Response: November 2014

Caring for Creation in California

Caring for Creation in California
A wind farm provides an alternative power source for residential electricity.

California-Nevada United Methodist Women help lead a leading conference in environmental justice.

“All creation is the Lord’s, and we are responsible for the ways in which we use and abuse it ... God has granted us stewardship of creation.  We should meet these stewardship duties through acts of loving care and respect.” - The Social Principles of The United Methodist Church, The Natural World.

For years the California-Nevada Annual Conference has been a leader in The United Methodist Church's efforts to protect God's creation. And for years United Methodist Women members have helped lead the conference in advocating for environmental justice.

Conference United Methodist Wo-men ministries are examples. Betty Spencer Dickey is coordinator of Green Ministries for California-Nevada Conference United Methodist Women. She also serves as co-dean of Mission u and as president of her local United Methodist Women at Cambrian Park United Methodist Church in San Jose, California. Ms. Dickey travels across the conference giving PowerPoint presentations about environmental issues and writes a regular column about ways members can protect God's creation in At the Cutting Edge, the California-Nevada Conference United Methodist Women newsletter.

"There are so many things about the environment that need our attention: bees, plastics, climate change, water. I'm concerned about all of these things, and it can be hard to narrow it down and decide how to engage," Ms. Dickey said. "I always read what United Methodist Women puts out in order to learn more about the issues, write about them and decide how to engage."

For example, United Methodist Women Action Alert about climate change became source material for one of her columns, she said.

"The United Methodist Women 'Be Just. Be Green.' website is also excellent," she said. "I've found it helpful to have so many resources in one place that focus on environmental justice and what we can do as United Methodist Women. People can go there and find information that they didn't have before."

In April at United Methodist Women's Assembly in Louisville, Kentucky, Ms. Dickey attended the environmental justice town hall, "What Are Our Grandchildren Inheriting? Faithful Living in a Climate-Challenged World."

"There was a panel on climate change and environmental advocate Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org, spoke to us via video conference," Ms. Dickey said. "It was inspiring to hear him because he's been instrumental in there being so many climate change actions around the world. He talks about the many environmental problems we face, but he also points toward actions that can give us hope."

Chlorine-free products

Over the years, California-Nevada conference has passed several significant environmental resolutions. At its 1999 annual conference, it passed "A Dioxin-Free Future," then submitted the resolution to The United Methodist Church's highest legislative body, General Conference, which adopted it in 2000. The purpose of this resolution was to eliminate the production of dioxin, a toxic byproduct of many industrial processes, including the use of chlorine in bleaching paper. Dioxin is a hazard to human health that causes cancers and other diseases.

United Methodist Women took this resolution seriously and developed policies accordingly. In 2005, when United Methodist Women launched its Green Team Environmental Justice Program to activate its members to work on environmental issues in their home communities, one of the first projects was the chlorine-free products campaign.

California-Nevada Conference United Methodist Women continues to honor this commitment. "We try to model sustainability," Ms. Dickey said. "For instance, we are committed to using recycled paper that has been processed chlorine free in our work, and we urge all our districts, local groups and churches to do the same."

Interfaith Power and Light

In 2007 and 2008 California-Nevada adopted resolutions to align its churches and its Annual Conference Center with Interfaith Power and Light (IPL), a faith-based nonprofit that educates faith communities about climate change and facilitates their shift to energy efficiency and renewable power. Many California-Nevada churches have engaged in this work with IPL to become more energy efficient, model good stewardship and advocate for environmentally sustainable practices.

Every year, California IPL awards "Energy Oscars" and recognizes a number of faith communities for their work on environmental education, advocacy and energy efficiency. Cambrian Park United Methodist Church in San Jose was recognized as a finalist at IPL's 2013 Awards Ceremony after the church installed solar panels.

"With help from Interfaith Power and Light, we ended up not spending any money on the solar project up front," Ms. Dickey said. "We're paying it back over 20 years with money saved from our energy bills. We're saving money and helping the environment as well."

