Greenbelt Work Parties, Spring 2024

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FIRST AND THIRD SATURDAY IN APRIL, MAY, & JUNE, 10 A.M.–2 P.M., meet in the lower parking lot; registration required

Spring work parties in the Greenbelt are starting up again!

Come commune with the forest while helping weed and maybe plant. Get your hands/gloves dirty as you remove non-native plants and create native habitat in the middle of Seattle’s urban environment. Wear sturdy, close toed shoes that can get wet, long-sleeved shirt, pants, and hat. Bring water, a snack, and a raincoat if there's a chance of rain.

Each work party is limited to 18 people, and you must sign up beforehand for each date. All ages are welcome. Tools and training will be provided. Sign up links for each event can be found at:

For questions and more details contact Forest Stewards Robert Hayden and Joey Baumgartner (emails on the registration pages linked above), or Creation Care ministry leaders Guy Oram or Kathy Minsch at:

Creation Care Stories, Volume 3

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The Creation Care Ministry has created a Story Sharing Project to allow parishioners to share actions they are taking related to Creation Care, as a way for parishioners to share their good work and to encourage others to help reduce climate change. Stories can be about any action you are taking, large or small, to care for creation and mitigate climate change. Stories can take the form of a brief written essay, a video, a photo album, an infographic, or a piece of podcast-style audio. Sharing these stories can help others to learn, lead to new ideas about what to do, and be an inspiration for others to take action too. See guidelines to submit your own story here, or share a response or idea by simply using the "reply" box below! 

Check out previous submissions to the Story Sharing Project!

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“Collective Impact” with Andrew Himes

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TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 20, 7–8:30 P.M., in person in Cathedral House Room 210 or online via Zoom

The monthly meeting of the Creation Care Ministry in February will include a presentation from Andrew Himes, Director of Collective Impact for the Carbon Leadership Forum (CLF) at the University of Washington. Andrew was previously a long-time Saint Mark’s parishioner and former member of the Vestry. Andrew will share the CLF’s work building a global movement to decarbonize the building industry—the largest industry on the planet—and the impact of building materials and construction on climate change. Andrew asserts that, rooted in justice and compassion, working together to solve the climate crisis gives us the opportunity “to regain a sense of our shared humanity.”

Please plan to participate in this informative and inspiring presentation, with time for Q&A afterwards. Join via Zoom, or gather in person in CH210 where we will have time for snacks and visiting before/after the meeting.

The book discussed in the presentation was No More Fairy Tales: Stories to Save Our Planet by Kim Stanley Robinson, Paolo Bacigalupi, and Sara Foster

Also recommended was the MCJ Collective podcast.

A video is now available below:

COP28 Roundup with The Rev. Lisa Graumlich, Ph.D.

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TUESDAY, JANUARY 16, 7–8:30 P.M., in person in Cathedral House Room 210 or online via Zoom

The Creation Care Ministry invites everyone January's monthly monthly meeting, in person in Room 210 (large conference room), or online via Zoom. The January 16 meeting will feature a special debriefing from the Rev. Lisa Graumlich, Ph.D. about the recent annual United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28). What actions were taken/not taken at COP28? What can we do as individuals and as The Episcopal Church to make a difference in global climate policy? Learn about the first ever interdenominational Faith Pavilion at COP28. Lisa is a climate scientist and deacon whose ministry bridges the worlds of science and faith. She was a member of the Episcopal Church's delegation to COP27 in 2022. She currently serves as the President of the American Geophysical Union and as Deacon at Trinity Parish, Seattle.

UPDATE: A resource list shared at this presentation can be see here (pdf).

A video is now available below:

Creation Care Tips!

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The Creation Care Ministry will be offering tips on a variety of topics related to carbon reduction in the cathedral newsletter this season. 

Heat Pumps

In spite of their name, heat pumps are a way to cool AND heat your home, and they have a lighter impact on our planet. According to, heat pumps can reduce the electricity you use to heat your home by as much as 65%! The IRS offers a tax credit of up to $2,000 for a heat pump. Keep an eye on the Washington Department of Commerce website for details on additional energy incentives available to Washington homeowners in 2024. And don’t forget to check with your utility provider for other potential incentives.

