Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of three stories about Creation Care, a ministry of the Florida Conference.
Signs of the times are all around: Florida waterways smothered in toxic algae, coral reefs dying and red tide is destroying beaches and fish. Record-breaking heat (the Arctic hit 90 degrees) and historic droughts have sparked deadly wildfires around the world, including California.
The list of challenges to the environment is long and daunting. But Methodists who are environmental advocates see it as a call to action, a Christian mandate.
“Why should we take care of the environment? Because God said so,” said the Rev. Andy Bell, an environmentalist and pastoral counselor in St. Petersburg.
|Creation Care volunteers from Saint Paul’s UMC, Tallahassee, adding the soil for a new, flourishing garden.|
And so did Methodist bishops, who set the tone in 2009 with God’s Renewed Creation: Call to Hope and Action. “We cannot help the world until we change our way of being in it,” they wrote.
Though almost 10 years old, God’s Renewed Creation is even more relevant today.
Caring for the natural world is also one of the social principles in the Book Of Discipline.
The United Methodist Women have made climate justice one of their priorities for the quadrennium.
Congregations are expressing their commitment to environmental issues through Creation Care, a ministry of the Florida Conference to educate and inspire Methodists to action on behalf of the planet.
Elan Brown, a member of Cornerstone United Methodist in Naples, started Creation Care and helped write the Creation Care Resolution, passed by the annual conference in 2015. She now heads up a Creation Care task force to encourage Florida Methodists to find ways to care for the environment.
Brown developed a strong bond with nature as a child. The granddaughter of Hungarian sharecroppers, she grew up eating vegetables from the family’s garden. In college, where she majored in botany and environmental horticulture, she discovered life at the microscopic level.
“Looking at plant cells under the microscope, you can’t imagine how beautiful it is at that level. I realized He is an amazing God,” Brown said. “It gave me a deep respect and care for what God made holy. We’re disconnected from the relationships between God and creation and the Earth.
“Healing those relationships is our salvation. It has to be reconciled and made whole. If we can teach our children and grandchildren, plant the seeds in their hearts that’s the beginning of creation care and stewardship.”
Cara Fleischer helped start Creation Care three years ago at St. Paul’s United Methodist in Tallahassee. She also is on the state Creation Care task force.
“I feel like I have found my place through Creation Care,” Fleischer said. “It captures my love of the Earth and being closest to God through nature. It has been truly remarkable to see how the ministry has been embraced by the church community. We weren’t sure how it would be received. The pastor encouraged us and that’s been enormously helpful.”
|Creation Care volunteers at St. Paul UMC pose for a group photo at their community garden.|
The congregation has planted a vegetable garden and donates the produce to a food bank. It also has adopted the street in front of the church and a nearby lake and hosts community cleanups.
It also joins forces with other environmental groups like Rethink Energy to lobby for environmental issues at the state Capitol.
The goal of Creation Care, Brown said, is to help congregations think about their environmental impact, find ways to help protect the environment and make their relationship with nature more central to their faith.
Bell, a task force member, recalls that his first sermon on the environment in 1996 wasn’t received well, but over time he thinks Christians have become more receptive of their role as stewards of the Earth.
His own understanding of salvation has deepened as he has studied the Bible and church teaching. Bell said he no longer thinks of salvation as Jesus came to save “me.”
“Everyone quotes John 3:16: ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so whoever believes in Him will have everlasting life.’ But if you go to the Greek, that verse doesn’t say ‘the world.’” Bell said.
“The Greek word is ‘cosmos.’ If God loves the cosmos—everything seen and unseen, known and unknown, if God sent Christ for all of creation, who are we to harm and destroy what God loves that much? Jesus was pretty direct and to the point. If we want to save our life, we have to lose it. We can’t live in our comfort zones. It’s a point of faith to step out of them.
“Now we’re starting to experience the consequences,” Bell said. “I think this year is going to be a moment of change. The massive wildfires, the record heat, the torrential downpours,” Bell said.
“There is no more room for denial. If we don’t take God seriously, then the only thing that will motivate people is love for their children and grandchildren. If you insist on denying this, you are in essence telling your children, I don’t care about your future.”
--Lilla Ross is a freelance writer from Jacksonville.