Green Churches Forum Offers Variety of Tools


 (Oneonta, NY) Saturday, September 19th was a brilliant day both outside and inside Elm Park UMC for the clergy and laity from throughout New York and Pennsylvania that gathered for the Green Churches Forum. The Wyoming Conference Social Justice Network, which sponsored the forum, wanted “to give churches practical tools to begin or to continue their creation care ministries,” stated Eric Yetter, chair of the Network. One of the first tools participants encountered was the aroma of Equal Exchange coffee being brewed by Rev. Mark Terwilliger, pastor of Beach Lake UMC in Pennsylvania and tireless advocate of fair-trade products. At the check-in table, participants were given a copy of the schedule printed on the flip side of a previously used sheet of paper.

The forum officially began in the naturally lit sanctuary with keynote speaker, Rev. Pat Watkins, addressing the crowd of over four dozen. An elder in the Virginia Annual Conference and a missionary with the General Board of Global Ministries, Rev. Watkins serves as Executive Director of Caretakers of God’s Creation. He began his remarks by stressing that as Christians we are called to care for creation not for environmental reasons, but because of our relationship with Jesus. The remainder of the hour was an interactive journey through the many scriptures that deal with creation care. “I was impressed by Pat’s ability to be responsive off the top of his head to any given story and its importance to our care for creation,” said Rev. Sara Baron, pastor at Morris UMC in New York.

After the plenary session, participants were able to choose from a variety of workshops, from “How to Start a Creation Care Team in the Local Church” to “Exploring Solar Technologies”. Stacy Wickham, a member of Park Terrace Community UMC in Apalachin, New York, found the workshops she attended to be very informative and helpful. The workshop on chlorine-free paper “provided a lot of useful information on where to buy paper, what types of products we should be looking for and avoiding, and the effects of using paper that's not made in an environmentally friendly way.” She plans on encouraging her church to purchase more eco-friendly paper from now on.

The United Methodist Women from First UMC of Oneonta and Elm Park dazzled participants with a scrumptious lunch featuring primarily local products—including the sausage used in the strata. “I appreciated that they were so intentional in their planning of the meal, especially the use of local and organic ingredients,” said Joan Goodell, a member of Vestal UMC. It was also the first time many participants experienced biodegradable plates and utensils, yet another tool participants were able to add to their growing collection.

Satiated and eager to learn more, participants encountered additional tools to take back to their local churches in the afternoon workshops. Rev. Baron credits the workshop she attended on energy audits for inspiring her congregation to schedule an audit by NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority).

The Forum concluded with worship, which featured Creation-centered readings, prayers, hymns, and Communion liturgy. After the benediction, participants remained in the sanctuary for quite some time chatting and exchanging ideas. It was indeed evident that the Forum had inspired the participants. Eric Yetter shared that “many folks had positive comments about what they learned and the connections they made.” Numerous participants expressed a hope that the Green Churches Forum will become a regular occurance.