Future tips will be archived on this page, as they are published.

Greenbelt Update—Fall 2023

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Guy Oram, the Saint Mark’s Greenbelt Work Party Volunteer Coordinator, had written this summing-up of the work that was done on the Greenbelt in the recent series of work parties:

The colors of fall are giving way to frost and filtered light in the Greenbelt as winter approaches.

The Saint Mark's Creation Care Ministry is working with the Seattle Green Partnership and Forest Stewards Robert Hayden and Joey Baumgartner to support the recovery and restoration of the 9-acre woodland greenbelt surrounding the cathedral. Following a three-year hiatus as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, volunteers from the Seattle community and members of Saint Mark’s participated in four work parties this fall to remove invasive ivy, blackberry, and other non-native weeds and trash along the perimeter of the cathedral’s south parking lot and down in the ravine below.

During my work party days, I saw and heard a variety of birds, including juncos, chickadees, robins, northern flickers, wrens, hummingbirds, jays, towhees, nuthatches, kinglets, and a red-tailed hawk. Joey and Robert provided a wealth of knowledge and practical advice about distinguishing native from non-native plants, removing ivy and blackberries efficiently, and the long-term goal of establishing a conifer canopy in the Greenbelt.

If you missed these work parties and would like to join in, it is not too late to get involved! Robert and Joey will be planning additional work parties through the winter months, as this is prime planting season. Since efforts to restore the Greenbelt began in the late 1980s, over 2,500 native plants have been reintroduced into the forestland, but there is much more to do. We will be providing updates as new volunteer opportunities are scheduled. If you have questions or want to learn more about how Saint Mark’s members can support this important land-based ministry, feel free to contact me or Creation Care Co-Chair Kathy Minsch at:

Poetry of the Season with Prof. Doug Thorpe

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SUNDAY, DECEMBER 17, 10:10 A.M., Bloedel Hall

Winter solstice brings the first day of winter and a return of more sunlight. Drawing from a selection of poems connected to light, parishioner and English professor Doug Thorpe will guide us in a time of reading and reflection to discover creation themes. A slideshow of light-inspired photos from Saint Mark's parishioners will also be shared.

Notes from the Forum

Presenters: Prof. Doug Thorpe, Sarah Reeves, (resident Lopez Island), returning member Dr. Kate Thorpe

Themes emerged from key quotations in At Home on an Unruly Planet by Madeline Ostrander:

  • …Solastalgia, the aching for solace, consolation—the loss of comfort, the loneliness of being estranged from home. linked with impact of loss of home through climate change.
  • …David Wallace Wells – our society’s “incredible failure of imagination.”
  • …for humans, “home is far more than just engineering; it is also a combination of meaning, symbolism, and social function.”
  • …what does it mean to be human? ‘we delay our eating of food and bring it to some other place, often with an expectation of sharing it with others, and the places where we eat together take on significance as part of home.
  • …Our ancestors had landed on some other elements that were perhaps more central to human lives, well-being, and survival: the sharing of food, cooperation, and the act of place making –altering a space to keep yourself and the people you care about safe and more comfortable. Homemaking can be a simple and imaginative act.
  • …We had used these smarts and imagination to build deep relationships with the places where we started to learn how to survive and adapt. And this was probably the true root of the human home.
  • …in the last several years, human societies have engaged in a project of unimagination, of ignoring or denying the signs of climate catastrophe, of distancing ourselves from the way the landscape is changing... And I think that we many not make it through this crisis if we forget that home isn't just a thing we build, but an awareness of and care for our surroundings and the capacity to imagine new ways of living in them... we will need a new set of stories about what it looks like to live on the earth in a manner that doesn’t destroy our future.

Other readings include:

Robert Hayden, Those Winter Sundays [available in a number of anthologies or online]

Martin Espada, That We Will Sing, in his book Floaters, National Book Award Winner

Naomi Shihab Nye, Shoulders, which is in the anthology Before There Is Nowhere To Stand, a collection of poets from Israel and Palestine.

Joy Harjo, Perhaps the World Ends Here (at the kitchen table...) in The Woman Who Fell From The Sun. See also selected or collected volume of her work.

