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Rebecca Barnes named coordinator for the Presbyterian Hunger Program

Ruth Farrell leaves post after 23 years with the church

by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service

Rebecca Barnes, new coordinator for the Presbyterian Hunger Program, receives the William Gibson Lifetime Achievement Award at the Presbyterians for Earth Care Conference in 2015. Photo by Rick Jones

LOUISVILLE – The Presbyterian Hunger Program has a new coordinator. The Rev. Rebecca Barnes has assumed the role from departing Coordinator Ruth Farrell. Since 2011, Barnes has been the associate for Environmental Ministries with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A). She has overseen the certification program for PC(USA) Earth Care Congregations, coordinated the volunteer Environmental Ministries Action Network and resourced Presbyterians on biblical and theological eco-justice concerns.

A graduate of the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Barnes earlier served the PC(USA) from 1999 to 2003 as a young adult intern in national Health Ministries and then as a program assistant with the environmental justice office, coordinating presbytery-based Stewardship of Creation Educators and staffing Presbyterians for Earth Care. Environmental Ministries was incorporated into the Presbyterian Hunger Program in 2012.

“Issues of hunger, poverty and environmental degradation are interconnected. From Fair Trade Coffee and Eco-Palms to community gardens, food sovereignty and defense of resource rights overseas – social justice and environmental justice go hand in hand. Climate change and the commodification and destruction of natural resources are ‘root cause’ hunger issues,” said Barnes.

She believes the hunger program, under Farrell’s leadership, excelled at equipping, connecting and inspiring the church on hunger and poverty issues and she’s excited to see what the new year brings.

“Everyone is doing really high quality [and] high impact work that makes a big difference locally, nationally and globally,” Barnes said. “We are a solid team and have great synergy, passion and commitment in our current work. I anticipate some exciting opportunities as we grow this vision and make even deeper connections in the future.”

Barnes believes listening to and learning with hunger program partners around the world will be key to future success.

“We want to be responsive to what God is calling us to do and we discern that based on what we’re hearing from brothers and sisters overseas and at home,” she said. “I suspect we will continue doing work on fair wages, labor rights, child nutrition and economic justice – from partnering with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to enhancing the minimum wage. Overseas, we will look at trade agreements and their impact on local economies as well as at extractive industries and land grabs.”

In her new role, Barnes will bring her environmental background into the overarching vision for hunger and poverty, education and action.

“I will continue with some environmental justice and climate work,” she said. “However, some of the earth care work, such as receiving and certifying Earth Care congregations may be moved to someone else within the hunger program.”

Outgoing Presbyterian Hunger Program Coordinator Ruth Farrell speaks with staff at a reception in her honor at the Presbyterian Center. (Photo by Rick Jones)

Farrell, meantime, will be moving to Pittsburg. Her husband, Hunter, recently stepped down as director of World Mission in the Presbyterian Mission Agency to become director of the World Mission Initiative at Pittsburg Theological Seminary.

She has served as hunger program coordinator for nine of her 23 years with the church. The couple also served as mission co-workers in the Congo, followed by a decade in Peru focusing on the root causes of poverty. “Peru is an extractive country and we did a lot of work in this area. Over the years, we saw a huge change in laws relating to the industry.”

Farrell also spent a great deal of time working in fair trade, helping local artisans in Peru use their skills to produce export products. “These artisans eventually created their own non-profit and it’s going strong. It has been great to see the results that translated into several million dollars for communities that don’t have an influx of cash like that.”

Looking back on her years with the hunger program, Farrell says there is a lot to be proud of.

“The denomination’s work with the environment is no longer peripheral. It is permanently housed in the hunger and poverty work of the church, and how you treat others and creation are very linked,” she said. “If you can treat creation like its expendable, you may start treating people the same way. I’m grateful for the integration.”

Farrell is also proud of the accomplishments attached to the Joining Hands Program and root cause work overseas.

“We’ve had tremendous successes with trade agreements, requiring transparency now with oil companies and extractive businesses so they now have to publish what they’re paying governments. Now people in those countries can hold these businesses accountable,” she said. “They can also hold their own governments accountable and that has translated into millions of dollars for education, healthcare and transportation needs.”

Despite its successes, Farrell believes more needs to be done in this country to educate the public about the food they eat and the impact that has on global hunger and poverty. “The whole industrial model in the U.S. needs to be re-thought. Here we are in one of the wealthiest nations of the world and yet we are so unhealthy. We weren’t talking about consumption or the wrong kinds of food 20 years ago. Presbyterians are now integrating what they eat, how they eat and its impact on not just their own family but on communities around the world into their own spirituality.”

As Farrell leaves, she has a word of advice for her successor, “Trust your gut.”

“I’m excited to see where Rebecca takes the hunger program. When I started nine years ago, my work was to integrate our global work with national work and make connections there,” she said. “I’m really anxious to see what the next chapter brings. Rebecca has the theological background as well as incredible experience and she’s a natural leader. It will be interesting to see what she brings at this particular time and place in our nation’s history.”

As for her plans, Farrell says she won’t be bored. “I’ve always been involved with local congregations and I’m sure I will do that. I think there’s great need for people to be involved in their local communities. We have benefitted so much from people volunteering with the hunger program. It’s my turn to volunteer to meet needs locally, nationally and globally.”

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