By Joe Meinholz
“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for God who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:23-25 (NIV)
This was the verse we set last summer as a guiding vision for our EarthKeepers covenant discipleship group, and it feels more potent than ever today in a global pandemic.
Our time together has taught me two main things about being church. First, that discipleship blossoms when focused on mission. Second, that discipleship builds resilience that we are in sore need of as we face 21st-century challenges.
Our group came together with the shared identity of EarthKeepers. What that means is that we feel a special calling to care for creation as a part of our calling to follow Jesus in a time of climate crisis. What I think is viscerally felt in the group is that a “special calling” does not indicate a “hobby” or even a unique set of gifts, but a way in which God has opened our ears to hear the cry of a planet in peril, and once we have heard it, we cannot go back to normal while our world and her many creatures cry out. Climate crisis is just that: It's a crisis, and EarthKeepers unite around an urgency to wake the Church up to this crisis so we can be who we were all always meant to be.
We are each engaged in our churches and communities to take some seed-sized action against the torrent of immense disasters and mindless consumption that feeds them, and it is overwhelming. So we meet together out of necessity to call each other back to the hope we profess, to share stories of success and failure, and to spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Our discipleship is deepening precisely because we are focused on mission. Without a sense of the actual suffering of the world (especially of the marginalized) and feeling bound to it, groups like this in my experience usually end up programmatic and internally focused. On the contrary, this group is the least programmatic thing in my life these days. Because we share a gospel mission, our words are plain and our community is rich, and Jesus challenges us every time we meet.
Our covenant group of four had all met previously through in-person EarthKeeper events, and now meets over Zoom twice a month for an hour. These Zoom calls began because we have both greater Minnesota and the metro represented (and it’s environmentally friendly), but little did we know it would serve us so well through a global pandemic. We did not miss a beat! That’s another lesson about the Church—in a time of climate crisis, we need structures and communities that can deal with disturbance and pull people together. I am grateful to feel connected and know fellow Christians are praying for me through the ups and downs of the quarantine.
We are connected across regions of the Minnesota Conference that are often not in dialogue or relationship, and we span generations as well. That’s possible because of the covenant discipleship commitment. We’ve found as a team that what makes our time so rich is the commitment and discipline to meet regularly. While a written covenant was intimidating, we have found that it doesn’t need to be any more complicated than opening Zoom, praying for each other, speaking about our mission as EarthKeepers and our faith stories, and seeing what happens. Four or five people and the Holy Spirit in our midst has made for a transformative mix of laughter, storytelling, wrestling with the scriptures, and collaboration on caring for the creation. I hope this model can be multiplied for EarthKeepers across the country, not only so we can organize better for a healthy planet, but also so that we can draw closer to Jesus and each other in the process.
Shout out to Environmental Justice Organizer Isaiah Friesen and Rev. Dana Neuhauser for getting it all going, and I guess to John Wesley or Jesus for the idea to begin with. Thanks to Covenant Group 1.0: Cathy Velasquez Eberhart, Jon Urban, and Rev. Debra Collum.
If you would like to be a part of an EarthKeepers Covenant Discipleship Group, email Isaiah Friesen to get started!
Joe Meinholz found the United Methodist Church through The ELI Project in 2017, and now attends New City Church in Minneapolis. He works for Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light, a nonprofit that works closely with EarthKeepers to deepen the climate movement in faith communities.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church