Remarks to the 2018 United Methodist Creation Care Summit at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota
When it comes to what the United Methodist Church has to offer in a time of ecological degradation and in a time that calls for an ecological conversion of the entire human community, I think that our denomination’s greatest asset is also perhaps its greatest challenge, and this combination of asset and challenge is what we often simply refer to as the connection.
The connection is clearly an asset in many ways. We see it on full display in the participation in this Creation Care Summit with bishops, boards, agencies, and higher education institutions of the church all coming together to provide resources, leadership, and expertise. Our connection is also a global connection, and this is an important asset as well given that the ecological challenges we face are global in nature even though some nations clearly contribute more to our crisis than others. We United Methodists have shown that when we put our minds to it, we are able to act quickly and effectively to meet the needs of both people and the planet. The work of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and the Nothing But Nets Imagine No Malaria campaign are only two examples among many of how we United Methodists are capable of getting things done for the well-being of others, especially with those who are vulnerable and in need.
Compared to most Protestant denominations, our global connection and the global reach this connection gives us may be the greatest assets we have in addressing the call for a global ecological conversion; but our global connection also creates a set of challenges. Maintaining the institutional structures of a global church is not an easy task. It takes money, time, and energy; and it requires levels of dialogue, cooperation, and compromise that are not required in less connectional denominations. We have to worry about vast health insurance systems, pension systems, board and agency budgets, and many other pressing institutional challenges. We also experience a wide array of theological and cultural differences, and it is not easy to keep a global church together across these many differences and challenges.
As we come closer to the General Conference of 2019, we see how significant and pronounced some of these differences are. Will the connection be able to hold together in a way that it can be an asset rather than a barrier to addressing the great ecological challenges of our time? This is an open question at a time when the ecological challenges we face do not give us too much time to deal with such open questions.
In the midst of our assets and challenges, my big hopes and dreams for the mission, ministry, and witness of the United Methodist Church on creation care and creation justice are that we can live into all of the promise and potential that our connection has to offer for people and all life on the planet while working through our institutional challenges in ways that do not hinder but rather actually enhance our ecological witness.
I dream that our local churches will become places where people, especially young people, might have their first experiences of putting their hands in the soil and connecting with God’s creation. I dream that local churches will make creation care through advocacy and action be at the core of their ministries. What better way is there to love God and love our neighbors than to care for God’s creation and work for a flourishing ecological community within which our human communities can thrive.
I dream that our United Methodist Churches will see themselves as part of a Connectional Movement for Creation Care, that we will see our global connection and all the people and resources it provides as the greatest asset we have to bring about an ecological conversion in our communities and the world.
Personally I am very happy to have an opportunity to participate in this connectional work at a United Methodist University and as the executive director of the United Methodist General Board of Higher Education and Ministry’s Leadership, Education, and Development (LEaD) Hub in North America. Part of our mission at the LEaD Hub is to develop a Global Methodist Social and Ecological Responsibility Initiative that helps to network the over one thousand Methodist related institutions of higher education around the world in their work related to social justice and ecological sustainability. You will be hearing more about some of the programs in this initiative from some of my colleagues in higher education who are also participating in this summit.
Finally, I hope that creation care will be embraced as part of our churches’ evangelism efforts. Creation care is good news for people and good news for all life on the planet. A sustainable revival of churches is dependent on creation care.
As a thought experiment, imagine that we as a denomination will be able to turn around our declining membership in the United States and continue growing in other parts of the world. Imagine that we are able to grow the United Methodist Church beyond our wildest dreams so that in a less than generation our churches are full, our budgets are booming, and our connection is thriving. How sad and tragic it would be if just one or two generations later, the membership of our denomination that had benefited so much from this significant revival saw its membership decimated by the massive die off of humans caused by the climate change induced economic and ecological collapse that our churches had done almost nothing to address.
If we want more people to hear the good news that Jesus has for the world, we must find ways as a church to care for and sustain the very good world that God loves so much. Creation care is good news. Creation care is evangelism. The Church of the 21st Century cannot be renewed without creation care, and if people come to see our churches as places that care for people and all life on the planet and they see that we are actually doing something about it, I think they will come to our churches. We United Methodists ought to know something about renewal, so let’s get down to work because we have some serious renewing and regeneration of the whole creation to do.