To the Rev. Dr. Sarah Fernsler, the EarthKeepers training planned for August 8-11 at Arch Street UMC in Philadelphia is “an incredible learning opportunity” to make a positive impact on the health of our planet. It’s also a convenient one. Her own 2017 training was done in Arkansas.
EarthKeepers is a training program that equips US-based United Methodist clergy and laity to engage in environmental projects in their churches and communities. Participants learn eco-theology, community organizing, anti-racism and project planning. They learn to translate their passions into action. Global Ministries covers training expenses, food and lodging during the event.
“Do you ever listen to the news and feel a sense of despair about the state of the world’s environment and climate change?” asked Fernsler, retired after two careers as a long-time pediatrician and ordained pastor. “When I did my training, it was exciting to realize that I am not alone in my love of God’s creation and my commitment to caring for this beautiful world in which we live. “
Each day of her training included worship led by the clergy and lay participants from diverse backgrounds. “My spirit was uplifted by these times of prayer and praise and reflection.” That uplift was important, she said, because “the environmental issues we face sometimes seem overwhelming.”
Fernsler and her fellow EarthKeepers have since been involved in various environmental projects in their churches and communities, as expected. They share their news on an EarthKeepers Facebook page, along with resources and ideas.
“My own call to this ministry has been lifelong,” she said, “and it was a joy for me to learn that I am part of a large and committed group of United Methodists who have felt this call as well. I feel saddened and at times hopeless when I see more and more news about the seriousness of the world’s environmental crisis. Because I feel that many of our environmental problems have their roots in spiritual issues, my hope was rekindled by meeting with others who shared my understanding of the issues and love of God’s beautiful creation.“
“Bishop (Peggy) Johnson has been extremely supportive of the EarthKeepers ministry,” she said, “and she was excited about my proposal to create an EarthKeeping extension ministry as an ordained elder. In addition to being available to preach on creation care from a Scriptural basis, I love teaching groups about the many uses of herbs. My biggest joy has been the time spent in my EarthKeepers garden.”
Fernsler is active with the Lehigh Valley Beekeepers Association and maintains two hives herself. She has taken the Early Response Team training for certification to be among the first to respond to natural disasters; and she joined the Committee on Native American Ministry (CONAM) “because many of our issues are shared.”
Fernsler encourages anyone in Eastern PA to “come meet, train and network with other EarthKeepers who are caring for God’s creation.” Sadly, she won’t be at the training because she will officiating her son’s wedding ceremony at a camp in the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York that weekend. “But I’d love to host an EarthKeeper Garden tour, party and networking event at our home in in Orefield, in the Lehigh Valley, after the training,” she said.
“I hope this training opportunity will be a blessing for the Eastern PA Conference,” said the Rev. Jenny Phillips, Creation Care Program Manager for UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief).
“This year EarthKeepers will have opportunities to work with their local churches, conferences or other non-profits to apply for small grants of up to $10,000 from UMCOR to support their projects,” reports Phillips. Projects receiving grants must include a theological component and a component that addresses an aspect of racism and/or environmental justice.
Past EarthKeeper projects have included community gardens to address food security, energy efficiency programs, recycling and waste management programs, community organizing and advocacy projects, and green team development at the local church, district and conference levels.
Participants must complete five hours of homework in the month prior to training. They should plan to commit 10 hours/month to their projects for at least six months following the training. Participants may join or help form a regional or online cohort group following the program.
Download the flyer for the 2019 EarthKeepers trainings.
Learn more about the EarthKeepers training at https://www.umcmission.org/learn-about-us/events/earthkeepers.
Learn more about Sarah Fernsler’s own EarthKeepers training in Sarah Fernsler, Eastern PA’s new EarthKeeper