Harjo, Catching the Light (pp 62–63* birth, 115 light, 119–122* light)

Wendell Berry, “Manifesto: the Mad Farmer Liberation Front.” In his Collected Poems.


A Visit to Brier Patch Farm

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SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 19, 2-4 P.M., at Brier Patch Farm, 22526 Hickory Way, Brier, WA 

Tyler Morse and Rebekah Gilmore have extended an invitation to all to visit Brier Patch Farm for a fall gathering and short tour of the farm. Come see how a local, organic farm prepares for winter. We’ll share hot beverages and good conversation, with a focus on how soil and farming are connected to our care for creation. This gathering will be an excellent opportunity for Saint Mark’s folks of all ages to enjoy some time together and learn a little bit about farming in the Pacific Northwest. More details to follow. For questions, contact Kathy Minsch or Marjorie Ringness at or Tyler Morse at

UPDATE: Check out some snapshots from the event below! 

Finding Hope in a World of Climate Change

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SUNDAY, OCTOBER 8, 10:10–10:50 A.M., Bloedel Hall

The Creation Care Ministry will host a Sunday morning forum that asks the question: How do we cultivate a deepening, evolving relationship with God that gives us the strength, vision, and courage to face climate changes in our world? Presenters will explore practices of the Spirit, and actions we can all take to nourish the planet. Be prepared to touch the roots of hope, community, and joy.

UPDATE: Download Prayer Practices to Nourish Primordial Hope shared at the forum.

A complete video of this event is now available below:

Greenbelt Work Parties

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Parishioner Robert Hayden, longtime forest steward for the Saint Mark's Greenbelt, led a wonderful tour through the Greenbelt last Sunday. Now it's time to get our hands dirty! Work parties are scheduled every 2 weeks beginning Saturday, September 30, then October 14, October 28, and November 18. Each work party is limited to 18 people, and you MUST SIGN UP BEFOREHAND for each date. More details and sign-up can be found here. Sign up links for each event can be found at:

You do not need to commit to working all of these dates. (Please note the closure of the north parking lot on September 30.) Tools and training will be provided. Bring a snack and a water bottle, and enjoy working alongside fellow parishioners and members of the community in this beloved space. For questions and more details contact Guy Oram or Kathy Minsch at:

Composting Workshop with the City of Seattle and Nurturing Roots

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SATURDAY, OCTOBER 7, 3–4 P.M., Leffler Garden

Hosted by the 20s/30s group and the Creation Care Ministry

Learn about composting basics at home and how to use compost in your home garden. Representatives from the City of Seattle’s Master Composter Sustainability Program and Nurturing Roots Farm will guide the interactive discussion and activities. Enjoy snacks and refreshments on the Cathedral front porch before the St. Francis Celebration and Blessing of the Animals at 4:30 that day. Questions? Email Emily:

Sunday Morning Greenbelt Tour

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SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 17, 10:10-10:50 A.M., meet at the Greenbelt sign off the lower south parking lot

Urban Forest Steward Robert Hayden will lead a Greenbelt Tour for all ages on Sunday, September 17, co-sponsored by Intergenerational Ministries and Creation Care. Learn about this precious urban green space and the public-private partnership that works to maintain it, and see up close the work that needs to be done now.

UPDATE: Check out a few photos from the tour below! (Click to enlarge) 

Creation Care Stories, Volume 2

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The Creation Care Ministry has created a Story Sharing Project to allow parishioners to share actions they are taking related to Creation Care, as a way for parishioners to share their good work and to encourage others to help reduce climate change. Stories can be about any action you are taking, large or small, to care for creation and mitigate climate change. Stories can take the form of a brief written essay, a video, a photo album, an infographic, or a piece of podcast-style audio. Sharing these stories can help others to learn, lead to new ideas about what to do, and be an inspiration for others to take action too. See guidelines to submit your own story here, or share a response or idea by simply using the "reply" box below! 

