By John W. Coleman
Marion Grayson and her church, Cokesbury UMC in Marcus Hook, Pa., are seeking new ideas to help feed their community, a place with plenty of working-poor families but a lack of good-quality, affordable food.
And she may have found some new ideas during a visit to The People’s Garden, managed by Serenity House in North Philadelphia (1201 W Lehigh Ave.), thanks to training offered by the EarthKeepers program of United Methodist Global Ministries.
Arch Street UMC in Philadelphia hosted the August 8-11 training, which included the visit to Serenity House, its extended community outreach ministry. Grayson was one of 22 trainees of EarthKeepers, a three-year-old program that equips United Methodist clergy and laity in the U.S. to engage in environmental projects in their churches and communities.
Six participants live or work in Eastern PA. Others came from the Susquehanna Conference and from New Jersey, Maryland, Washington DC, Tennessee and North Georgia. They learned about eco-theology, community organizing for social change, anti-racism, project planning and other aspects of environmental justice and stewardship, along with protecting and caring for God’s Creation. Global Ministries covered their training and lodging expenses for the event.
Participants had to examine and articulate an understanding of themselves and their communities in regard to the environmental challenges they want to address, as well as strategic methods, resources, potential partnerships and desired outcomes.
Grayson described Marcus Hook’s poverty and lack of grocery stores—making it a “food desert”—but also her church’s nutritional survival ministries, which include providing neighbors with a food pantry, community fellowship suppers on first Sundays, “budget meals in a bag,” and its summer Lunch & Learn program for children. Now, she wants to help the church develop a community garden and train neighbors how to plan, grow, harvest and manage their own plots.
Other EarthKeepers trainees will explore developing community gardens but also increasing home use of solar energy, encouraging recycling and waste management, advocacy for environmental justice and teaching stress management and other self-care skills to busy peers. Some may apply for small grants from UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief), which administers the EarthKeepers program for Global Ministries.
“Our participants came from a variety of economic, racial and theological backgrounds, and they were curious about and respectful of each other’s stories and perspectives,” said the Rev. Jenny Phillips (left), UMCOR’s Creation Care Program Manager.
The training offers a strong focus on racial prejudice, white privilege, environmental racism, and other forms of oppression. The Philadelphia training was the seventh and most diverse one yet, said Phillips. “We became more deeply aware of the work we need to do to build the Beloved Community—a society described by Martin Luther King Jr. as one in which all share in the fruits of creation without discrimination.”
The next EarthKeepers training events are in Austin, Texas, Sept 26-29, (deadline to apply is August 23) and in Chicago, Oct 24-27 (deadline to apply is Sept. 16). Learn more at www.umcmission.org/earthkeepers.