changing world.

This is all to say that UMCOR’s Disaster Response and Sustainable Development work are both expressions of what it means to engage in creation care as United Methodists. We are working in partnership with United Methodists around the world to discern how best to care for and steward the gifts of God’s creation at this challenging moment in our history as humans.

UMVIM volunteer “bucket brigade” – delivering supplies after Hurricane Florence.

Cindy: Do you feel that there is a natural connection between the work of Creation Care ministries and disaster preparedness/response? Can you give an example of a time that connection became clear in your own work?

Reverend Phillips: UMCOR’s Disaster Response does have a natural connection to my work in Creation Care. As an example, I am currently developing the Renewable Energy Access program and the Energy Efficiency program. The purpose of the Renewable Energy Access program is to increase access to renewable energy while reducing energy poverty, particularly in places where energy access is limited, non-existent, unreliable or overpriced. The Energy Efficiency program is a pilot program to encourage local churches to make their buildings more energy efficient. Both programs are intended to reduce reliance on fossil fuels because production and consumption of fossil fuels contribute to climate change, and climate change exacerbates extreme weather events. UMCOR seeks to not only respond to disasters resulting from extreme weather events, but also to address their root causes.

Cindy:  Is there anything else you’d like to share that might be important to this topic?

Reverend Phillips: My colleague, Lorrie King, the WASH, Food Security and Livelihoods program manager for the Sustainable Development team of UMCOR, says, “You can’t grow food without healthy soil. You can’t have healthy soil without a healthy watershed. Kids can’t absorb the nutrients in food grown in healthy soil without a clean source of water because intestinal disease prevents proper digestion. All of our programs in agriculture, food security and WASH support the others. All of them are priorities of UMCOR. And all of them are Creation Care.” 

Cindy: Thank you, Jenny, for all you do to support United Methodists as they discern how best to advocate for and care for creation!

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