General Assembly: Family Reunion and Care for the Earth

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9 mins read
Author Rev. Rebecca Barnes
Author Rev. Rebecca Barnes

A lot of Presbyterians affectionately refer to GA as a family reunion, even as we may groan about long hours, worry about contentious issues, pray for God’s Spirit to work in the stuck places, and occasionally feel overcome by bone-deep exhaustion. For me, it is indeed wonderful to see how God works in the gathered community and it is a joy to see and meet faithful folks from across the country doing work that is deeply meaningful and transformative. Working in Louisville at the national offices means I eagerly anticipate finally being in person with folks I’ve known for years – and those I know only by email or phone. It is a great time to get to know faces, names, and stories of this Presbyterian family.

What I hope, though, is that we might start to define this family a bit more broadly. Who is our family? Who are our brothers and sisters? Certainly other Presbyterians! Other Christians, other people of faith, and all of humanity are other answers that come quickly to mind. But at its deepest level, our family is really the entire creation, including its natural systems and creatures in which God delights. These estranged relatives are our relatives nonetheless, in God’s family. God made the world and put us in it, and General Assembly can be a time to re-member this original identity and relationships within a broader family.

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For those of us living in less environmentally conscious places in the US, going to Portland will be a chance to see great urban planning, effective public transportation, and how personal commitment to God’s creation is empowered by public support.
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Where better to go than Portland, Oregon, in order to broaden our lens of “family?” For those of us living in less environmentally conscious places in the US, going to Portland will be a chance to see great urban planning, effective public transportation, and how personal commitment to God’s creation is empowered by public support. While Presbyterians across the country are recycling, conserving, and trying to support new renewable energy technologies, for many of us, our location and local governments may limit what we can recycle, conserve, or support. Spending a week in Portland will be a great opportunity to find out what the rest of us can “take back home” for our own lives, churches, and local governments as we seek to better care for all God’s creation.

Aerial tram that is part of the Portland public transit program
Aerial tram that is part of the Portland public transit program

To help us really experience all that Portland has to offer, our local hosts with Cascades Presbytery will lead wonderful mission trip opportunities to explore the beautiful flora and fauna of the area. Additional opportunities to explore Portland will include bicycling around Portland, uncovering environmental stewardship at vineyards and farms, learning about fossil fuel exports, and visiting PC(USA) certified Earth Care Congregations in the presbytery.

Meanwhile, within the walls of the Oregon Convention Center, we will try to live as sustainably as possible. All exhibitors were given a “sustainability guide” months ago and were asked to plan for reduced waste, to only use exhibit materials that can be reused or recycled, and to conserve energy. The Convention Center recycles, composts, and donates as much of left over goods from any convention as possible, annually saving over 500,000 pounds of material from landfills.

Assembly participants are encouraged to use the effective, convenient, and eco-friendly Tri-Met system of the city. Commissioners will be given passes that cover public transportation rides for the length of the Assembly (rather than the usual privately rented buses and shuttles). All attendees can choose public transportation to save carbon emissions as a way to be a good “family member” with God’s creation.

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The Oregon Convention Center recycles, composts, and donates as much of left over goods from any convention as possible, annually saving over 500,000 pounds of material from landfills.
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For the energy we cannot conserve—and to help with the air travel, hotel, and convention center greenhouse gas emissions—carbon offsets are offered for purchase for any attendee who desires. The collective donations will go to Native Energy’s Capricorn Ridge Wind Project in Central Texas. This project is capable of generating enough electricity to power more than 37,350 homes and avoiding more than 221,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year—equivalent to taking approximately 186,000 cars off the road (according to US Environmental Protection Agency methodology). The benefits of this wind project also include land lease revenues for farmers and ranchers in that area, job creation, and land remaining in agricultural use while generating renewable electricity.

First Presbyterian Church of Cottage Grove's Bike to Church Summer
First Presbyterian Church of Cottage Grove’s Bike to Church Summer

Those who want to learn more about what’s happening within the denomination and throughout the year can attend special events and sessions—in addition to listening in on the rich conversations in the Environment and Immigration committee. (Read more about the passionate debate on fossil fuel divestment that will be part of this Assembly’s work to address environmental issues in these articles by Ben Perry, Ron Spross, Colleen Earp and Abby Mohaupt, and Steve Webb and Kerri Allen.)

On the opening Saturday of the Assembly representatives from PC(USA) certified Earth Care Congregations (ECC) will be in the exhibit hall to talk about their experiences in the Compassion Peace and Justice area of the Presbyterian Mission Agency booth. ECC brochures and other information will be available all week at the CPJ display area. National grassroots group Presbyterians for Earth Care will host a lunch on Tuesday including reflections on the United Nations’ Paris Agreement on climate change and will have a host of environmental issues and ways to engage earth care at their booth throughout the Assembly.

In a few weeks, we will gather to celebrate with our Presbyterian family. As we do so, we’ll also have great opportunities to celebrate, learn about, and relate to all of God’s creation. May God guide our explorations, deliberations, and choices to be the best members of God’s family that we can be.

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AUTHOR BIO: Rebecca Barnes is the Associate for Environmental Ministries for the Presbyterian Church (USA), where she oversees the national PC(USA) certification program for Earth Care Congregations, coordinates the volunteer local leadership network called the Environmental Ministries Action Network, and works to help Presbyterians connect their Christian discipleship to ecological, economic and global justice concerns. In her local community, Rebecca organizes the Eco-Justice Worship Collective, an initiative to create dynamic, ecumenical, inclusive worship spaces to engage in eco-justice concerns. She likes reading, writing, yoga, art, dancing, and playing imaginary games with her two children.

See items before Committee 9 on Immigration and Environmental Issues.

Read more articles in this issue “A Year for Confessions: Issues of Social Justice Coming before the 222nd General Assembly.”

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