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What Does Creation Care Have To Do With Our Mission?

Editor's Note: The following is a reflection by Elizabeth Tapia based on the February 25, 2014 Tea & Theology, a monthly staff gathering for theological reflection at the General Board of Global Ministries. The topic on February 25, 2014 was “What does creation care have to do with our mission?” and was led by the Rev. Dr. J. Denise Honeycutt.

While visiting the United States recently, the Dalai Lama was asked, “What global issues do you think the United States should be paying more attention to?”  His answer:  “Ecology”.  (Time Magazine, March 3, 2014). Ecological devastation is everywhere. Non-governmental organizations and faith-based communities, including The United Methodist Church, are paying attention.[1]

Several seminaries, women’s groups and other churches have started “Greening our Faith” movements. So has the National Council of Churches.[2]  Why? Is it because of sheer survival mode?  Or is it because “greening of our faith” means taking seriously a creation-centered spirituality? I say the latter.  More and more, people realize that caring for creation has to do with our relationship with God, with each other, and with our involvement in God’s mission everywhere. More and more, those who seek justice and peace understand the importance of restoring the integrity of God’s Creation. 

The United Methodist Church now has its first “Missionary for the Care of God’s Creation,” Rev. Pat Watkins. Watkins has served as a United Methodist pastor and as a United Methodist Church and Community Worker assigned as executive director of Caretakers of God’s Creation, a creation care ministry of the Virginia Conference of The United Methodist Church.[3]  Now he is a missionary located at the General Board of Global Ministries, and is charged with growing Caretakers of God’s Creation into a national ministry of The UMC, and integrating care for God’s creation into the greater overall global ministry of the church.

Rev. Watkins is married to another United Methodist pastor from Virginia, the Rev. Dr. J. Denise Honeycutt. Among other things, the couple previously served as missionaries in Nigeria. Now Rev. Honeycutt is the Deputy General Secretary for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (“UMCOR”) at Global Ministries.

Watkins and Honeycutt understand the intimate relationship between pandemic poverty and disease, environmental degradation, and the proliferation of violence.  An understanding of these connections is crucial, they urge us, in order for the church to be as effective as it can in its participation in God’s mission. 

So, we were very pleased that on February 25, 2014 Rev. Honeycutt led a discussion group on creation care at a Tea & Theology session at Global Ministries. She posed this question to Global Ministries’ staff:

“What does creation care have to do with our mission?”

Turning to the creation stories in Genesis, Rev. Honeycutt pointed to three interactive relationships: God-human; human-human; and human-creation relationships.  Noting that humankind’s relationship with the rest of creation too often has not been emphasized in the history and life of the Church, Honeycutt asserted:  “Just as a relationship with God compels us to be in relationship with each other, so too a relationship with God compels us to be in relationship with God’s creation.  This is not optional.”

Honeycutt pointed out that Global Ministries’ own Mission Theology Statement affirms that “God’s mission reclaims the life of all creatures and redeems all creation for God’s intended purpose.” This to me speaks of God’s mission as cosmic in scope and organic in approach. God’s mission of renewing the creation, as well as human salvation and wholeness for all beings, is boundless. Again from the Global Ministries Mission Theology Statement: “The Wesleyan expectation of ‘perfection in love’ draws redeemed individuals into appropriate, active, transforming relationships of wholeness and unity with God, all people and creation. “

So Honeycutt challenged the staff:  What is our responsibility? “How should we think more broadly and deeply about creation in our personal lives and in our work on behalf of God’s mission”? Honeycutt noted that under The Book of Discipline UMCOR is mandated to alleviate human suffering. I heard her say emphatically, “In our mandate to alleviate human suffering, we have to address the suffering of the planet.” In fact, given our theology of creation and our calling to be the people of God, she suggested that perhaps The Book of Discipline should expressly mandate that we help alleviate the suffering of all creation as well.

By way of illustration, she shared a story about Gayle Lesure, a Church and Community Worker and Deaconess in Clarksburg, West Virginia. Gayle works with the poor and her ministry has been to help provide affordable housing for low income folks. Recently a natural gas company came to Clarksburg to do fracking in the area.  The gas company brought in experienced frackers from outside the state, and is not employing local people from Clarksburg. Gail discovered that the landlords who used to rent houses and apartments to low income folks were evicting them, refurbishing the houses and charging higher rents to the company workers. Gail realized that something must be done.

“Gail is not an environmentalist, but as an advocate for affordable housing, she is realizes that she must  look at what we are doing to the earth and how that impacts her ministry with the poor,” Honeycutt said.

Gail’s story reminds me of the struggles of indigenous peoples of the Philippines. When the lands and forests are invaded, mined, and destroyed by loggers and workers hired by foreign multinational companies, Mother Earth suffers tremendously, and people get sick, hungry, and lose their cultural roots and identity. People die as forests are destroyed. I heard people in the Philippines say: “The land does not belong to us, we belong to the land.”

Like a child, we stand in awe of creation’s beauty and wonder.  Like a child, we lay wounded as Mother Earth is abused. But I find hope amidst hopelessness. We know that up to the present time, all of creation groans with pain, like the pain of childbirth. (Romans 8: 21-22) Like St. Paul, I look to the future “in the hope that creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay”. (Romans 8:20-21)

 “What does creation care have to do with mission?” It was interesting to note answers coming from the staff discussion. For example, our response to disasters involving mud slides and flooding in places where trees have been destroyed; studying the correlation between climate change, drought, lack of clean water and disease; or the fact that rising sea level is beginning to destroy a number of island nations. By being responsible stewards of God’s creation, we do participate in God’s mission to renew ALL creation. Transforming the world begins with changing our life style, checking our carbon footprints, reducing consumption and waste, studying how multinational corporations work, etc. We realize how important it is for us to make sure that our daily work on behalf of Global Ministries is aligned with God’s mission for the care and integrity of creation.

Creation Care?  God’s creation cares and provides for us humans before we extend care. And thanks be to God, creation care ministry is our humble offering in repairing the world, in restoring right relationships with one another, with the creation, and with the Creator God whose grace redeems all.

 I invite you to reflect further on how creation care may affect your life, work, and our mission, and to share your story or experience with us.

 

For more informatiion:    

Caretakers of God's Creation Website

Caretakers of God's Creation Facebook Page



[1] See, e.g., God’s Renewed Creation: Call to Hope and Action, A Pastoral Letter from the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church, November 3, 2009. Other United Methodist resources are available on God’s Renewed Creation website, www.hopeandaction.org.

Comments

  1. keijo leppioja says:
    Joy and joy and thank you to the lord that we can help the creations to joy and praise the Lord t he made me and you to be his glory and joy and we can help and God love our mission to the creation too,thanks and bless,keijo sweden
    May 8th, 2014

Elizabeth S. Tapia

Rev. Elizabeth S. Tapia, Ph.D. is the director of Mission Theology (Mission Theology and Evaluation unit) for Global Ministries, The United Methodist Church in New York City. She is an Elder in the Bulacan Philippines Annual Conference.

About This Blog

Read and comment on a range of personal reflections and perspectives about poverty and Ministry with the Poor. Our goal is to attract diverse voices and points of view from United Methodists and friends, including people and communities living in conditions of poverty, other experts, religious leaders, community organizers, advocates, policy makers, volunteers, and all engaged in Ministry with the Poor.