When Reverend Marilyn Cornwell arrived at the Church of the Ascension in Magnolia five years ago, just a handful of church members were active in the environmental movement. Today, environmental stewardship is a central mandate for the entire congregation.
At first glance, the climate change movement and an Episcopalian church may seem an unlikely match. But, Reverend Cornwell sees a vital integration between care for creation and what it means to be faithful.
“Faithfulness includes care for creation as a moral and spiritual imperative,” she says.
The congregation of about 150 households is intentional about how it uses energy and is working to reduce its carbon footprint. But, that’s just the beginning. Church members are encouraged to use their strengths—their “spiritual gifts”—to make environmental change. “Some members are skilled advocates and so they attend policy hearings in Olympia,” says Reverend Cornwell. “Others write letters to legislators and others teach stewardship to our children.” Members are also asked to make personal choices that reduce the impacts of climate change, which is why the church offers canning classes and distributes vegetarian recipes and seed packets.
Reverend Cornwell herself backs statewide policy changes that will reduce fossil fuel pollution in Washington State. “Jesus was a very political guy and stood up to the powers in his day,” she says. “We’re asked to do the same, especially for the protection of the poor and marginalized like children in South Sound who have enormously high levels of pollution-induced asthma. The system that creates climate change needs to change.”
The Church of the Ascension is part of a wide and diverse approach to making change in Washington State. “The Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy brings together people from all walks of life with the same purpose. It’s that diverse approach that makes for a stronger, more resilient, rich and vibrant movement. We want to be a part of that.”