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Creation Care Stories, Volume 1

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The Creation Care Ministry has created a Story Sharing Project to allow parishioners to share actions they are taking related to Creation Care, as a way for parishioners to share their good work and to encourage others to help reduce climate change. Stories can be about any action you are taking, large or small, to care for creation and mitigate climate change. Stories can take the form of a brief written essay, a video, a photo album, an infographic, or a piece of podcast-style audio. Sharing these stories can help others to learn, lead to new ideas about what to do, and be an inspiration for others to take action too. See guidelines to submit your own story here, or share a response or idea by simply using the "reply" box below! 

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Learning to be Kinder to Nature—Lecture/Demonstration by the Royal Wedding & Coronation Florist

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FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 29, 2 P.M., in the cathedral nave; find the link purchase tickets here

Tickets have now gone on sale for this very special event, presented by the Slow Flowers Society and co-sponsored by Saint Mark’s Cathedral. Learning to be Kinder to Nature is a lecture, floral design demonstration, and book signing with Shane Connolly, an influential role model in sustainable floristry and environmentally-mindful design practices. His artistry is guided by the garden and the seasons, and the values brings to flower sourcing are inspiring. Seattle audiences will learn from Shane in person during his lecture and floral design demonstrations. This lecture will also encompass Shane’s remarks about the Sustainable Church Flowers project in the U.K. as he shares his message with flower enthusiasts, organic gardeners, and floral professionals.

His clients range from great public institutions like The Victoria & Albert Museum, the Royal Academy of Arts, and the National Portrait Gallery, to a veritable who’s who of the great and the good of British life. He is perhaps best known for his public work for The Royal Family. His most recent commission was The Coronation of Their Majesties The King and Queen in Westminster Abbey in May 2023. But he also designed the flowers for their marriage at Windsor Castle in 2005 and for the wedding of The Prince and Princess of Wales in 2011.

Shane has approached all these iconic moments with the same respect for nature, season and setting. Everything is thoughtful, in all senses of the word. Shane has designed events in countries as diverse as the USA and India, and always with the
same aim: to leave the smallest footprint behind and be led by what is local and available. Shane works with the Royal Horticultural Society to improve sustainability in floristry in their annual shows, and he is also a judge at RHS Chelsea. He has written five books and teaches his approach to flower design all over the world.

Tickets: $45 per person; $70 includes a signed copy of A Year in Flowers by Shane Connolly. Learn more and find the link to buy tickets here.

Share Your Creation Care Story!

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In volume 2, Judy Raunig-Graham tell the story of her climate-related actions, Carolyn White on clothes-drying, and a delightful video from Nicole Thomson about motor vehicle idling.
In the first installment, Elizabeth Clark-Stern reflects on choosing to eat vegan, Marjorie Ringness shares a strategy for saving water in the kitchen, and Richard Hartung writes about buying second-hand.
Sue & Ed Tierney on changes they've made in their house both big and small, Alexandra Thompson on choosing an e-bike over a second car... and more to come!

July 2023

The Creation Care Ministry has created a Story Sharing Project to allow parishioners to share actions they are taking related to Creation Care, as a way for parishioners to share their good work and to encourage others to help reduce climate change. Stories can be about any action you are taking, large or small, to care for creation and mitigate climate change. Stories can take the form of a brief written essay, a video, a photo album, an infographic, or a piece of podcast-style audio. Sharing these stories can help others to learn, lead to new ideas about what to do, and be an inspiration for others to take action too.

You can also share a short idea by typing in the "reply" box below!

Creating and Contributing Your Story

Families and individuals in the congregation can decide on the story they want to share. If you'd like input on their idea, check with Richard Hartung at

Once you've decided on what you'd like to share, you can tell the story using whatever media you prefer. Write a story, record a short video or podcast using their phone, create a collections of photos with captions, or use another way of communicating their story. Written stories should be 300 words or less. Videos and podcasts should be less than 2 minutes and preferably less than 90 seconds. (While writing or recording a longer story can be tempting, many people will not read or watch stories longer than these length!) Anyone can contribute and everyone is welcome to contribute more than one story.

If there's a story you'd like to tell, but you don't feel that you can write/film/record it yourself, please reach out so the ministry can match you up with a writer or other collaborator.

