By Elliott Wright*
Atlanta, Georgia, June 7, 2017—A strong United Methodist advocate for sound environmental policy and practice is becoming the manager of creation care ministries for the denomination’s worldwide mission agency, the General Board of Global Ministries.
| PHOTO: WESPATH
The Rev. Jenny Phillips has been minister for environmental stewardship and advocacy of the Pacific Northwest Annual (regional) Conference for three and a half years and has been involved in creation care for a decade. The conference program in large part equips local churches to understand and take part in advocacy and action related to climate change, control of carbon emissions, and other dangers of fossil fuels.
“Jenny comes to Global Ministries at a particularly opportune time, a time when greater need for rational environmental policy and practice is colliding with political agendas, particularly the decision of the United States to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change,” said Thomas Kemper, chief executive of the agency, in announcing Phillips’ appointment, effective July 1.
Global Ministries has mission personnel in some 60 countries and projects and mission partners in some 60 others.
The creation care staff position relates to the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), the international disaster relief and development unit of Global Ministries. “UMCOR has been engaged in environmental issues for many decades,” said Dr. Olusimbo Ige, MD, interim executive director of the unit. “Our programs in disaster relief, migration, sustainable agriculture, food security, clean water and hygiene, and community economic development all deal with climate factors. We keep expanding our environmental range in response to emerging needs.”
Phillips will coordinate training for EarthKeepers, a new grassroots program to equip and certify laity and clergy for creation care ministries. She will also monitor and report on emerging trends and issues related to climate change and humanitarian concerns. And she will develop, promote, and manage grants from the Creation Care Advance, a designated mission giving channel.
“Our churches serve on the front lines of climate change around the world,” said Phillips, anticipating her role at Global Ministries. “As a denomination with a global vision, we are uniquely positioned to bear witness to the importance of engaging the climate crisis for the sake of God’s people and for the integrity of God’s creation."
Phillips is an ordained elder of the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference and a 2005 graduate of Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. She worked as a development officer at the seminary for four years, and she managed the Camp and Retreat Certification Program at Drew University Theological School in Madison, New Jersey.
Across the past decade, she has served as a consultant on climate issues to numerous United Methodist and ecumenical agencies and programs. She has written articles on the Bible and the environment and online devotional material for the American Bible Society.
Creation care, including climate change, is a major emphasis of the bishops and program agencies of The United Methodist Church.
Kemper said that Global Ministries strongly identified with the early June statement of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, responding to President Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement, affirming United Methodist commitment to creation care.
“By caring for God’s people and God’s planet, we offer ourselves as instruments of God’s renewing Spirit in the world calling for social and environmental holiness,” the bishops said. “We will do this by challenging those whose policies and practices neglect the poor, exploit the weak, and harm the environment.” The statement also asked President Trump to reconsider the decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement.
“The church knows firsthand about the devastating effects of global warming,” Kemper said. “The Rev. Jerusha Neal, one of our missionaries returning to the United States from the South Pacific, posted the following on Facebook:
On my last week in Fiji, the president of the Methodist Church, the Rev. Dr. Tevita Nawadra Banivanua, asked me to do one thing upon returning to the United States. ‘If you are ever close to Donald Trump, tell him that climate change is real. Over 40 villages relocated because of rising tides. 90 per cent of the Great Barrier Reef bleached. Stronger and stronger cyclones at greater and greater frequency. I can’t say it to Donald Trump, but maybe we can say it together.’”
*Elliott Wright is Information Consultant for Global Ministries.