By: Christa Meland
In late April, about 30 Minnesota United Methodists gathered for a three-day training summit at which they reflected on God’s call to care for the planet and learned skills for organizing their communities to work for environmental justice.
After participating in the event, which took place at Koinonia Retreat Center in South Haven, 22 clergy and laity were commissioned as EarthKeepers—thus doubling the number of EarthKeepers in Minnesota to 44 total.
EarthKeepers are United Methodists who are keenly aware of the ecological challenges in our world today and feel called to be part of a movement to transform the world. They work with their congregations and communities in many different ways: for example, growing community gardens, advocating for renewable energy policies, working for environmental justice, creating liturgy, or leading discussion groups on creation theology.
On the first day of the training, participants were invited to reflect on where they feel connected to God’s creation and what’s at the heart of the ecological devastation and climate change that our planet is experiencing. The second day focused on teaching practical organizing skills to invite others to join specific environmental justice efforts. Attendees looked at Jesus and John Wesley as examples of people who organized groups to transform the world—and explored how caring for the earth is part of the mission of the church laid out in scripture.
“I hope that they left with an increased sense of connectedness to other people who are passionate about doing this same work,” said Isaiah Friesen, the Minnesota Conference’s environmental justice organizer. “I hope they left with a better ability to talk about this work as part of their Christian public witness and learned some tools and frameworks for setting goals and working for concrete transformation in their respective communities.”
Organizing and leading the event alongside Friesen were Revs. Susan Mullin and Dana Neuhauser, both deacons; Cathy Velasquez Eberhart, a member of Prospect Park UMC in Minneapolis; Jody Thone, the conference’s director of leadership development; and Josh Marzahn, a member of Crossroads Church in Lakeville who works for Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light. Attendees included both individuals and church groups. Toward the end of the event, each person was asked to articulate their goals and next steps.
Daniel Dahm hopes to help start a green team at his church, Hennepin Avenue UMC in Minneapolis. Colleen Werdien from Anoka UMC wants to transform her yard, get solar panels, and encourage her legislators to support environmental efforts. Judith Rose from Alexandria UMC hopes to help arrange a joint climate conversation with other churches. Allison Schwarz wants to help her church, Le Sueur UMC, be green as it pursues a capital campaign. Rev. Hope Hutchison, who serves Northeast UMC in Minneapolis, wants to explore how to work at the intersection of food justice and climate justice. And Jon Urban is seeking to help his church, Park Avenue UMC in Minneapolis, “catalyze change through the language of justice.”
Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light uses a “three-legged stool” framework to describe caring for creation: practical, systemic, and spiritual. Friesen has embraced that model for his own work as well.
“For me as an individual, the spiritual component means: How am I doing in my discipleship walk and how does it relate to organizing around practical and systemic issues?” he said. He’s passionate about helping congregations delve deeper into each of those three core areas. For example, a congregation might have solar panels and green initiatives in place but no theological or spiritual language to articulate how it fits into the congregation’s mission. Friesen welcomes the opportunity to help congregations do just that.
Friesen began his position in July 2018, and a core part of his work 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.
“It’s about developing leaders, developing relationships between leaders of different congregations, and working to discern our next steps within our individual congregations and as a wider movement,” he said. “It’s helping people discern: What are the steps I can take to go deeper personally, spiritually, and practically?”
In the coming months, Friesen plans to organize EarthKeeper covenant groups that allow those doing creation care work to share how things are going both relationally and spiritually, talk about challenges they are facing, and explore how they can continue to invite others into the projects or efforts they are pursuing. He’s also exploring training opportunities on a smaller scale—perhaps ones offered over a shorter time period or even online.
Friesen regularly speaks at churches and with individuals and welcomes the opportunity to visit with anyone interested in further exploring environmental justice. Contact him at Isaiah.firstname.lastname@example.org or 612-230-6128.
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church