Conference focuses on faith's connection to environment

Sunday, April 26, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Not everyone sees a relationship between preserving the planet and their faith, but for 80 people at the Show-Me Creation Care Conference in Columbia on Saturday, the connection seemed rather obvious.

“I can’t be a Christian and not do everything in my power to protect God’s creation,” said the Rev. Pat Watkins, the keynote speaker for the event.

Watkins said there is Scripture that states people should be stewards of creation and have a relationship with the Earth, but the passages are often overlooked in some churches.

“We’re so focused on the relationship between God and people, we don’t even pick up on that part of the Scripture,” he said.

Joyce Eaton, a member of New Hope United Methodist Church in Arnold, said some members in her congregation do not see a strong connection between faith and protecting the environment. It has been difficult to motivate people to form a Green Team, so currently, "green" activities have been coordinated by the church's Social Justice Team. However, the congregation has been making strides.

At church, Eaton enjoys coffee in her personalized white mug decorated with yellow flowers. The church installed a pegged board for coffee mugs in order to cut back on the number of Styrofoam cups they were using.

“It’s full,” Eaton said of the board that she estimated to be about three feet wide and two feet tall. “We’re going to have to get another one.”

Eaton and other members of the Social Justice-Green Team attended the creation care conference to learn how to make their church more environmentally friendly and find tips for how to get more members of the congregation involved.

“Don’t start with the issues. Start with faith,” said Watkins, who led a workshop on creating a more environmentally conscious church. “Not everybody in your congregation cares about recycling, but what you do hold in common with them is faith.”

Watkins said Green Teams at churches should incorporate church leaders in their activities and plan liturgy  around  Green Team initiatives in order to strengthen the correlation between faith and taking care of the planet.

Other workshops held at the conference included ways participants could make their homes more energy efficient, forums led by residents of alternative communities that created their own energy, and discussions on global warming.

John Hill, a member of the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church, led the workshop on global warming. He said faith places an emphasis on the social justice component of taking care of the Earth.

“People have been talking about the purely environmental consequences,” he said. He said it is also important to realize how those consequences affect people living around the world.

“People of faith started giving a voice to that concern,” he said.

Organizer Terri Williams said it was important to realize the power of change people could have if they worked together. Most of the participants of the conference were  Methodist, but Williams said she hopes the conference will grow into an annual interfaith event. In total, around 80 people attended the conference. Pre-conference events included a stream cleanup and a concert.

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