By: Jerad Morey
While the city on the shores of Lake Superior has a reputation for being environmentally conscious, it wasn’t just spending time in Duluth that made Rev. Cooper Wiggen of Minnehaha UMC (Minneapolis) passionate about the environment.
“I’ve been restless for years to respond to the Earth crisis,” he says. He came of age during a time when Earth Day was being created—“a time when this was all getting national awareness.” Moving to Duluth, he experienced a stronger calling towards creation care because he and others in his church described experiences of metanoia, or transformative changes of heart and deepening faith, occurring in the natural world. Wiggen wondered: If he and so many others could experience God in nature, then doesn’t a person’s treatment of nature reflect their treatment of God?
Rev. Susan Mullin, a deacon at Faith UMC (St. Anthony) and a board member of Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light, points out that “scientists tell us that we are facing threats to the well being of our planet from climate change, ocean acidification, extinction of species, and other environmental problems.” She has joined Wiggen and a host of other members of the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, including the Church in Society team and its chair Greg Neumann, to organize a series of events called “A Hopeful Earth.”
“Many of our congregations are concerned and working on [environmental] issues, but we are not connecting with one another” about them, says Mullin. A Hopeful Earth is meant to change that.
Three events—one Feb. 1 at Richfield UMC (Minneapolis), a second on March 1 at Centenary UMC (Mankato) and a third on April 26 at First UMC (Duluth)—will feature worship, workshops, and networking opportunities from a United Methodist perspective to coalesce people from different congregations around environmental stewardship.
A Hopeful Earth aims to “create a movement within the annual conference that takes climate change and other issues seriously,” says Mullin. But it goes deeper than that: Organizers want “people to be motivated to connect with other people of faith, to inspire changes in policy and lifestyle,” says Wiggen, adding: “I am restless with a human-centered orthodoxy that doesn’t embrace creation care.”
Changing people’s lifestyle choices and beliefs can be a challenging task. Mullin says that “our relationship with the Earth is a spiritual issue and what is happening on the Earth today raises theological questions not only about how we relate to other creatures and the Earth itself but how we relate to people.” In order to achieve this task, one of A Hopeful Earth’s goals is to explore the theology of creation care through worship and a workshop.
The worship-and-workshop model is familiar to Greg Neumann, who has been with the Minnesota Conference’s Church in Society Ministry Team since it began organizing social justice workshops for United Methodists and others in the faith community in the metro area and in Greater Minnesota. The team was already planning two workshops in Greater Minnesota around the issue of creation care when Neumann received a phone call from Wiggen about A Hopeful Earth in the Twin Cities metro. After that conversation, Wiggen, Mullin, and Neumann teamed up to combine their efforts, and the result is that Wiggen and Mullin are organizing the Twin Cities A Hopeful Earth event, while Neumann is organizing the ones in Mankato and Duluth; all will be similar in content.
Workshop topics are still being finalized, but Wiggen is convinced that because there are so many United Methodist buildings, a “facilities stewardship” element will be present. Mullin also says workshops will “provide practical assistance to people who want to make a difference in the ways they worship, form disciples, form public policy, and advocate for change in the public arena.”
While the events are decidedly more United Methodist than ecumenical—with an emphasis on providing resources from across the connection and even a metro keynote speaker, passionate environmental activist John Hill from the General Board of Church in Society in Washington, DC—people who don’t inherently share a creation care perspective are welcome.
“My hope is someone who isn’t interested would be inspired to change their mind. They will emerge with worship resources, facilities care notes, Sunday school curricula and ideas for environmentally-minded missional activities,” says Wiggen. Mullin notes that “about 75 to 80 percent of people are concerned about the environment” and “there is a great deal of unease about what is happening.”
Ultimately, Mullin and Wiggen believe events like A Hopeful Earth will transform that unease to empowerment. Mullin envisions “a church that can lead the people toward a more positive and hopeful future—that is, a church with good news to share.” Wiggen sees a movement helping to redefine evangelism, joyfully “spreading the good news that God’s love is bigger than the environmental crisis.”
Jerad Morey is a member of Mosaic in Brooklyn Park and a freelance writer. Follow him on Twitter (@Jerad).
Each event is financially supported in part by the global church’s Peace with Justice grants—which are funded by Peace with Justice Special Sunday offerings (Peace with Justice witnesses to God’s demand for a faithful, just, disarmed, and secure world). The cost to participate in the Feb. 1. Hopeful Earth event is $20 per person (including lunch) with a maximum cost of $45 for a single congregation, regardless how many people from it attend. The Mankato and Duluth events cost $15 each, which includes lunch; maximum cost for these events is also $45 for a single congregation. (To take advantage of the congregational maximum: When you register, please elect to pay by check and make your check out for $45.)
The Twin Cities event will provide childcare and worship leadership from Duluth-area singer and songwriter Sara Thomsen.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church