Global church commissions four Minnesotans as EarthKeepers

December 12, 2019
Minnesotans Elizabeth Joncas, Riva Tabelisma, Brad Neuhauser, and Isaiah Friesen at an EarthKeepers training in Chicago in October.

By: Christa Meland

Four Minnesota United Methodists are among 67 people that denominational agency Global Ministries recently commissioned as EarthKeepers.
In an online worship service on Nov. 19, Isaiah Friesen (Minnesota Conference environmental justice coordinator), Elizabeth Joncas (Prospect Park UMC, Minneapolis), Brad Neuhauser (Fairmount Avenue UMC, St. Paul), and Riva Tabelisma (Spirit of Hope UMC, Golden Valley) were affirmed in their call to the ministry of creation care. The month before being commissioned, they attended a three-and-a-half-day training session in Chicago that included discussions on theology, United Methodist resources, community organizing, and anti-racism.
“I see my pastoral call to love and care for the church—a movement of people seeking to live into God’s dream of healing and peace for the whole world—as inextricably bound up in my call to love and care for all of God’s beloved creation, whether human or not,” said Friesen. “To love my Creator and to love people means I must also love and honor the earth.”
EarthKeepers is a training program to equip United Methodists in the United States for environmental stewardship. EarthKeepers are United Methodists who are keenly aware of the ecological challenges of today and feel called to be part of a movement to transform the world.
Each EarthKeeper launches an environmental project in his or her community. This year’s projects include community gardens, green building programs, and waste-management initiatives, among many others.
The training session in Chicago served as both a launchpad for those looking to turn an idea into action, and an incubator for people wanting to deepen an existing ministry. Participants developed plans in conversation with their peers, troubleshot ideas, and shared strategies.
Neuhauser’s project is a “community creation challenge.” The idea is that a church community would challenge and support each other in doing something specific each month to better steward creation. For example, one month it might be riding public transit more; another month might involve eating less meat. “Although these actions might seem minuscule on their own, done as a community they make a larger statement,” said Neuhauser.
When asked what prompted him to become an EarthKeeper, Neuhauser said he grew up enjoying spending time in natural settings and has always valued that connection. But he’s also become more keenly aware of the ways our lives are in an unhealthy relationship with the world around us. “This is especially true of those of us who are more wealthy and privileged, who use disproportionately more resources yet disproportionately avoid the negative impacts of things like pollution and climate change,” he said. “I believe loving creation is directly connected to loving God and neighbor. I hope that any good I can do will make it easier for others to deepen their relationships with God, other people, and creation.”
Friesen, meanwhile, has been helping to direct, structure, and support the growth of the Hopeful EarthKeepers network in Minnesota and he looks forward to continuing that work. A core part of it has involved building relationships with United Methodists throughout the state, learning what their interests and passions are around creation care, and helping them discern opportunities and strategies to pursue those passions and make a positive difference.
“I hope to broaden our impact, especially with youth and young adults across the conference, and overall I want to see a network of people directly supporting each other in energizing their congregations for effective missions of creation care and environmental justice,” he said. “My greatest prayer for EarthKeepers is that we may all continue to listen, practice, reflect, and grow as organizers, healers, peacemakers—and that we may know the Spirit’s presence in all of it.”

More than 50 Minnesotans have been commissioned as EarthKeepers in recent years, some by the global church and some by the Minnesota Conference.

Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

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