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 two more training sessions scheduled yet in 2018.

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 three of five is on EarthKeeper Jill Barker in Arlington, Virginia.

PART 3: You Need a Critical Mass—Arlington, Virginia

I was on the board of directors of Arlington Thrive for six years. I noticed that the low-income people we met during crises tended to have energy bills much higher than they should be—because of astonishing leaks in apartments.

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Jill Barker (third from left), with Gov. McAuliffe of Virginia and Jennifer Abel of the Cooperative Extension Office, and a couple other Energy Masters receive an award from the Virginia Energy Efficiency Council in fall 2016. PHOTO: COURTESY JILL BARKER

Jill Barker of Arlington, Virginia, has worked as an energy attorney for 30 years in private practice representing clients before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in Washington, D.C. From 2009 to 2015, she served on the board of directors of Arlington Thrive, a nonprofit agency that delivers same-day emergency funds to people in crisis. While on the board, Jill was instrumental in creating a partnership between Arlington Thrive, Eco Action Arlington (formerly Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment) and the Virginia Extension Office, which led to the development of the Energy Masters program. Energy Masters donate community service hours to reduce electric bills for low-income apartment dwellers, such as Arlington Thrive clients.

“Everybody makes a big deal about solar and renewable energy, but what I see in my practice is a lot of waste,” Jill explained. “It was wonderful for me to work on saving kilowatt hours. If you’re not using the energy—you’re not polluting the earth to begin with, and by plugging the energy leaks, we make people more comfortable and save them money.”

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Eric Goplerud, president of Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions in Fairfax, Virginia, demonstrates the proper way to apply weather-stripping to a class for Energy Masters. PHOTO: COURTESY JILL BARKER

Jill began to wonder how she could bring this volunteer program to faith-based institutions, which seemed like a natural fit. About that time, she was introduced to the EarthKeepers network. “I enjoyed the training and networking,” she said, “but I haven’t been able to accomplish what I wanted. I keep working at it.” One of Jill’s challenges is that her church, Foundry United Methodist, is in the Baltimore-Washington Conference, while her volunteer work is in her community on the Virginia side of the Potomac. But through EarthKeepers, she’s made a few more contacts.

“You need a critical mass to get something like this going,” Jill said. “For each of the churches I’ve spoken to, this is one more thing to add to their plate. I’m offering them training for their green teams and then targeting churches that already provide different services other than energy to low-income people.” Jill has worked in collaboration with Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions to enlist about a dozen volunteers to train as Energy Masters—but finding faith partners with access into low-income housing situations where the upgrades are needed is still elusive. The cost of materials is another obstacle.

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Eric Goplerud, president of Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions in Fairfax, Virginia, teaches a training class for Energy Masters. PHOTO: COURTESY JILL BARKER

“I’m learning a lot as I go,” Jill concluded. “We learn more from failure than success. But I feel like this is going to happen—in the long-term.” She’s now looking at branching out to other areas of the state, perhaps Richmond, the state capital, which has an active Interfaith Power and Light organization.

Christie R. House is the editor of New World Outlook magazine.

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

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