In response, Rev. Jenny Phillips rattles off a laundry list of the challenges facing an American citizen in January 2021, from Covid-19, to the recent unrest in the nation’s capital, before pivoting the conversation immediately back to her personal faith and the optimism that originates from it.
“In terms of ministry, morale is high for me, at least my morale is high. While we are experiencing many, many challenges. There’s also just so much opportunity.”
The Seattle area native and current Senior Technical Advisor for Environmental Sustainability for Global Ministries in The United Methodist Church found her calling early, growing up around the beauty of the Pacific Northwest.
“I went to United Methodist Church camp at Camp Indianola, which is a beautiful camp on the shores of Puget Sound in Washington State. And that was really where I first experienced a sense of God’s presence, a sense of groundedness in the Holy Spirit. That was foundational for me in terms of the outdoors being a place where I know I can connect with God and the first place where I go to connect with God. And so I have always had that sense of depth and faith in the natural world.”
After graduating from the University of Washington with a degree in Journalism, Rev. Phillips felt a call back to nature and ministry. She became involved in the very camp she attended as a child and even helped its reclamation from a developer looking to buy the camp.
“For me, it was the time to really be able to figure out how to articulate what stewardship means at the intersection of God’s creation and financial stewardship. You know, how do we use the financial resources we have as a tool for living out the call to stewardship that we see in Genesis 2:15, to till and keep the garden to care for the land, and to ensure its health. And so, happily, we were able to raise $2 million in six months, and this was in early 2002, right after 911. So it was not the easiest time to raise money, but there was so much passion and that vision was so clear about the importance of this sacred space and this ministry, that we did it.”
Upon completion of her studies at Union Theological Seminary in 2005, Rev. Phillips was drawn again back to a calling for Creation Care, a relatively “niche area” at the time, within the faith community. After working in a variety of fields within the United Methodist Church, she came to her current area of focus working at Global Ministries, the global mission agency of the UMC whose stated purpose is “connecting the church in mission”.
Rev. Phillips expounds further on the work of Global Ministries.
“We’re focused on missions including things like global health, disaster response, relief and development, sending missionaries. We work with lots of individuals and lots of facilities around the world, focusing our Creation Care ministries on the kind of education and growth and networking that we have through the Earthkeepers program where we’re equipping people and teaching them how they can lodge environmental projects in their communities. But then we’re also doing environmental ministries throughout the world with a particular focus on renewable energy. We support clinics, schools and other partner institutions, in terms of infrastructure, and all kinds of ways, water and other types of infrastructure, but we really started working on energy, because we recognize that, particularly in low-income countries, energy is really key—reliable, accessible, clean energy—is key for for everything, from economic development, to healthcare, to education, to freedom for women. It’s just absolutely crucial. And in so many places in the world, people are without reliable energy access with any kind of, much less renewable energy access.”
The previously referenced Earthkeepers program is a particular passion for Rev. Phillips and she explains it’s ministry succinctly: “Earthkeepers is a training program for United Methodist to equip them to launch creation care projects in their communities,” before expounding on the particulars of how the program equips communities themselves with actionable training.
“The Earthkeepers training is really designed to help people put that passion (for environmentalism) into action. So over the course of training, we talk about eco-theology, we share the United Methodist resources that are available from all those different agencies, including ours. We do training on anti-racism, which is really, really core in our minds to doing effective Creation Care ministry. We teach community organizing skills and project planning skills. So when someone applies for the training, they propose a project idea. And when they’re accepted, then over the course of the training, they are planning that project, and they’re getting resources and getting feedback from their peers. And at the end of the training, everybody does a presentation of their project. The idea is that when they are done, they are ready to go and they have a plan. They know what they need to do. They know what resources they need, they know who they need to network with, what they need to do to build their team. They’re in a strong position to be successful.
Rev. Phillips’s passion for Creation Care is clear, as is her desire to train and support others in this community effort.
Read about how another UMC Earthkeeper, Reverend Rachel Collins grew a community garden to feed her church and the whole entire town.