Harper Named ‘In Defense of Creation’ Project Manager

August 08, 2008

Revision of historic bishops’ document, originally issued in 1986, expected to address pandemic poverty, environment degradation and arms trade.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Pat Callbeck Harper of Helena, Mont., has been hired as Project Manager for the United Methodist Council of Bishops’ new “In Defense of Creation” document.

Harper will begin work Aug. 25 at the General Board of Church & Society (GBCS). She will have an office in The United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill here, but will spend a great deal of time in the denomination’s numerous regional conferences gathering information for the project. The document is expected to address pandemic poverty, environmental degradation and the arms trade.

The historic United Methodist Bishops’ document “In Defense of Creation: The Nuclear Crisis and a Just Peace” was released in 1986 after two years of study. In the pastoral letter that accompanied the document, the bishops declared “a clear and unconditional” no to any use of nuclear weapons.

The original “In Defense of Creation” was not intended as a consensus opinion or policy statement of the denomination, according to the Council of Bishops. Rather, it was intended as both a pastoral and prophetic word presented as a basic resource guide to lead in study, prayer and action.

As project manager, Harper will support a Council of Bishops’ task force, which has been chaired by Bishop Timothy Whitaker since 2005. The task force was formed at the direction of the 2004 General Conference, the denomination’s highest policy-making body, to revise and update the 1986 document for the new millennium.

Harper will assist in completing hearings across the denomination to provide input for a new pastoral letter and foundation document.

“More than 30 people applied for the ‘In Defense of Creation’ project manager position,” said GBCS chief executive Jim Winkler. “We were blessed to have a deep reservoir of talent and expertise to choose from. Pat brings great experience and knowledge with her to this position.”

Harper said she is “excited and energized” about the project, which is expected to take three years to complete. “There could hardly be a more timely and critical project than calling us to prayer and action on pressing threats to God’s creation,” she said.

Harper has been an advocate and community organizer for more than 25 years within The United Methodist Church. As a director of the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM), she was involved in some of the denomination’s early work on the original “In Defense of Creation.”

During the past 14 years, Harper has managed her own consulting business with a team of organizational development and civil rights consultants. She has planned, coordinated and led training events for educators, health-care professionals and hospitals, conservationists, and small- and large-business leaders.

The past 5½ years, Harper was AARP Montana Associate State Director for Advocacy and Communications. With AARP, she was project manager for the Medicare Part D rollout, education and enrollment in Montana.

Harper’s experience within The United Methodist Church encompasses several general agencies, including GBGM and its Women’s Division, and the General Councils on Ministries, the Status & Role of Women (GCSRW), and Religion & Race (GCORR). She designed inclusiveness training for GCSRW, GCORR and other general agencies.

Harper twice was a delegate to General Conference from Yellowstone Conference, where she was Director of Lay Ministries. She also served on the Western Jurisdiction Committee on the Episcopacy.

A Women’s Division director for eight years, Harper was vice president for Christian Social Relations for half that time. With the Women’s Division, Harper traveled to 17 countries where she participated in programs addressing justice and peace, including environmental justice and inclusiveness.

In 1992, Harper began consulting for GCSRW. She has provided training for directors, drafted legislation and planned focus events for policy development.

“It feels like my experiences in justice advocacy, policy development, community organizing and communications within the church and the community have led me to this important opportunity,” Harper said.

In the pastoral letter issued 22 years ago, the bishops emphasized that “In Defense of Creation” faithfully stated their understanding of the Word of God to the world at that moment in history. The bishops hope a new foundation document will call The United Methodist Church to a “more faithful witness and action” in the face of crises “that threaten to assault not only the whole human family but planet earth itself.”