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Today in the Mission Yearbook

Presbyterians have an ecumenical voice in Creation Justice Ministries


Presbyterian Hunger Program partners with education, advocacy group

August 26, 2019

Signs of hope adorn a community garden in the midst of a neighborhood heavily hit by the Flint water crisis. (Contributed photo)

If there wasn’t an organization like Creation Justice Ministries, Presbyterian Hunger Program coordinator the Rev. Rebecca Barnes says her ministry would want to create one.

Likewise, Creation Justice Ministries (CJM) executive director Shantha Ready Alonso says the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has played a major role in her organization’s establishment and growth.

“Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is a pretty strong member of Creation Justice Ministries and a founding member,” said Alonso, director of the group since its founding in 2014, though its roots extend much longer. “We work pretty hand-in-glove with the Office of Public Witness in terms of public policy priorities and then, obviously, with Rebecca Barnes, who is our board president and has connected us with Compassion, Peace & Justice ministries as well as Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and the Presbyterian Hunger Program, which is connected to Creation Justice Ministries through its grant program.

“So, we have many connections to the PC(USA). And we really see ourselves as doing the work together.”

CJM, which was an outgrowth of the National Council of Churches in Christ in the USA’s eco-justice working group, provides an ecumenical collaborative space on earth care concerns from educational programs and worship resources to public policy advocacy.

“They’ve been an important partner for the Hunger Program,” said Barnes. “Without them, we would certainly want to create the kinds of educational and worship resources that we are better able ecumenically to create and share, rather than reinventing the same wheel in our own denominations. We find common ground and create a resource which is a great process and hopefully can be used in lots of congregations.”

Both Barnes and Alonso came to CJM through previous iterations of environmental ministries that existed in the PC(USA) and the ecumenical environmental roundtable of the National Council of Churches (NCC). While CJM maintains a strong relationship with the NCC, it became its own organization several years ago.

Barnes worked in the PC(USA)’s environmental program from 2001–04 and started again in 2011. The program was eventually folded into the Hunger Program.

“Caring for God’s creation and all people in it is at the root of alleviating hunger and its causes,” Barnes said. “When you care for natural resources — land, water, air — and the people as part of creation, you will naturally have more well-nourished communities, tighter-knit communities, better safety nets. The reverse is true, too, that where you see communities decimated by environmental racism, there are often compounding issues of hunger and poverty.”

Around the same time, the environmental arm of the NCC was becoming its own organization. When Creation Justice Ministries was formed in 2014, Alonso says several board members approached her about applying to be the executive director.

Now, CJM’s office is in the United Methodist Building in Washington, D.C., the only nongovernmental building on Capitol Hill. The facility also houses the PC(USA) Office of Public Witness, as well as the Washington offices for the Episcopal Church, Lutheran Church, Islamic Society of North America and others.

“Our main mission is to connect religious leaders with decision-makers on matters that are most important to the churches, that we have said in community we will work on together,” Alonso said.

Barnes concurs. “It carries more weight to say we’re speaking as 38 Christian communions than as one denomination.”

The Flint River (Contributed photo)

The board intentionally includes members from all of its constituent groups. A recent meeting was in Flint, Michigan, a city that has dealt with dangerous levels of lead in its drinking water.

The meeting included an in-progress screening of “Flint: The Poisoning of an American City,” by director David Barnhart for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance’s Story Productions. Participants said the documentary was a great primer for getting to know the city before they engaged with it.

For Barnes, it all speaks to the importance of faith communities coming together on important issues.

“Ecumenism really hits a groove when you share a common passion and commitment,” Barnes said. “So, you don’t just gather because we love to be church people together. … It’s fun to be with colleagues like that, and not just because it’s interesting, but because we believe we’re better together as we serve the world around us.”

 Rich Copley, Communications Strategist, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Today’s Focus:  Creation Justice Ministries

Let us join in prayer for: 

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Ann DeVilbiss, PPC
Michelle Diallo, ASG

Let us pray:

Gracious God, where there are countless reasons to be hopeless, overcome them all, so that the world may see communities of people come alive, reborn and renewed in Christ’s name. Amen.