Bishop of California Marc Andrusa national leader of the Episcopal Church in the fight against climate change, says growing up in Roane County, hiking in the Smokies and attending the University of Tennessee set him on a career path to care about the spiritual and material aspects of our planet.
His advocacy work has taken him to public spaces in Paris and other countries and demonstrations at the Dakota Access Pipeline in Standing Rock, North Dakota.
At a recent Lambeth Conference of Anglican Communions in England, he helped start a Communion Forest in the grounds of London Palace, the official home of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The initiative was designed by a small group from the Anglican Communion Environmental Network and the Anglican Alliance, of which he was a member.
The simple act of planting trees until they become groves helps remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, Andrus said.
UN Climate Change Conference
In November in Sharp El-Sheikh, Egypt, he will lead the Episcopal Church delegation representing the Presiding Bishop Michael Curry at the United Nations climate change conference in 2022. It is officially called the 27th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP27.
“COP27 gives us the opportunity to work in partnership with interfaith representatives from around the world – learning from each other and amplifying voices of faith on climate change and environmental degradation,” he said in a statement released by the Diocesan News Services.
He later told this columnist in an interview that everyone considers the land sacred. “It will take many energies – millions – to heal the planet. It seems that Episcopalians should be (at conferences on climate change) together with scientists and policy makers.”
The Rt. The Rev. Marc Handley Andrus of the Episcopal Diocese of California spoke about his views on climate change and his life in East Tennessee in an Aug. 25 Zoom interview in San Francisco and some email exchanges. “Growing up in East Tennessee (offered) so much beauty,” he said.
The 61-year-old bishop was born in Oak Ridge and raised in Kingston. His father, Francis “Andy” Andrus, worked for Union Carbide in the business sector and his mother, Frances, was a school teacher. A sister, Barbara Foster, lives in Farragut.
Swimming in toxic mercury discharge
His memories of the area include swimming in the Klintz River, where tons of mercury, a heavy toxic material, is now known to have been dumped. His father died of cancer when he was 14, and Andrus says it was from problems related to radiation exposure.
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“Seeing that beautiful water, we were swimming in that river with all that mercury,” he said.
And this kind of situation is happening around the world, with decisions about environmental issues affecting outcomes that affect race, poverty, the economy and nations, he said.
Andrus went to UT to study soil and plant nutrition in agriculture and minored in religious studies. “They were both excellent divisions,” he said. There he also met his wife. She is Dr. Sheila Moore Andrus, a native of Maryville, who had a career as an environmental scientist, including with the U.S. Forest Service, where he directed the agency’s insect research. The two often appear in environmental programs together.
After receiving his bachelor’s degree from UT in 1979, Marc Andrus received a master’s degree in social science from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Virginia, and a master’s degree in divinity from Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria. He was a regional planner and served many diocesan institutions as priest or rector. He was Bishop Suffragan for the Episcopal Diocese in Alabama before going to San Francisco as bishop in 2006. He has announced that he will retire in 2024 and eventually move to Staunton, Virginia.
Andrus enjoys talking about his activist role in his family justice work.
In Paris in 2015, where nations gathered at COP21 at the Parc des Expositions and reached an agreement to set voluntary targets to reduce global warming, Andrus was part of an interfaith group advocating for the policy.
What he described as a “pop-up” worship service, complete with umbrellas, featured “musical offerings, time for reflection, meditation and sharing in the public square – a beautiful beginning for the Episcopal Church at the COP.”
Former President Donald Trump withdrew from the Paris accord in 2020, but President Joe Biden returned to it.
Similar support for climate change initiatives took place at UN climate conferences in Morocco, Germany and Poland in subsequent years. In Katowice, Poland, many residents are moving away from coal mining as a profession and need help finding new jobs, while older miners need pensions, he said.
Supporting the miners’ efforts showed how creating clean energy also fosters new opportunities, he said.
The importance of simply planting trees
The simple act of planting trees is really like planting a new community, he said. Once the trees are planted and stay there, the environment is cooler. In developed areas, this allows for fewer cars and less parking, which helps reduce carbon emissions.
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“In Knoxville when it’s over 100 degrees, the majority of Knoxville residents in low-income areas are warmer than those in higher-income areas. The reason is all these trees,” he said.
At the recent Lambeth Conference, the Communion Forest began in palace gardens that had been cultivated or farmed for more than 1,000 years, but the grass was now brown and withered due to heat and drought, Andrus wrote in a message to his Diocese.
“Not only was the Communion Forest initiative well received by bishops and spouses, but I was also able to show that everywhere in the Communion, bishops and spouses recognize the climate emergency as one of their key concerns. Finally, I believe that the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church, while climate action will be very different, I believe that we will continue to emphasize domestic justice, the ways in which environmental degradation and climate change disproportionately burden those already vulnerable populations,” he said. .
Georgiana Vines is a retired News Sentinel associate editor. She can be reached at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared in the Knoxville News Sentinel: Vines: Episcopal bishop credits upbringing for environmental concern