The story should focus on a specific action you have taken related to Creation Care, including what you did, how you did it, and any impact you saw from taking action. Even small actions can make a big difference, so sharing any action you’ve taken can be beneficial. Some examples of possible stories include:

  • Expanding from meatless Monday to add on Meatless Tuesday.
  • Walking to meet a friend or to go shopping rather than driving.
  • Installing a heat pump.

When you have completed your story, please send it to Richard and the Creation Care Ministry team will read/watch/listen to the story and may share feedback or suggest changes.

Once the story has been reviewed and finalized, it will posted on the cathedral website, and shared on social media, in cathedral newsletters, and other channels. Storytellers will be credited in the post, although you may remain anonymous if you prefer.

More Information

For more information about the storytelling project or to provide suggestions, please contact Richard Hartung at, or Creation Care Ministry co-chairs Marjorie Ringness or Kathy Minsch at:


Oxbow Farm CSA Pickup at the Cathedral

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It's not too late to sign up for weekly box of local organic produce from Oxbow Farm & Conservation Center, with convenient pick-up at Saint Mark's every Saturday. Sign up for 20 weeks of seasonal farm-fresh goodness, including veggies such as arugula, squash, tomatoes, and more. By joining, you support their mission to inspire sustainable food choices, foster a connection to nature, and conserve our precious resources for future generations. The season runs from June 24 through November 4, and pick-up is every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., in the Carriage House. (Note the slightly different time and place than announced earlier.) They accept EBT, and payment plans are available. Other pick-up locations include the farm itself in Carnation, as well as locations in Mercer Island and Monroe. Subscribers receive a number of additional benefits—find out more and sign up here!

New Summertime Traditions by Richard Hartung

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May 31, 2023

Summertime conjures up good memories of years past and excitement about plans for a multitude of activities. Backyard barbecues with hamburgers and steaks. Sparklers and fireworks in the back yard for the Fourth of July, after a delicious dinner from the charcoal grill. A road trip in the car or travel by plane to a national park or historical site. S'mores around a campfire. An afternoon at a baseball game with hot dogs and beer. While each family does things differently, a combination of activities and expectations have long made summertime in America American.

While even just the mention of these traditions often brings back warm memories from years ago, few of us may have thought about the climate impact of these traditions. As carbon emissions grow and climate change causes increasingly worrisome weather catastrophes, though, it may be time to look at the climate impact of our traditions and pause for a rethink.

Let’s start with that backyard barbecue. Producing a hamburger takes about 450 gallons of water and results in about 90 pounds of carbon emissions, about the same as a three-hour shower and a 90-mile drive. A one-pound steak causes about 40 pounds of carbon emissions. And traditional charcoal, which is produced by cutting down trees and burning them in kilns, releases about 11 pounds of carbon emissions per hour. If each of the 38 million owners of charcoal grills in the US fires up their barbecue for just one hour on the Fourth of July, they will collectively release more than 427 million pounds of carbon dioxide on that day alone.

Along with releasing carbon dioxide, fireworks cause health problems. Fireworks use black powder, also known as gunpowder, which is made from carbon or charcoal, sulfur and potassium nitrate. Studies have shown a drastic drop in air quality at the first rocket’s red glare and bomb bursting in air. "If you happen to be downwind from a big fireworks event, it is very hazardous," according to Paul Walsh, Meteorologist and General Manager of, as "fireworks also release fine particulate matter, which includes something called heavy metals, which is really bad to breathe in."

And that long trip for your vacation has an impact too. Let’s say you decide to drive to Yosemite National Park in California, 893 miles from Seattle, rather than flying to Boston. While the impact differs depending on whether you’re driving a Hyundai or a Hummer, emissions average about 0.7 pounds per mile. You’d release 1,250 pounds going back and forth. If you decide to have a campfire to cook dinner and s'mores, emissions from burning wood include carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides and benzene.

So, what can we do? It turns out that small changes can make a big difference.

Take that barbecue, for instance. Switching from beef to chicken can reduce carbon emissions by about 75%. Tofu, mushrooms and eggplant are great on the grill. And using an electric grill rather than charcoal or gas reduces carbon emissions tremendously. Alternatives to fireworks include blowing bubbles or creating a laser light or drone show. And consider driving 106 miles to North Cascades National Park, rather than to Yosemite, to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 1,000 pounds.

