Annual Conference Action
April 19th 2023
10am PT / 11am MT / 12pm CT / 1pm ET
Annual Conference Action
Couldn’t make it? Here’s what happened.
The April Movement Cafe highlighted the various Creation Care initiatives of our Annual Conference working teams across the country. This focus on Creation Care began at the National Summit in 2019, according to Karen McElfish, Chair of the UMCJM Annual Conference Committee, and have developed various ways to reach out to everyone from laity to bishops in order to forge ways to work together. As UMCJM leader Cathy Velaquez Eberhart noted, “…These conferences allow us to find structure in the United Methodist Church and find ways to work together to heal the planet and our relationship with it.”
Ms. McElfish also noted that the Annual Conference team honors churches each year with a Green Church award, to help lift up the Conference and to give creed to this green church initiative.
Various Annual Conference team leaders shared out about how the work their teams were focused on and how about who they were and the work they were accomplishing:
Cara Fleischer, Florida Conference, is a Creation Team Task Team Chair for the Florida Conference and an Earthkeeper. Her group sees Creation Care as a faith walk, leading with joy, gratitude and love for God’s creation. She says that her group’s focus is to expand their outreach as much as possible and to encourage Creation Care leaders to meet their churches where they are on the sustainability initiative spectrum and support them as much as possible. This comes with the understanding that when a church begins a Creation Care ministry, they began to focus through a sustainability prism on these issues, and so it is important to get as many churches involved as possible so the message is spread as far as possible. They have a Creation Care Task Force which implements various initiatives and is comprised of one member from each district. Communicating on social media platforms and other avenues is important as they want to find and connect with all who want to get involved and ensure they are aware of Creation Care opportunities.
Their initiatives include an Eat, Pray, Grow program for those interested in Creation Care where folks gather, eat, and participate in a leadership growth program. They also are following up on a resolution that encouraged churches to go plastic and foam free. Additionally, they are hosting a May Training on how to “Start a Creation Team in Six Simple Steps”. Movement Cafe attendees were invited to attend and can register here.
Kimberly Hornung-Marcy is from the New England Conference. She is Chair of Conference Society, and a retired clergy,who retired in 2020 to focus on climate change. Her Conference will be hiring a part-time climate coordinator and she spoke about strategies for others to get the funding needed to hire staff. She recommends reading A Spirituality of Fundraising by Henri J Nouwen, which has some good insights into fundraising. When looking to hire staff in this area, she suggests working with allies (other groups that share your concerns) who can support you. She also suggested reaching out to the monetary sources within your Conference, having a key committee or group to sponsor a resolution on hiring at the Conference, and follow up if your resolution is passed. She says your Conference legal staff should provide you with an expert to assist you in the hiring process.
Mary Beth Downing is from the Mountain Sky Conference. She is an Earthkeeper, laity and chair of the Green Team at her church. One of her group mantras is that their work is a message of hope. She says, “…Optimism is a feeling that can come and go but hope is a faith conviction with a firm belief.”
She spoke about the work they do and the emphasis on communication as being an integral part of inclusivity. Her conference team includes six working groups: Legislative Advocacy, Local Church Engagement, United Women in Faith, UMCJM, Annual Conference and Communications. They also have a part- time staff person. They meet on a monthly basis and send out a regular Tuesday email blast which updates everyone on the working groups news.. They also produce webinars including one entitled, “It’s not Easy Being Green”, as well as ones focused on legislative advocacy, youth and portfolio management. Knowing that there are people in every congregation who care about this work, they find the challenge is making sure all who do are involved.
Rev. Jonathan Brake and Kim Richmond are from the Western Carolina Conference. Rev. Brake has been involved with UM leadership and helped develop Creation Care Ministry teams across districts and now heads the Global Ministries Earthkeeper program. Kim Richmond leads the Creation Care Ministry team for the conference.
Rev. Brake spoke about the value in being able to fund positions for those engaged in this important work of Creation Care. He shared how his Conference got a staff coordinator position who will coordinate creation care/eco-mission efforts. An Earthkeeper in his program was working on a project to support community that had been impacted by hurricane storm damage. This work not only involved supporting community needs but the need for eco-restoration. There was a recognition that as we experience more natural disasters, there is a need to address the climate injustice that is occurring in communities that are less resilient, more vulnerable and lack the resources to deal with these natural disasters. In light of this intersection between creation care, eco-justice and mission, they were able to garner the support of the Bishop to add an eco-sustainability staff coordinator to their team.
Karen McEflish– In addition to chairing the Annual Conference Team, Ms. McElfish is with the Virginia Conference. She spoke about the importance of engaging Bishops. In November 2021, the Council of Bishops reaffirmed their commitment to the climate crisis. She cited the Bishop pastoral letter of 2009 which pledged to protect God’s creation (link is here) as an important driver of their actions and the need to engage the bishops. She noted some are already on board, but offering positive help and support through engagement is important. outreach and engagement to Bishops from those who are focused on this work is important. Meeting with district superintendents and conference staff is also helpful. She suggested that teams ask for support for their team, funding and advocacy, supporting net zero action and creation justice callings. The June 2022 newsletter has ideas about how to talk to bishops and advocate for their support.
After discussion, the panel broke out into breakout rooms:
- Building Teams– Nancy Blade and Cara Fleischer
- Communications–Mary Beth Downing
- Engaging Bishops–Karen McElfish
- Hiring Strategies–Kim Hornung-Marcy
- Vocation and Curriculum Development–Jonathan Brake
- Developing Partnerships–Kim Richmond and Cathy Velasquez Everhart