ASHFIELD — The Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas believes religion and climate change are not mutually exclusive subjects, but rather that individuals can prepare themselves spiritually to combat climate change in their own lives.
This belief will be the topic of Bullitt-Jonas’ free talk titled “Earth Care, Soul Care: Reflections from the Front Lines,” Thursday at the First Congregational Church in Ashfield. The event, which starts at 7 p.m., will be preceded by a 6 p.m. potluck.
“I’m deeply concerned about the climate crisis,” Bullitt-Jonas said, adding that “I really feel that at this point, we need a power greater than ourselves” to guide our relationships with the Earth.
Her concern about the planet led her to a unique role. In 2013, she became the minister for creation care for the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts. That role turned into an ecumenical one — she is also the minister of care for the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ.
The scientists have done their job showing the magnitude of the problem and suggesting ways to fix it, Bullitt-Jonas said. Where religion comes in, she said, is to help people tap into their inner strength to make changes in their own lives and to work as a community to impact systematic change in society.
“My sense is that the more people know about the (climate) crisis, the more frightened they become,” she said, adding that in this situation, fear is good because it shows understanding for the magnitude of the problem.
“But I also think that fear can paralyze us. Fear can make us feel helpless and overwhelmed,” Bullitt-Jonas said. “In the face of fear, we get really passive.”
This is where the ministry of the church comes in.
“People’s emotional and spiritual lives help people touch into what their resources of courage (are),” she said. “Where do they find their strength and (how) do they root themselves, so they can face this unprecedented challenge?”
The spiritual work needed to rise to action will be a part of Bullitt-Jonas’ talk Thursday. She is no stranger to doing individual spiritual work, which has led her to engaging others. In fact, that’s how she got into ministry in the first place.
In 1982, when Bullitt-Jonas was 30, she was attending graduate school at Harvard University, studying Russian and comparative literature. She said she was in a vicious cycle of compulsive overeating, dieting and exercise.
“It was certainly psychological suicide, a way of checking out,” she said of this pattern. Then she recovered through a 12-step overeaters anonymous program, surrendering to a higher power, and returned to the Episcopal church of her youth.
“I was so amazed at the God who saved my life,” Bullitt-Jonas said. “If God can save one crazy addict like me, (to) help her, give her the power to live in the right relationship with herself and her body, is it not possible that the power of God can help humanity to learn to live in right relationship with their own bodies and the body of the Earth?”