Changes like these can easily seem too idealistic. Altering long-standing cultural practices and traditions can feel impossible. If we look at the Bible, though, we can learn from individuals who propelled change when catastrophe loomed.

When Noah faced a calamity, he and his family made radical changes. In Genesis 6, we read that “God said to Noah, ‘I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out…' Noah did everything just as God commanded him.” 

When Egypt faced the potential catastrophe of a famine, Joseph changed the entire culture of how Egypt produced and stored food. As Genesis 41 says, “Joseph went out from Pharaoh’s presence and traveled throughout Egypt. During the seven years of abundance the land produced plentifully. Joseph collected all the food produced in those seven years of abundance in Egypt and stored it in the cities. In each city he put the food grown in the fields surrounding it. Joseph stored up huge quantities of grain, like the sand of the sea.”

Noah, Joseph and other leaders in the Bible upended traditions and may well have faced disbelief or criticism as they prepared for a coming catastrophic event. They overcame culture, ridicule, and more to do what was right and literally saved humanity from disaster. These decisions can be difficult, but this path can lead to growth and renewal both for the planet and for us as individuals. As God says to Jeremiah, in Jeremiah 29, "For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me, I will hear you." In other words, as one commentator reflecting on this passage has written, “while change can be hard, we can grow in our faith when we learn to embrace it. When we trust God's plan, He transforms us each and every day as His followers.”

Just as leaders throughout the Bible have done, we too should embrace change and shift our traditions to care for creation and avert a catastrophe. Starting new summertime traditions can create new memories and help us to care for creation at the same time.

Neighborhood Eucharist 2023

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SATURDAY, JUNE 24, 4–5 P.M., at the home of Betsy Bell (RSVP for address)

All are invited for a Neighborhood Eucharist in West Seattle at the home of Betsy Bell.

This simple liturgy is family-friendly, meaningful, and brief—a great way to strengthen the connections among us as well as to God's good earth. (Similar services were presented in various locations last summer,)

RSVP to Canon Barrie and you’ll receive the address, parking instructions, and other information:

Beekeeper Forum & Blessing of the Hives, 2023

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SUNDAY, JUNE 4, 10:10-10:50 A.M., meet in Bloedel Hall 

Don't miss this Sunday forum between the 9 and 11 a.m. services on June 4. All are invited to taste the honey made by the bees that live on the Saint Mark’s property, meet the beekeepers, learn about pollinators, and try a bee craft. At the conclusion of the forum, everyone will head outside, and The Rev. Linzi Stahlecker will bless the hives for the new season.

See a video introduction to the beekeeping ministry from Fall 2020 below:

A Rogation Day Liturgy, 2023

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WEDNESDAY, MAY 17, 2023, 6:45–8:15 P.M., in person only in Bloedel Hall (and throughout the cathedral grounds). Optional community dinner at 6 p.m. ($6/child; $8/adult; $25/max. family).

Join Rev. Stahlecker, Canon Rosario-Cruz, and Canon Barrie as we celebrate and give thanks for the gifts of Creation with an outdoor liturgy for Rogation Day, an observance that dates to the 5th century. For 1,500 years, the weekdays preceding Ascension Day have been marked by outdoor prayers and thanksgiving for the fruitful Earth. Following the community dinner in Bloedel Hall, participants will process around the cathedral grounds, stopping to reflect and pray at significant locations. The liturgy ends with includes a portion of the Great Litany.

UPDATE: The leaflet for this year's procession may be seen here

Earth & Spirit: Sunday Forum with Gordon Miller

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SUNDAY, MARCH 19, 10:10 A.M., Bloedel Hall

In this Sunday morning Forum on 19 March, on the eve of the vernal equinox, Saint Mark’s parishioner and Emeritus Professor of Environmental Studies at Seattle University Gordon Miller will share ideas and images from two of his books: Wisdom of the Earth, which displays relatively unknown ecological riches of the Christian tradition, and The Metamorphosis of Plants, his photographic edition of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s 18th-century botanical classic that encourages readers to look beyond the surface of the natural world to its nonmaterial depths.

