by Linda McDonald, Calvary UMC
When my mother returned to Pittsburgh, I returned to the United Methodist Church. Growing up, I had been a regular Sunday School attendee at the long-disbanded Sheraden Church with Miss Betty and the small white tables and chairs, ebbing away as a teenager, and then finding community in small, independent churches as I journeyed from place to place in my adult life.
After I acclimated to the glorious interior of Pittsburgh’s Calvary United Methodist Church, I became acquainted with the United Methodist tenet of mission, with its encouragement of hands-on participation to address the challenges and catastrophes of contemporary life, and United Women in Faith. My first UWF trip was to the astonishing, life-affirming Mission Barn. From there, the district UWF annual meeting in September, where we discussed mental health and participated in "Passion, Purpose, and Well-Being." I am still using information from that meeting to maintain calm and balance in my daily life.
When the opportunity arose to accompany Joan Bradley and Shirley Mehring from Calvary UMC to the WPAUMC United Women in Faith annual meeting, I was happy to join. Lesson one: the "All are Welcome Here" message that I hear every Sunday morning clearly extended to the annual meeting with its focus on climate justice.
Peggy Ward, WPAUMC UWF President, introduced herself, referenced her 27 years with the United Women in Faith (formerly United Methodist Women), and went on to provide examples from her own experiences of the dedication to mission that United Methodists value so highly. She recognized past presidents, current facilitators, and district presidents.
Mary Hart introduced Ross Golden who delivered a beautiful devotional about physical light that was as much poetry as it was science. From breeding patterns to obligatory hibernators to the angle of sunlight to produce a rainbow, his encyclopedic knowledge offered scripture references, facts and metaphor. Like God, “light is invisible. But without light, so is everything else.”
When the morning’s featured program began, a panel discussion with representatives from the Center for Coalfield Justice, I was more ready than ever to save the earth. I learned about the commitment that the UWF made to environmental and climate justice decades ago. That this is not a trendy new issue for them.
Noting that Pennsylvania Environmental Justice is codified in our state Constitution, the CCJ mission includes people as an inseparable part of the natural world and therefore as an inseparable part of environmental justice. Therefore, economic considerations like employment and supporting communities that have been disproportionately impacted by industrial processes fell well within their scope of interest. In short, they do not take an either/or approach to climate, environment, and the needs of humans.
The panel gave examples of climate and environmental injustice: mine subsidence aka sinkholes, “pigging” stations, fracking complications. They described the minor victory of restitution by the Bailey Prep Plan after the major disaster of the draining of what was once flourishing Duke Lake. They detailed current cases. They closed their presentation by suggesting that we tour their facility and by encouraging us to write to our legislators.
When it came time for questions, I could not have been more proud of the informed and engaged audience that surrounded me, many who offered comments and questions that spoke of long term commitment to information, policy, and problem solving.
One of the most important ideas of the day, in my opinion, came out of this final portion of the meeting: the difference between change and transformational change. Along with the recent and drastic membership shifts within the United Methodist Church, comes opportunity for collaboration across districts, opportunity to refocus the mission, and the chance to embrace meaningful tradition while disregarding unexamined habits.
As a new member and first time visitor to the UWF annual meeting, I was fed both physically and spiritually, and my heart was buoyed in the presence of so many dynamic, informed, and intelligent servants of God.