By Rick Wolcott*
“All creation is the Lord’s, and we are responsible for the ways in which we use and abuse it. Water, air, soil, minerals, energy, resources, plants, animal life, and space are to be valued and conserved because they are God’s creation and not solely because they are useful to human beings. God has granted us stewardship of creation. We should meet these stewardship duties through acts of loving care and respect.” – ¶160, “The Natural World,” The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church, 2016
In response to God’s call to care for the goodness of creation, the United Methodist Church of Berea (North Coast District) and Ridgewood United Methodist Church in Parma (North Coast District) collaborated to host a Creation Justice Fair on Saturday, April 23.
The fair included information tables from 18 organizations, a rain barrel workshop, a children’s station, an interactive mural, and a plant sale. It also featured speakers from the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (watershed treatment), US Together (refugee resettlement in Cleveland), City Fresh (the importance of eating local food), and the Interreligious Task Force on Central America and Columbia (environmental degradation and dispossession of land).
“People attending this event see all kinds of things that are related to taking care of the earth everything from food insecurities, how to be more organic, how to use natural resources, how to get your child more educated about thinking about the earth at a very young age, sustainability, and more,” said Kevin Schaner, secretary of global ministries for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.
Barb Dawson said the idea for the Creation Justice Fair came to her after attending the Zoom workshop Loving People and Planet in the Name of God: Engaging the Local Church. Held over five two-hour sessions in February and March 2021 the workshop, sponsored by the United Methodist Creation Justice movement, prepared participants to understand creation care and climate justice in the Wesleyan tradition.
“I retired in 2019 and was looking for something in which to get involved and decided to study about climate change. I took classes during the pandemic at Cuyahoga Community College and began reading what The United Methodist Church was doing about combating climate change,” said Dawson, who was then invited by the chair of the UMC Berea Church & Society Committee to attend the workshop. “Three of us from the church participated in the conference and talked afterward about what we could do. We started by adding a phrase to our welcome statement saying that it’s for all creation not just for ourselves and our relationship with God but it’s also our love for all creation. So, we did that and then we started planning for this fair, which we’ve been working on since last June.
Claire Jencson shared that her involvement in United Women in Faith (formerly United Methodist Women) led to Ridgewood UMC partnering with UMC Berea for this learning event.
“I’m the social actions chair for the North Coast District United Women in Faith so I took part in the Zoom conference last year and met Wendy from UMC Berea and she recommended to her church that they call me so that Ridgewood UMC could work with them on this Creation Justice Fair,” she said. “Through Volunteers in Mission and Global Ministries I heard about EarthKeepers and met Kevin Schaner and I learned about the missions and community engagement work that Rev. Kathy Dickriede is doing in the East Ohio Conference, and I thought it was important work for our church to become involved with and Pastor Karen (Wolcott) was very supportive and encouraging.”
Global Ministries EarthKeepers is a training program that equips US-based United Methodists to launch and grow environmental projects in their communities. Topics include eco-theology, anti-racism, community organizing, and project planning. All participants plan a project during the training.
“This event today was actually Barb Dawson’s EarthKeepers project,” offered Schaner, who, along with Jencson, is also an EarthKeeper.
“It’s been an interesting and an exciting journey from my perspective,” said the Rev. Dr. Nathan Howe, pastor of UMC Berea. “After participating in the conference Barb, Betsy and Wendy had some ideas and I immediately said, ‘yes,’ because that’s my job to encourage others. I thought it was really fun too because it connects with the long history of this congregation which at least since the 1970s has been interested in both doing work with its own building, doing work in its own neighborhood, and also advocating for creation justice for better stewardship of God’s creation.”
Two of the early speakers at the Creation Justice Fair highlighted the need to care for the Earth’s water.
Jared Bartley, deputy director Watersheds/Education for the Cuyahoga Soil & Water Conservation District led a class on how to make rain barrels out of 55-gallon drums.
“We want you to have a rain barrel because collecting that water will help cut down on erosion,” he said. “When it rains water from rooftops and parking lots goes down the sewer and into Lake Erie but before it gets to the Lake it goes to the nearest little stream and ditch and then to the river but while it collects and sits in the streams it causes erosion and downcutting, it blows out the habitat, lots of extra sediment, it can cause lots of issues for infrastructure but also for water quality.”
He explained that on a 1,000 square foot impervious surface like a 40’x25’ roof it only takes 1/10th of an inch of rain to generate 60 gallons of runoff. Roof shingles will absorb some of the water and gutters may lose some, but it won’t take long to collect water that can be used for good instead of aiding in erosion.
Meiring Borcherds of the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District shared updates on Project Clean Lakes, a 25-year program that will reduce pollution in Lake Erie by four billion gallons per year through a combination of large tunnels, improvements and expansion of treatment plants, and green infrastructure.
“Over 100 years ago the way that they treated the sanitary was through combined sewer systems. There were two trenches, a trench for the poop water and just next to it was a smaller open trench for the storm water from the streets,” he said during his presentation. “On a dry day it was not a problem, the waste gets to our treatment facility but when it rains this storm water pipe overflows and mixes with the wastewater and all storm water goes to the closest creek. Storm water does not go to a wastewater treatment plant. One of the ways that we are addressing that is through Project Clean Lake, which is expected to be completed in 2034.”
Dawson shared that much thought went into inviting the different agencies and organizations because they wanted participants to have opportunities to learn about a variety of issues affecting our planet.
“I want people to take away from this fair at least one idea that they can make a difference with that they can do to either change something or help or to share with other people to make a difference. That’s why we tried to cast the net fairly wide,” she said.
“It’s an extraordinary opportunity to bring together people from the community who are working on this from different angles, different perspectives and to get to see the cross-pollination of ideas, and energy, and excitement that’s already available in the community,” Howe added.
“I think it’s important that individuals as well as our churches need to take a stand and need to advocate for positive use of our environment and of God’s creation,” offered Jencson.
The Conference Communications team would like to share other stories that highlight ways that each of us is answering the call of Bishop Tracy S. Malone to reach out to our communities in creative ways. Please e-mail your ministry story to firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Rick Wolcott is the executive director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.