“Autumn Returns” by Doug Thorpe

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November 13, 2022

Autumn returns with the rain and cold. This time it seemed to happen overnight. I talk with my daughter over WhatsApp and—along with the beloved and very mobile grandson Walter—she shows me the blue skies, the red and golden leaves of Buffalo New York. The flames of autumn give way to grays and ash.

I’m pretty sure that I’m not the only one around here who welcomed the rain with a sense of relief—more so this year because of the oddly high temperatures we had into October. Now we relax a little, bid farewell to the fruits of summer and early autumn, and settle in with the wind and rain. It’s a time of endings, marked in particular by the Triduum of All Hallows, All Saints and All Souls, a time in the calendar to honor and remember those who have passed, the saints of our own lives and of the church.

Fittingly, Advent is just around the corner. The Oxford English Dictionary tells us that the word comes from the Latin, meaning to come to or towards, and more specifically “the arrival of a notable person or thing.” Out of the darkness, Advent affirms, comes new light—most generally in the form of the solstice, with days growing longer. For us. of course. that new light comes more specifically in the form of a child.

This fall I’ve been reading Karen Armstrong’s most recent book, Sacred Nature: How We Can Recover Our Bond with the Natural World. In the title chapter, she tells us the story of a group of seventeenth century Jesuit missionaries trying to explain the shape of the cosmos to a group of Chinese intellectuals, using a map of sorts that showed the earth, the planets and the location of God out at the edge of the universe in the form of the Primum Mobile. As Armstrong tells it, the Chinese were bewildered. Why should the deity whom the Jesuits called the “Lord of Creation” be content to be confined to a tiny sector of the universe that he had supposedly created? The Confucian scholar Fang Yishi (1611–71) concluded that the West was detailed in material investigation,” and deficient in comprehending seminal forces (qi). By qi, Fang was referring to the essence of Being—a force that the Chinese regarded as “unknowable,” the “recondite,” and the “uniting layers of mysteries.”

As Armstrong concludes, “when faced with the ultimate reality, [Fang] believed, humans must fall silent because it lies beyond the reach of verbal concepts.”

There is much about these ideas that I find compelling—this sense of a “basic ‘stuff’ or essence of the universe ... neither wholly spiritual nor wholly material,” as Armstrong describes qi. “It is ineffable; it is something that we cannot define or describe. It is not a god or a being of any kind; it is the energy that pervades all life, harmoniously linking the plant, animal, human and divine worlds and enabling them to fulfill their potential.” This is similar, she continues, to the Hindu concept of Rta, “best understood as ‘active, creative truth’ or ‘the way things truly are.’ Like qi and Dao, Rta was not a god but a sacred, impersonal, animating force. . . [which] could be experienced as the sublime whole, which flowed from itself expansively, bringing about the cosmos, humans, and the god themselves.”

We seem close, in a way, to the idea of the Holy Spirit, which similarly “flowed from itself expansively” and which mysteriously and invisibly moves through all things. On the other hand, we are far from the world of the prophet Jeremiah, from whom we’ve been hearing this fall, who claimed to speak as the voice of a very personal God who called his people back to a path of justice. We are also a long way from a child born in a cold barn in a small village in an insignificant country which was little more than a crossroads and was under the control of the military power of Rome. And yet that child is why we are here together as the community of Saint Mark’s, and within that community why we form the Creation Care Ministry. Seemingly impossibly and yet truly, we believe that this energy—this holy spirit—is fully manifested in the person of Jesus, who in turn inspires us in our justice work. Literally, he fills us with that same spirit. Like disciples going back in an unbroken chain two thousand years, we believe that we’ve been touched by that same energy, which we also experience directly and powerfully in creation: in the mountains, in a forest, by the ocean.

Yes, it’s autumn. We are moving steadily towards winter and into shorter, darker days. Yet the new year approaches in that same form of a child in whom we see all the hope of the world. And that same child awakens in us the knowledge that we too are that light—and that hope. May it continue to sustain us.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue,
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river shallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourne;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.


—John Keats, To Autumn, September 19, 1819

Longtime Saint Mark's parishioner and former vestry member Doug Thorpe is Professor Emeritus of English at Seattle Pacific University.

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