Watkins brings Caretakers of God’s Creation to General Conference
By the Rev. Judy Worthington, pastor of Bethel Belle Haven charge, Eastern Shore
Pat Watkins discusses Creation Care with visitors to the
booth at General Conference.
“My presence here at General Conference has affirmed to me that we have United Methodists all over the world who care deeply about caring for God’s creation.” said Pat Watkins, executive director of Caretakers of God’s Creation. “They are not just the liberal, white folks in the United States, but people all over the world care about it.“
Watkins came to General Conference after being invited by Bishop Timothy Whitaker, episcopal leader of the Florida Conference and chair of the Council of Bishops’ task force on God’s Renewed Creation.
Watkins has been staffing a display on Caretakers of God’s Creation that is part of the General Board of Church and Society booth in the General Conference exhibit hall.
Watkins is the first and only Church & Community Worker, a domestic missionary classification of the General Board of Global Ministries, assigned to raise awareness to the relationship between one’s faith and responsibility to care for God’s creation.
“I have seen people and heard stories from people around the world who care deeply about the suffering of our planet because they are very close to the problems,” Watkins said. “We in the U.S. are often sheltered from many of the issues that they have to live with every day of their lives.”
Watkins said a man from the Philippines told him about the devastating impact of copper mining and deforestation in his country.
“A Nigerian delegate told me that Chinese businesses and industry had come to Nigeria to buy land in order to mine minerals. The people were able to get good prices so they were selling their land,” Watkins said, “but a pastor realized that without the land there wasn’t going to be land to raise enough food. So he asked his congregation not to sell their land.”
Caretakers of God’s Creation began as a ministry of the Virginia Conference. Its purpose is to raise the awareness of United Methodists to the connection between faith and the responsibility to care for and heal God's creation.
At a meeting held last January at St. Matthew’s United Methodist Church in Annandale, hosted by the Virginia Conference Caretakers of God’s Creation ministry, United Methodists from across the United States discussed establishing a denomination-wide ministry of caring for God’s creation.
At that meeting, the group authorized Watkins to serve as coordinator and form a steering committee to move forward with formation of the denomination-wide ministry.
Caretakers of God’s Creation has three areas of focus – educate around the role of the church in creation care; provide a resource to annual conferences to promote their roles as caretakers and help develop curriculum; and facilitate connections between individual caretakers and conferences around the world.
Watkins is working to advance these goals by:
• Forming a task force among professors of science and theology to have more deep theological and scientific conversation around creation care.
• Providing and resourcing theologically-based United Methodist creation care curriculum including Vacation Bible School and other curricula.
• Offering webinars and training on how to create a creation care structure for annual conferences.
• Providing a creation care certification process and award
• Building an electronic community around the world who care about God’s creation in order to share stories, build a sense of community, build awareness, and empower one another.
Watkins said that while we in the U.S. have had an environmental focus for a long time, the realization that our planet is interconnected is relatively new – what happens in one place affects the lives of people elsewhere.
“An Angolan woman told me farmers in her area can’t return to their farms because of landmines,” Watkins said. “Without their farms they have no income. She was making a connection between issues of war and poverty.
“Those connections have never before been made by the church: war and poverty, disease and environmental degradation, poverty and violence,” Watkins said. “The bishop’s work on God’s Renewed Creation is the first time there has been a focus on those connections. And unless we make those connections, we will not be able to solve any of them.”