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Food, Faith, and Justice Fellow: Jacob Dye

For the 2020-2021 academic year, Jacob Dye served as the Food, Faith, and Justice Fellow under the guidance of RAFI-USA’s Come to the Table program and Resourceful Communities. As a third-year student at Duke Divinity School, Jacob completed the certificate in Food, Faith, and Environmental Justice in the classroom and coupled his studies with practical experience working with Resourceful Communities and Come to the Table. Most notably, Jacob completed a capstone project which tied together his entire learning experience. In a presentation entitled “Connecting for Creation,” Jacob wove together his passion for creation care and environmental justice with his rich understanding of Wesleyan theology. Jacob presented a map he created which highlighted the locations of North Carolina Conference United Methodist Churches’ (NCCUMC) food ministries and environmental programs in the conference. After graduating from Duke Divinity School in May, Jacob was appointed as the pastor of two rural UMCs — Gray Rock and Bethel in Kittrell, NC. Below is our interview with Jacob Dye on his experience as the Food, Faith, and Justice Fellow. 

What inspired you to apply for the Food, Faith, and Justice fellowship?

I was really excited to apply the material I learned at Duke Divinity School in creation care classes with Dr. Norman Wirzba, Dr. Ellen Davis, and Dr. Norbert Wilson and also missions and evangelism classes where we focus on the real-world, physical, tangible impact of missions. This fellowship felt like the perfect way to combine both of those interests because I got the opportunity to work in food and agriculture, while also partnering with rural United Methodist Churches, which is where I see myself living out my calling vocationally.

What is something you learned during your internship that changed the way you will do ministry?

Two things, here: first, the internship opened my eyes to all of the possibilities for partnerships that rural UMCs have, primarily with RAFI-USA and Resourceful Communities. These organizations do so much to help rural UMCs not just with funding, but with programming, continuing education, and other support. They do a great job connecting all of the rural churches that are spread throughout the state to really form this network of mutual support. So as someone about to go into the rural church, that is very comforting and encouraging. 

Secondly, we focus on the theoretical a lot at the Divinity School, so I have all of these big ideas that I can’t wait to implement in the church, but the fellowship helped me think practically about the work. For example, maybe I am really excited about a community garden or farmers market ministry, but first, there are questions to ask: is there really a need for this ministry in the community? Is a similar project happening somewhere else in our community and can we help? Do farmers in the area have the capacity to take on such a project? So it’s important to not just start something and expect it to take off, but instead think through these practical questions.

In your presentation, you talked at length about the connectionality of the Methodist church and how this is an advantage when it comes to caring for creation. Can you talk a little more about that?

A lot of times when we think about creation care or environmental justice, a tagline comes up — “think global, act local.” I really think the UMC is set up perfectly to live this out. We are a global church and churches are a part of the denomination all around the world, but we have these local churches that are physically present in their individual communities as missional outposts. So we have a presence on the busiest street in New York City and in the most rural town in North Carolina. And there aren’t many organizations that can say that. So that connectional system helps us think about the global issues and address them in unique ways in different local contexts. 

I think North Carolina is a great example of this because we have the coast where churches are involved in limiting plastic use, then in the Piedmont there are churches involved in agriculture and farming who are dealing with the effects of climate change on their land, and then in the mountains, congregations are dealing with a whole other set of issues. So the connectional nature allows us to make this a priority at the conference level and have all of these missional outposts to address them.

Is there one example of a church’s creation care ministry that struck you as particularly imaginative and exciting?

One that really stuck out to me was God’s Garden at Norman UMC in Ellerbee, NC. We think about churches having community gardens, but they have a farm at their church. They grow produce on a large scale, give it to local food pantries and food banks, and in addition to growing their own food, they also purchase from local farmers to add to the distribution. They’re farming in ways that take care of the earth and also contributing to local food ministries. 

What is your hope for the NCCUMC’s future as it relates to creation care?

I’m really hopeful for the conference’s future in the field of creation care. The Creation Care committee is really active and one of the largest committees in the conference. The conference sees the need to address creation care and the Bishop is involved in moving us toward tackling this. It’s very hopeful to see that the younger pastors who have come through Divinity School in the last few years have swam in these creation care waters, but pastors who were in school 10 years ago haven’t had the same opportunities. So the conference is focusing on education for pastors, and RAFI-USA is doing the same great work, like the School for Food Justice, Faith, and Storytelling. Once more pastors become passionate about these issues, it will spread down to the laity, which opens up the possibility for context-specific creation care and food ministries that focus on local production, local economies, and healing the land. 

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