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The Rev. Charles Morris: Environmental activism at the grassroots level

By Marina Hayman ’09 M.A.R.

Rev. Charles MorrisIt is fitting that the business cards of Rev. Charles Morris are printed in green ink.  Since his twenties, this Roman Catholic priest from St. Elizabeth Church in Wyandotte, MI, has sustained a decidedly green streak.  This culminated in 2003 with his spearheading of Michigan Interfaith Power and Light, a branch of the national environmental organization begun by the Rev. Sally Bingham, a priest at Grace (Episcopal) Cathedral in San Francisco.

His real “conversion reaction,” as he puts it, to eco-activism began in 1988. After a four-year gestation, this epiphany began to bear fruit.  In 1992, he joined the East Michigan Environmental Action Council and became active in other groups such as the Interfaith Climate and Energy Campaign.  Several efforts to organize a local ministerial consortium for action were not successful, so in 1997 he began to act on his own, starting by greening his own facility.    In June 2001, he dedicated a solar- and wind-powered heating system at his church.  Morris recalls how at this ceremony, on a calm sunny day, as he blessed the turbine with holy water, a wind suddenly came up and the turbine began to spin. 

Through his environmental activism, Morris began to have a high media profile.  Sally Bingham learned of him and contacted him in fall 2002, and in February 2003, after considerable work on his part, Michigan Interfaith Power and Light was incorporated. 

On March 2 the Today Show crew was scheduled to pay a visit to St. Elizabeth, an urban working-class parish that defies the stereotype of an environmentally activist congregation.  Through the guidance of Morris, the parish maintains a focus on sound environmental practice and sustainability.  The Today Show spot was scheduled to air on St. Patrick’s Day 2008.  Features on Morris have appeared in the New York Times, on CBS News, in the Sierra Club Magazine and many others.

Asked what motivates his faith-based environmental activism, he responded that in Genesis “man was given the Garden to tend, not to cover in asphalt.”  We need to remember that we are a part of creation, Morris said.  For him, even solar cells are sacramental and represent the breaking through of grace.

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