The church also installed low-flow toilets, switched to energy efficient light bulbs and landscaped with water-saving native plants.

California IPL has also recognized Davis United Methodist Church in Davis, California, for its outstanding environmental work. The church installed solar panels, switched to washable china, installed LED lights, put in low-flush toilets, planted an orchard and converted unused church land into a vegetable garden—Grace Gardens—which grows food for hungry people in the community. In 2013 Grace Gardens donated 1,665 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables to community food banks.

Cid Barcellos, who conceived of Grace Gardens, said she prayed, "OK, God, if you want me to create this garden, you'll have to make it happen." And that is what happened. "God has provided everything. Someone even donated a shed. It's more than I could have imagined," she said.

Hearts for the Earth

In February 2014, California's Nevada City United Methodist Church and Grass Valley United Methodist Church joined IPL's national "Preach In" about climate change by organizing a coordinated Sunday school project called "Hearts for the Earth." The Sunday school children made Valentines for elected officials, then invited church members to sign IPL's preprinted postcards calling on Senators to support the Environmental Protection Agency's carbon pollution standards for power plants. The national standards were subsequently approved.

Mary Leibke, a member of United Methodist Women at Grass Valley United Methodist Church, oversaw the "Hearts for the Earth" project at her church.

"Children have a natural affinity with the natural world,"­­­­— she said. "They love the earth and they know about climate change. This project gave them a way to help protect God's creation."

Ms. Leibke also serves on the California-Nevada justice and advocacy committee and will be working with other conference boards and committees to follow up on the most recent California-Nevada environmental resolution, "Resolution in support of an investment screen expressing United Methodist Social Principles on the Natural World," which was passed in June. This resolution engages several conference committees and boards in a collaborative effort with the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits to discuss establishing a screen that would preclude investments in companies that create and market certain environmentally harmful products. For instance, the denomination's pensions board is currently invested in oil, coal and gas companies, which create greenhouse gas pollution, contribute to global warming and fund climate-change denial efforts. Several annual conferences are considering calling for divestment from fossil fuels as a response to climate change. Instead of calling for divestment on a company-by-company basis, members of the California-Nevada Annual Conference are hoping to enlist support from the church's pensions board to establish an across-the-board investment screen that reflects "The Natural World" section of our Social Principles.

"United Methodists have acknowledged the reality of climate change for many years," Ms. Leibke said. "We've made some very good statements. If the board of pensions establishes this screen, our investments will better reflect our statements. We'll be practicing what we preach." Ms. Dickey is looking forward to working with this effort.

"I've been watching colleges and some church groups and even the World Council of Churches divest from fossil fuel and wondering how to move our denomination in this direction," she said. "I'm glad to be connected with other United Methodists who are moving forward on this issue."

Lupita Diaz, a member of United Methodist Women at Alum Rock United Methodist Church in San Jose, was one of the 24 original members of United Methodist Women's Green Team environmental justice program. Ms. Diaz continues to advocate for God's creation.

"God created this world and gave it to us because God wanted us to be in a beautiful world," she said. "God wants us to care for the earth, and we haven't been doing a very good job. Why have we destroyed so much? Why did we wait so long? The climate is warming. Why didn't we do something before when we were told? Let's get out of the dormant stage and do what God wants us to do to take care of creation."

Ms. Dickey urges United Methodist Women members to organize green ministries. "I encourage you to ask at your church and your United Methodist Women group to see if there are people who would like to help form or to serve on your Green Team," she said. "This would be a good opening for inviting new people and especially younger members of your church to serve with United Methodist Women.

"Working to find solutions to environmental justice issues can be overwhelming. I end all of my presentations with a quote from the famed British writer and cleric Sydney Smith: 'It is the greatest of all mistakes to do nothing because you can only do a little. Do what you can.'"


Sharon Delgado is a clergywoman in the California-Nevada Annual Conference and executive director of Earth Justice Ministries. Contact her at www.earth-justice.org

Posted or updated: 10/31/2014 11:00:00 PM
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