Global Ministries

The United Methodist Church

Connecting the Church in Mission

The view from here

A five-part series by Christie R. House* on EarthKeepers’ projects across the United States

EarthKeepers are an emerging network of United Methodists trained by Global Ministries as part of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) to lead their communities in acts of environmental stewardship. Since 2016, Global Ministries has trained four classes of EarthKeepers with one more training sessions scheduled yet in 2018.

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A “pizza garden” wheel of herbs. PHOTOS: JP SMITH

EarthKeepers commit to spending at least 10 hours each month working on creation care projects in their communities. Their projects vary depending on their point of view—or what they view in their communities and environment. The view changes depending on their culture or background, their professional work, or where they live. Story five of five is on EarthKeeper JP Smith in Mesa, Arizona.

A Lot One Person Can Do— Mesa, Arizona

In Arizona, the dirt is awful—it takes some time and thought about where to put a garden.

JP Smith’s passion for creation care and the work of EarthKeepers started with his grandchildren. “We are not leaving the world in as good a shape as we got it,” said JP. “That became an imperative for me to do what I could to make a difference. I hear this complaint all the time—‘I’m just one person, what can I do?’ There is a lot one person can do!”

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Pastor Jen Lambert of Red Mountain United Methodist Church teaches the fine art of vermiculture (worms) to a couple volunteers working on the Pizza Garden in Mesa, Arizona. EarthKeeper JP Smith developed the Pizza Garden. Pastor Lambert prefers to see the earthworms, not hold them.PHOTOS: JP SMITH 

JP found the EarthKeepers training helpful. He wasn’t really looking to reach out and make connections, but he wanted to bring Scripture and church doctrine into his creation-care efforts. Yet, he found both parts of the training to be important. He was one of the first EarthKeepers trained in the western United States, so he coordinates now with the EarthKeepers in Texas. He says they inspire each other.

JP’s project, the Children’s Pizza Garden, started as a test case when, unbeknownst to him, he was penciled in by members of his church, Red Mountain UMC, to lead an Edge Night program (Explore and Discover God Everywhere) to teach children how to plant a garden. “There was quite a bit to it,” explained JP, “planting, and then, when the plants came up, thinning. The kids had no idea how many seeds to plant. Lots of thinning had to happen later.” They used raised beds and planted around spoked wheels that looked like pizzas. They also planted herbs like oregano, rosemary, and basil—which one might use to create a pizza.

From there, JP and the newly created Green Team built ten raised garden spaces, which members adopt and plant for about $50 a year. The church provides water and JP provides Master Gardener advice. They have also expanded onto an old farm in the valley, called “Agritopia,” where the soil is better. “We have a 20 ft by 20 ft bed there. The church has a food pantry, and we anticipate that some produce will go there, some will go home with the growers.”

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Red Mountain UMC’s new earth scientists learn too much CO2 is warming the planet. PHOTOS: JP SMITH

Although JP describes the churches in the area as having a giant dose of apathy and “averting their eyes” when it comes to acknowledging the effects of climate change and God’s creation, Red Mountain UMC is concerned about hunger and the lack of fresh produce in the area. The church partners with Borderlands Food Bank to bring surplus produce into the neighborhood, offering 60 lbs of vegetables for $10. “We are located next to a food desert,” JP notes. Fort McDowell Yavapai Reservation borders northeast Mesa. Red Mountain UMC does its part to make fresh, nutritious produce available to anyone in the community; the creation care message is mixed in with the vegetables.

*Christie R. House serves as senior writer and editor for Global Ministries.

Copyright New World Outlook magazine, Summer 2018 issue. Used by permission. Email the New World Outlook editor for more information.

Upcoming EarthKeeper Training Events

• November 1-4, Wasatch Retreat Center, Salt Lake City, Utah (Deadline Oct 11)

For more information, please contact Rev. Jenny Phillips, Creation Care Program Manager at