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United Methodists join 'Sacred Gifts' event in Nepal

Nov 6 2000 1:48 PM Source: NewsDesk@UMCOM.UMC.ORG

Nov. 6, 2000 News media contact: Linda Bloom (212) 870-3803 New York 10-33-71B{505}

NOTE: This report is accompanied by a sidebar, UMNS story #506.

By United Methodist News Service

In Mongolia, Buddhist leaders have publicly announced the reintroduction of a centuries-old ban on hunting the snow leopard and saiga antelope, both endangered species there.

In the United States, members of United Methodist Women are continuing a campaign to convince local branches of Kinko's, a chain of copying stores, to use chlorine-free paper.

In Europe, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople has promoted the River of Life environmental network, designed to engage religious communities along the Danube River in efforts of conservation.

These are among the "Sacred Gifts for a Living Planet" that will be celebrated Nov. 15 in Nepal. Organized by the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC) and the WWF-World Wide Fund for Nature (formerly known as the World Wildlife Fund), the world's largest independent conservation organization, the event is expected to draw more than 800 faith leaders and environmentalists.

Representatives of the world's major faiths -- including Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Jains, Bahais, Sikhs, Shintos, Taoists and Zoroastrians - will make action-oriented pledges addressing a wide range of environmental issues.

The Rev. Kathleen LaCamera, a United Methodist pastor and press officer for ARC, said the Nepal event probably will mark the first time so many worldwide religious leaders will have gathered to make such commitments. Their participation, she added, is an effort "to acknowledge that the planet is important and sacred."

The Sacred Gifts program was inaugurated in partnership with ARC in 1999 as part of the WWF's Living Planet Campaign. It recognizes that faith groups not only are involved in conservation efforts, but also expresses their environmental concerns in ways appropriate to their own traditions and social situations. The results are models of conviction, commitment and grass-roots action that others could emulate.

The gifts to be presented in Nepal provide models of what can be accomplished, according to LaCamera. Different segments of the denomination have responded to the Sacred Gifts program, she said, because they "understood right away what we were trying to do on a global scale."

Pamela Sparr, who will be in Nepal representing the Women's Division of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, considers participation to be "a really great honor" and is looking forward to sharing with and learning from faith leaders from other countries and traditions. "One of the aims of the Women's Division's work on the environment is that it has a multiplier effect," she said. The Women's Division administers the United Methodist Women organization.

After a 1994 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report concluded that the bleaching process used by paper manufacturers releases cancer-causing dioxins into the air, the Women's Division made the switch to chlorine-free paper and embarked on an educational and awareness-building campaign about chlorine-free products within the church. The division also initiated the Kinko's campaign. In 1996, General Conference, the denomination's top legislative body, backed the work with a resolution on "A Dioxin-Free Future."

Another denominational body, the United Methodist Board of Pension and Health Benefits, will offer as a gift its use of investments as a way to prompt companies to maintain ethical and environmentally friendly business practices. Laurie Michalowski, the board's coordinator of corporate responsible ministry, will attend the Nepal event. She hopes the agency's gift will demonstrate "the power of the investment tool" and show its potential "for addressing issues of concern that affect the environment and peoples."

United Methodists also are involved in a push to combat global warming in the United States. That "gift" is being presented by the U.S. National Council of Churches, which is working in cooperation with the National Religious Partnership for the Environment on the project.

Other sacred gifts to be presented in Nepal include:
   An environmental audit being launched by leaders of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.
   A pledge by the China Taoists Association to call upon its members to stop using endangered animals in traditional medicine products.
   A team effort by Muslim fishing communities to conserve Misali Island, one of the most important turtle nesting sites in the Zanzibar archipelago.
   A pledge by India's Sikh community to reduce fossil fuel consumption in Delhi's community kitchens.

More information about the Sacred Gifts Project is available at the ARC Web site, www.religionsandconservation.org, or the WWF Web site, www.panda.org.

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©Copyright 2000, United Methodist News Service

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