Three to be commissioned to EarthKeepers



Each person has their own reason for answering the call to protect the Earth. And some answer that call through the United Methodists’ EarthKeepers program.
 
Rev. Tiffania Willets of Seminole Heights UMC, Cara Fleisher of Saint Paul’s UMC, Elan Brown of Cornerstone UMC, and UMC missions Creation Care Coordinator. Rev Jenny Phillips are leaders in the Creation Care ministry in the United Methodist Church. --Photo courtesy Elan Brown.
EarthKeepers is a global ministries program that aims to train and support United Methodist laity and clergy to address local environmental concerns and the systemic structures that give rise to those concerns.

Three members of the UMC Florida Conference will be among 45 to be commissioned Nov. 12 to this program, answering the call to practice social and environmental holiness. That call was issued in the Council of Bishops’ 2009 document, “God’s Renewed Creation: A Call to Hope and Action.”

Cara Fleischer, Elan Miavitz-Brown and Rev. Tiffania Willetts, all from Florida, will join others from around the nation in the online commissioning. The ceremony will affirm the EarthKeepers in their call to the ministry of creation care and will bless their work in their communities.

Commissioning online allows all three classes of EarthKeepers trained in 2018 to be commissioned together while minimizing the carbon footprint of the service.

Elan Miavitz-Brown of Cornerstone UMC in Naples calls herself a climate change refugee. She wrote the resolution that began Creation Care ministries in Florida Churches in 2015.

“Rev. Jenny Philipps (UMCOR Creation Care Program Manager) and I marched together in the Washington, D.C. People’s Climate Change March in May of 2017,” she said. “That May, just before the march, our family was part of a mandatory evacuation due to a forest fire that threatened our home in southwest Florida in the Golden Gate Estates area.”

She was not even sure she would be able to attend the march.
Fire burns in a Florida forest.


“Later, that same year we experienced the worst dislocation and threat to our family ever in our history—Hurricane Irma,” she said. “After these two experiences, I truly now understand the meaning of climate change refugee. We were on the run for our lives, trusting God every step of the way, praying without ceasing, but not sure we would have a home when we could return.”

Her family is still in recovery mode.

“We have looked at the issue and what we could do to witness to our church communities on how to take bold action to reduce our impacts,” Miavitz-Brown said.

“We are people of faith and children of God and we believe God’s word is supreme—that we have been created by God and we are here to tend to what he has made good and not to spoil it and trash it.”

A lot of effort is going in to Creation Care and great things are happening, but there are still gaps in action, she said, and the team is working on filling those gaps.
 
Elan Miavetz-Brown, Creation Care chair for the Florida Conference, stands on a green rooftop in Atlanta. She recently completed training there for EarthKeepers, a program meant to bring the message of planet care to United Methodist churches throughout the country. -- Photo courtesy Elan Brown.
“We are seeing the effects of climate change in every facet of our life now,” she said. She sees it not as political, but Biblical.

Bishop Larry Goodpaster of the Southeast Jurisdiction, Thomas Kemper, General Secretary of Global Ministries, Rev. Phillips and Rev. Dr. Jerome Sahabandhu, Global Ministries Mission Theologian, will lead the Nov. 12 service.

Visit www.umcmission.org/live to see the service live at 8 p.m.

For Fleischer, creating a local Creation Care ministry was personal, brought on by her young daughter’s struggles with asthma, partly due to polluted air.

She started a Creation Care at Saint Paul’s UMC in Tallahassee nearly four years ago.

“I was interested in environmental advocacy. I had started doing some things locally once my daughter got asthma,” Fleischer said. “I learned about air pollution and climate change. I personally became more active. I went to Washington D.C. with Citizens Climate Lobby and was doing other local work.”

She was at church one day and began to wonder about its carbon footprint, which led her to speak to her pastor about it.

“Taking care of God’s earth is a Biblical calling for all of us,” Fleischer said. “The United Methodists, in particular, we have the call in our book of discipline, very specifically, to be good stewards of the earth.”
 
Squash blooms in the garden at St. Paul’s UMC in Tallahassee.
A group of about 10 from Saint Paul’s decided to start a garden from which they would glean its bounty and donate it to a local food bank.

“We wrote a grant to Leon County and received $1,000 that week to put in the new garden,” Fleischer said. “That really jump-started our Creation Care group.”

They received the grant just a month before Earth Day, which kicked the program in to high gear.

“We put in the whole garden and celebrated Creation Care Sunday that week of Earth Day. The service focused music and message on the need to care for the earth. The congregation all went out to the garden for a blessing,” Fleischer said.

Pastor Willetts of Seminole Heights UMC in Tampa said she got involved in EarthKeepers so she could bring the message of Creation Care to her congregation.

“Since I'm in a new appointment, my project will be a sermon series about Creation Care during Lent this year,” she said. “My church currently has no creation care programs, so introducing it in this way will help them to learn about why, as Christians, we should also care for our creation.

“I was raised with an understanding of the need to recycle and to reduce energy consumption and it is a part of my everyday life,” she said. “While in seminary I worked at Glenn Memorial UMC in Atlanta, which has an active Creation Care ministry and I was hoping to bring some of those tools to my new appointment.

“Climate change is an issue that affects everyday life, not just people far away. The need for creation care is becoming more important as churches realize our calls to do our part to make the earth better,” Willets said.

EarthKeepers participants spend three and a half days immersed in discussions on theology, United Methodist resources, community organizing and anti-racism, then use what they learn to develop an environmental project for their churches and communities.

--Yvette C. Hammett is a freelance writer based in Valrico
 

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