WNCA adopts new faith-based advocacy program

Campaign coordinator Anna Joyner says the new partnership between the WNCA and the Creation Alliance will allow the group to amplify events and initiatives.
Campaign coordinator Anna Joyner says the new partnership between the WNCA and the Creation Alliance will allow the group to amplify events and initiatives.
You may have heard of the Western North Carolina Green Congregations — an organization of churches, synagogues, clergy and lay leaders that formed in April 2012 to take on food security and climate change in the region. In June, Green Congregations members voted to change their name to the Creation Care Alliance of Western North Carolina and to officially become a program of the local environmental activist group, Western North Carolina Alliance.

On Tuesday, July 22, WNCA staff and Creation Alliance steering committee members gathered at All Souls Cathedral in Biltmore Village to officially announce the new program.

Father Thomas Murphy of All Souls opened the press conference with a prayer of gratitude for “the mountains, plains, rivers, the songs of birds, and the loveliness of flowers,” asking for God’s protection so that these things can continue to flourish. Then he opened the pulpit to Steve Runholt, CCA steering committee member and pastor of Warren Wilson Presbyterian Church.

“Looking back, it’s clear that from Galileo to Einstein, from abolition to women’s rights, the Church has frequently been on the wrong side of science, and the wrong side of history,” said Runholt. “We’re here today because we want to change that.”

“It’s true that any one individual can do only so much, but here is the key point and why we are here today: We’re not working alone anymore. If the Baptists, and the Congregationalists, and the Episcopalians, and Buddhists, and Jews, and Jubilants, and Lutherans, and Mennonites, and Methodists, and Pagans, and the Presbyterians and Unitarians come together. … Imagine what we can do in Western North Carolina,” Runholt explained.

“And we can serve as a model for other groups of the faithful, multiplying our own effectiveness 10, 20, even one hundred fold.”

The WNCA and CCA’s respective goals are completely complimentary, say representatives, and both groups are excited to bolster effectiveness and expand their reach through the merge.

“Being a program of WNCA adds credibility to and increases recognition of the [Creation Care] Alliance. As a young group with limited resources, we see a wealth of opportunities to growth as a program of WNCA,” said Jane Laping, CCA steering committee member.

Though not officially taking it on as a program until now, WNCA has acted as the CCA’s benefactor since the organization’s inception (as Green Congregations), by providing funding and the part-time staff assistance of campaign coordinator Anna Jane Joyner, who cofounded the group. The name change was made to reflect that it is more than just congregations who are participating in the group’s efforts, explained Joyner, but the CCA’s mission remains contiguous from Green Congregations: focusing on the two areas “food and faith,” and “just energy/climate change.”<

Joyner says the new partnership will allow the group to amplify its events and initiatives, which over the past two years have included a hand-delivered letter to Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good, signed by seventy-three clergy that called for the company to retire the Asheville Coal Plant; two Earth Day Vigils at Pritchard Park; public testimony by clergy at EPA and county commissioners hearings; 12 faith leaders meeting with elected officials about climate change and coal ash; an all-day “Climate and Faith Forum” attended by over one hundred clergy and led by lead NOAA scientist Ken Kunkel, among several other efforts.

For WNCA, adopting CCA as a new program is just one of many new initiatives and changes. The group recently merged with the Environmental and Conservation Organization (ECO) of Hendersonville, and the Jackson-Macon Conservation Alliance. Staff at WNCA see adopting CCA as beneficial for their outreach and effectiveness. “Our mission is to empower citizens to be advocates for livable communities…as well as the natural environment,” said WNCA Co-Director Bob Wagner.<

“The Creation Care Alliance … provides an avenue for congregations to learn about important environmental issues and get engaged…It’s a way to bring more people into the discussion and to make the environmental tent bigger,” he said.

When asked about whether the CCA adoption and the merger reflects a new strategy to give environmental issues an impact on a cultural level, Wagner replied, “I think in some ways what we’re doing now is really going back to our roots. … It’s part of who we are and it’s part of who we’ve always been. When we started, we had chapters in outlying regions where local people were working on local issues in those communities. …

"The CCA really is a tool for where a lot of faith communities are and where they are going. …Though those communities have generally been a little late to the [environmental] party, this is a great time for them to get involved and bridge the divide that has sometimes separated traditional environmentalism and faith communities.”

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About Jordan Foltz
I like to explore the more subtle and esoteric aspects of what drives and inspires people to take action— including religion, spirituality, and aesthetics. I see local media outlets as an indispensible asset in providing community cohesion and empowering people to find tangible ways to create and sustain our own culture.

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