God's Creation in Crisis: Stockton UMC Responds


By Cheryl Marcum

“God’s creation is in crisis.” This emphatic statement by The Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church conjures a similar word picture drawn by the prophet, Isaiah (Isaiah 24:5-NRSV) and the apostle, Paul (Romans 8:22-NRSV). In 2009, The Council of Bishops published “God’s Renewed Creation: A Call to Hope and Action,” a pastoral letter, a foundation document and study material.     
Through these materials, The Council of Bishops admonishes United Methodists to “practice social and environmental holiness.” “Care for God’s people and God’s planet. Challenge those whose policies and practices neglect the poor, exploit the weak, and hasten global warming. Learn the positions of the United Methodist Church on these issues and consider the many options for response and action recommended by our General Conference.[1] Conserve natural resources and use only renewable resources in every gathering and every ministry of our congregations and Church. Become partners with other groups already active in defending God’s creation… Interact with those in power over community, national, and international policies to change systems and structures that destroy, deplete, or damage the earth.” (Participant Material, Session 2, p. 1-2)
Our Council of Bishops challenges us United Methodists to boldly step out in faith to help renew God’s good creation. “Despite the ways we all contribute to these problems, God still invites each one of us to participate in the work of renewal. We must begin the work of renewing creation by being renewed in our own hearts and minds. We cannot help the world until we change our way of being in it.” (The Pastoral Letter, p. 1)
Years ago, God began calling believers at Stockton United Methodist Church to take deliberate actions to care for his good creation. Our United Methodist Women (UMW) began organizing semi-annual rummage sales. Used items gained extended life in the hands of new owners. Over time, our UMW began sewing fabric scraps into beautiful, warm comforters for victims of serious loss, such as homes destroyed by fire, and crocheting and knitting donated leftover yarn into prayer shawls to comfort those in distress. Years later, our UMW began collecting multitudes of items for recycling and for re-purposing, extending the life of even more materials. The United Methodist Men began collecting and recycling aluminum cans. By 2010, the UMW published and distributed an annual Guide to Recycling in Stockton, a comprehensive list of local recycling outlets and materials accepted. All of these actions reduce the burden of “stuff” we bury in our local landfill. The United Methodist Men picked up trash along the highway. They cut and donated firewood, a local sustainable heating energy source. Over time, the church culture reflected pride in and respect for these sustainable lifestyle choices that help renew God’s good creation.
In 2012, God inspired new momentum for this church to more deliberately act to care for his good creation. The church council approved a new creation care ministry comprised of three interconnected components: small group short Bible studies, monthly community forums called Global Weirding Conversations, and an active “Go Green” Team. Each component appeals to people in different places in their Christian journey.
Small group short Bible studies. Adults examine God’s word for instruction about how he intends us to interact with the rest of his good creation. Studies to date: “Earthbound: Created + Called to Care for Creation” (Lutheran-ELCA)—Tuesday evenings for 8 weeks; “God’s Renewed Creation, The Council of Bishops Call to Hope and Action” (United Methodist)—Tuesday evenings for 8 weeks; The Green Bible Trail Guide, from the back of “The Green Bible”—Sunday mornings for 16 weeks.
Monthly Global Weirding Conversations. SUMC invites the community to bring open hearts and minds through our open doors to explore and talk out loud together about one of many interconnected issues that affect God’s good creation. We screen and discuss movies, news and research reports; engage guest speakers and take field trips as we explore issues such as energy, land use and food, water and air pollution, population growth, and climate change. Forums to date: Our Plastic Oceans; Our Food Connections; Our 2012 Food and Farm Bill; Global Warming; “Dirt! The Movie!;” “Renewal” documentary; “Dirty Business: Clean Coal and the Battle for our Energy Future” documentary; Our Waste and Recycling, “Vanishing of the Bees” documentary, and a field trip to Ozarks Watershed Center near Springfield.
“Go Green” Team. A highly motivated small group that acts to help renew God’s good creation, acts of discipleship. Actions completed to date: Celebrated Earth Day 2012 with our first Creation Care Sunday worship service; led a bus trip to NASA Public Viewing Night at Missouri State University’s Baker Observatory near Marshfield, Mo. to view celestial objects in God’s good creation through powerful telescopes; stopped using Styrofoam cups all of the time and started using ceramic mugs part of the time; started saving church coffee grounds for composting; partnered with Stockton R-1 School District to help establish raised bed gardens to teach students in grades K-4 to grow their own food; collected dead electronics for responsible recycling as a SERVE2013 event—collected 158 items (including 48 TVs, 16 computers, 19 monitors, and 13 printers/scanners/faxes) and saved the community $1,320 in recycling fees plus 130-mile round trip transportation costs. The “Go Green” Team committed to 21 additional actions through December 2014—big actions like conducting a church facility energy audit (see Resolution 1027) and little actions like switching to Fair Trade coffee for all church fellowship activities (see Resolution 4022).
Our Council of Bishops “beseech every United Methodist, every congregation and every public leader: Will you participate in God’s renewing work? We are filled with hope for what God can accomplish through us, and we pray you respond: ‘We will, with God’s help.’” (The Pastoral Letter, p. 2)
For more information about the Stockton UMC creation care ministry, contact Cheryl Y. Marcum at (renew.creation@gmail.com) or (417) 276-2501.

[1] Read “The Book of Resolutions of the United Methodist Church — 2012,” online at http://www.umc.org and “The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church--2012,” Social Principle 1: Our Natural World, online at http://umc-gbcs.org.