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Bishops approve ‘God’s Renewed Creation’ document, ask churches to participate

Bishops approve ‘God’s Renewed Creation’ document, ask churches to participate

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Bishops approve ‘God’s Renewed Creation’ document, ask churches to participate

By Jenna De Marco | Nov. 17, 2009 {1103}

The United Methodist Church Council of Bishops sees the Advent season as prime time to begin sharing its newly approved message about caring for God’s creation.

A U.S. flag flies above an oil refinery near Houston, Texas, in September 2008. The United Methodist Council of Bishops Nov. 3 approved a statement on caring for the environment during its fall meeting in Lake Junaluska, N.C. A UMNS file photograph by Mike DuBose. Photo #09-1341.

A pastoral letter titled “God’s Renewed Creation: Call to Hope and Action” was unanimously approved by the bishops at their recent fall meeting. The bishops hope local churches will read the letter aloud during worship Nov. 29 — the first Sunday of Advent.

The document aims to express the church’s responsibility for creation care in the context of today’s challenges, said Florida Conference Bishop Timothy Whitaker, chairman of the task force that researched and wrote the document. The 2009 statement follows the Council of Bishops’ earlier document called “In Defense of Creation: The Nuclear Crisis and Just Peace,” released in 1986

In “God’s Renewed Creation,” the bishops raise concerns about a trio of worldwide threats — pandemic poverty, environmental degradation and weapons proliferation — created by human sin. “We cannot help the world until we change our way of being in it,” the bishops stated in the letter.

The three concerns reflect the complex and interrelated nature of modern global problems, Whitaker said. 

“Our consciousness is heightened today beyond the issue of the nuclear weapons, and the ecological crisis is front and center in people’s minds,” Whitaker said. “We can’t leave human communities out of the equation either because the existence of extreme poverty around the world is part of the stress on the environment.”

The newly approved statement is a “significant gift” to the United Methodist Church, in part because of the Florida Conference, says Pat Callbeck Harper, project manager for the initiative.

Whitaker’s service and the assistance of others in Florida helped make the statement and its approval possible, Harper said. In addition to Whitaker, the project’s task force included bishops from each Central Conference and U.S. jurisdiction, Bishop Patrick Streiff of Eastern/Southern Europe, leaders from United Methodist general agencies, and several consultants.

The document’s principles represent the input of more than 5,400 United Methodists around the world, Harper said. Feedback came from listening sessions in the United States, the Philippines, Africa and Europe and surveys, letters, text messages and e-mails. The task force sought insight from United Methodist scholars, United Methodist Women, young people in churches and seminaries, and annual conferences.

Message begins during Advent

The Advent season lends itself to spreading the “God’s Renewed Creation” message, Harper said, because it is a time of seeking.

“I think it’s the perfect season of the church year for this document to be read,” Harper said. “It is a time of expectation and hope and promise and God’s fulfillment of love and justice, but (also) not yet.”

Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker addresses participants gathered June 14, 2008, for the 20th Conference Table, which focused on global poverty and health, nuclear proliferation, and the environment. The goal of the day was to help guide and shape the writing of the pastoral letter, “In Defense of Creation 2.” File photo by Erik J. Alsgaard. Photo #08-0913. Originally accompanied e-Review Florida UMNS #0875, 6/26/08.

Although many churches may have already planned their Advent services, the first Sunday offers an “ideal time” liturgically to read the bishops’ pastoral letter, Whitaker said. This is partly because the United Methodist lectionary focus for that day is on the fulfillment of God’s purposes for creation.

The bishops are “very strongly encouraging” the use of the pastoral letter in a liturgical setting, Harper said, and many active and retired bishops will be contributing to this effort when they preach at various churches during Advent.

Two versions of the bishops’ letter are available at The liturgical version includes responsive readings for congregations. Other related resources are also available online, including a foundational document that “is packed with stories of United Methodists from all over the world — stories of struggle and … hope,” Harper said.

Bishops pledge to model vision

Like the 1986 document, “God’s Renewed Creation” is a teaching tool. The purpose, Whitaker said, is “to lead the church in the study of the realities that confront the creation and the human race today.” He says it also identifies the theological and practical reasons why creation care is critical. Whitaker further emphasized the importance of the subtitle — a call to hope and action.

“We believe that our faith gives us hope,” he said. “We’re not responsible all by ourselves for taking care of the creation, and the Creator is working providentially to do that. But at the same time, it is a call to action on our part.”

In the document, the bishops suggest that all United Methodists “offer themselves as instruments of God’s renewing spirit in the world.”

In keeping with their suggestion, the bishops pledged to examine their own carbon footprints, as well as those of their conferences. Carbon footprint is a measure of one’s impact on the environment through daily human activity. The 50 active bishops in the United States also committed themselves to listening to and learning with the 19 active bishops in Africa, Asia and Europe.

“God’s Renewed Creation” fits with the denomination’s mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, Whitaker said. The document “defines the reality of what the human race is facing at this moment in time” and describes what is at stake for the task of transforming the world, he said.

Project expands audience

Both Whitaker and Harper agree the critical work of promoting the project is just beginning. Their goal is to involve many people in accessing, reading and discussing the document.

“I think having the average United Methodist Christian engaged in this study is really the most important thing we can do now,” Whitaker said. “Each of us can play a part in this, even it’s very small.”

The initial target audiences include young people and church leaders, Harper said, because they were the groups that provided significant input about the documents. A Web site focusing on the bishops’ message — — is currently being developed. It will include resources targeting young people, conference communicators, and peace and justice coordinators.

United Methodist Bishop Donald A. Ott holds a basketball while encouraging fellow bishops to support the ministry of caring for God’s creation. Ott borrowed the ball from Bishop Thomas Bickerton, who used it to raise money for the Nothing But Nets campaign against malaria. A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert. Photo #09-1342.

Reaching non-English speakers quickly is also a top priority, Harper said. The document was translated into Portuguese and French before the Council of Bishops’ meeting. The next translations will likely be German, Spanish and Korean, depending on available funding.

A related Bible study will also be developed for use during the 2010 Lenten season. The study will meet the needs of several age groups and will be published by Abington.

“We hope that one of the outcomes of the studies is that local congregations … will form a plan for how they are going to respond to the bishops’ call,” Harper said.

Whitaker would also like the Council of Bishops to join other Christian communities for ecumenical discussions with public policy makers about the issues.

These goals all require funds, which are not yet realized. The Florida Conference contributed $2,000 from “Peace with Justice” funds to the ongoing mission of the project. According to United Methodist News Service, retired Bishop Donald Ott challenged his fellow bishops to help raise financial support, suggesting a $100,000 goal for each of the next few years.

Contribution checks may be made to “GBCS – IDOC Fund” and sent to Harper, Project Manager, “In Defense of Creation” of the Council of Bishops, 100 Maryland Avenue, NE, Washington, D.C. 20002.

Related stories

Conference Table looks at issues ‘In Defense of Creation’

Task force explores connections between poverty, disarmament, environmental degradation

Bishop leads updating of ‘In Defense of Creation’

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.