By Rev. Laura Baumgartner and Ann Mayer

We’ve begun a new chapter of intentional interdependence among the human and beyond-human populations in the Greater Northwest Area! With welcoming Bishop Bridgeforth and hearing his dreams for our church to lead toward a more sustainable future in his sermon at the Opening Session of the Alaska Annual Conference and passing legislation at the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference, it is clear that we know we are called to a more sustainable future with the rest of creation and that we take that call seriously. Some of the initiatives are beginning to gain momentum and some will take longer to see to fruition, but we can all take action where we are. 

Bishop Bridgeforth’s challenge to us to engage in Ministry that Matters, as part of his ‘M’ sermon from the M-I-L-E series, included these “What if” questions related to our care for our common home and its inhabitants for us to consider:

  • What if we took one action step to address climate care in every one of our ministry settings? 
  • What if we made a public declaration that the United Methodists of the Greater Northwest Area commits ourselves to lessen our carbon footprint in at least three ways over the next three years? 
  • What if the United Methodist church became synonymous with “that’s a place I can charge my car?” 

What if, indeed! 

In addition to the inspiration of our bishop, the members of the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference also took action, setting in motion several new steps toward a more just future for our church, lived out with respect and honor for all, especially those who have been most impacted by the extractive behaviors of the past. 

Conference members passed five resolutions:

  1. Faith Foundation Northwest will receive a request to divest from fossil fuels for all funds
  2. Local congregations are invited to divest from fossil fuels for investments
  3. Conference and local congregations are invited to build partnerships outside of the UMC with those most affected by climate change. Partnerships are prioritized with organizations led by BIPOC, Women, Youth, and low-income persons to encourage humility, justice, and solidarity.
  4. General Conference 2024 is requested to add fossil fuels as a screen for investments in The Book of Discipline.
  5. PNW Conference has pledged to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2040 and invited local churches to reduce carbon emissions by 50% in the same time. 

We referred a sixth petition to the Connectional Table, with a request for a report on progress in a year, which is to establish a full-time staff position to support local church efforts, equip local church leaders, and develop new leaders for the work of creation, climate, and environmental justice. 

The complete language of the five environmental justice and creation care resolutions that passed in the PNW Annual Conference and the one that was referred to the Connectional Table is available online. 

There are many who are working on getting started on these plans. PNW Conference folks should expect to see a letter arriving at your church soon with information on divestment. As well, watch for announcements about teams and tool kits being formed for congregations wishing to move toward a net-zero pledge. In addition, clergy will soon have access to a tutorial about making sure their pensions are invested in ways that are consistent with their values and commitments. 

For those who don’t want to wait any longer, there are also ways to get involved right now. 

Connect with others who are doing the work

A Facebook group has been formed that has many resources and connections for those wishing to be a part of this work in our area. The United Methodist Greater Northwest Creation Justice Movement page allows us to share and collaborate on efforts happening all around us. 

In addition, the United Methodist Creation Justice Movement connects people both here in the GNW and also across the world to collaborate in ways that support each other. Sign up for the monthly newsletter with the United Methodist Creation Justice Movement, including articles as well as monthly creation care tips.

Learn more

Many districts will be hosting workshops soon. In addition, United Women in Faith produces many resources and workshops about how people of faith respond creatively and positively to environmental justice and climate change. Attend a workshop or join a book group with a UWF chapter. There are also many ecumenical and interfaith organizations that host events and groups that are already engaged in this work. Consider connecting with your local Interfaith Power and Light organization in Washington or Oregon for instant resources and colleagues. 

Plan a Worship Series with Environmental Justice themes

Plan to join churches around the world that will ecumenically worship with the theme, “Let Justice and Peace Flow” this fall, or when you are able to weave it into your plans. Specifically United Methodist worship materials for the Season of Creation 2023 were written and shared by pastors and lay members of UMC congregations around the country for the Season of Creation and are available now. The authors of the materials hosted a webinar for anyone interested in diving deeper and brainstorming creative ways to implement the season this year. The recording and all the materials shared are available on the UMCJ Movement Cafe website

Start the conversation locally, connect globally

All of our churches have the opportunity to be part of the groundswell of support for the planet and for God’s renewing work among the human population on the planet. Each congregation has the opportunity to begin the conversation about what that means for them. For some, divestment will be first, and for others, a net-zero pledge is the starting point. A great resource for beginning that conversation is to learn about how the general boards and agencies of the United Methodist Church are doing it. Consider watching this video where Jake Barnett ( Wespath) and Rev. Jenny Phillips (Global Ministries) describe the paths forward in their context and let it be the inspiration to begin the conversation elsewhere. 

Of course, these are just some starting points. There will be as many paths toward sustainability as there are ministry contexts in our connection. What’s key is that we begin. If you have questions or ideas, please reach out through the communities above or let one of us know how we can help.

Ann Mayer is a lay member of Federal Way United Methodist Church and a Global Ministries Earthkeeper. 

Rev. Laura Baumgartner is an ordained elder in the Pacific Northwest Conference, serving the Haller Lake United Methodist Church in Seattle, Washington. She is also on the board of Earth Ministry/Washington Interfaith Power and Light.

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