By Cindy Haverkamp
This week in my role as Creation Care Connector, I will be joining with four other members of the PNW Conference and with other United Methodists from across the West for UMCOR’s EarthKeepers Training at the Wasatch Retreat Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. There we will be trained on concepts ranging from environmental theology to intersectionality, gaining insights into how environmental issues are influenced by social factors. We will also visit and serve at the UMCOR West Depot while engaging in conversation about the connections between climate change and disasters.
EarthKeepers will leave the training with the new inspiration and ideas that networking can bring, and with new strategies for engaging our home churches and the larger society in the life-saving work of caring for God’s Creation.
In addition to five hours of homework designed to build a shared knowledge base among the trainees, EarthKeepers have prepared for this training by developing concepts for projects that will allow us to apply our learnings.
Three of the five trainees from the PNW Conference are from the same church, Highline United Methodist Church in Burien, Washington. Their project is to build a community garden at their church site. Jenny Partch, who is serving as pastor at Highline, shares this about their project and about her expectations for the training:
Highline UMC is working with a local non-profit, Nature Stewards, King Conservation District, Stone Soup Garden Design, and the City of Burien to turn a piece of unused land into a community garden in our neighborhood. We are located in a food desert of South King County in a diverse neighborhood. I reached out to [Creation Care Program Manager] Rev. Jenny Philips to find resources for our project. She invited us to apply for EarthKeepers Training to strengthen our local team and to increase the reach of our project. We are excited to dig into the training with others from around the country to work for eco-justice for our earth and for food-justice for our neighbors.
Michelle Dangol, a congregant at Highline UMC and fellow EarthKeeper trainee, adds that the church has an unused parking lot that seemed a perfect place for such a garden. She shares, “My friend and I always wanted a space to have fresh veggies and to dig in the dirt; a place to congregate that was welcoming and full of God’s glory in nature.” A youth from the church, Henry M., will also be engaging in the training and is excited to find ways to involve youth and their families in the community garden project.
My own project is to rebuild the Creation Care outreach for our Conference that had last been nurtured by the Rev. Jenny Phillips before she was called to work for the General Board of Global Ministries in Atlanta. Both Rev. Jenny and her predecessor, Tanya Barnett, did a great job of laying the ground work for a platform where churches, pastors and congregants interested in Creation Care might find resources and share about their efforts. The need to revamp these communications is strong as our current political landscape has led some to give up hope.
My goal is to remind people across the PNW Conference that people are still in action for the benefit of Creation and that there are still plenty of resources and support, as well as hope and encouragement, to go around. As Michelle Dangol mentioned while sharing about her project, “Just knowing there are others out there doing the same work is gratifying and motivating at the same time. I think we are stronger together and the more we educate ourselves and extend that outward, the better off the planet will be.”
The EarthKeepers program was developed in response to the call to practice social and environmental holiness in the Council of Bishop’s 2009 document, “God’s Renewed Creation: A Call to Hope and Action.” However, according to Marie Kuch-Stanovsky, another EarthKeeper trainee, the program had, up until this year, been a little out of reach for folks living in the Western Jurisdiction. She shared, “I heard about EarthKeepers in 2016 when I was serving on the Board of Directors for the General Board of Global Ministries. It was an exciting vision – to train 500 new creation care advocates in 7 years – but initially the trainings focused on the East Coast. It took our own Rev. Jenny Phillips to bring the first training to the Western Jurisdiction to pique my interest. I am excited to learn with others from around the West.”
All of the EarthKeepers trained this year, from three different training locations in the United States, will be commissioned for their Creation Care work in a special online commissioning service on Monday, November 12, 2018 at 8pm EST. All are invited to join us via livestream at www.umcmission.org/live as Rev. Jenny Phillips equips and sends us to “take bold actions” as we respond with hope and determination to the urgent needs of Creation.
Cindy Haverkamp serves as Communications Associate for the Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Methodist Church.