E.N. West | pronouns: they/them | Faith Land Organizer at the Church Council of Greater Seattle
E.N. West, affectionately known as “E”, proudly hails from the DC metropolitan area, by way of Alexandria, Virginia. They graduated from William & Mary with dual degrees in American Studies and Government. In addition to working as a Faith Land Organizer with The Church Council of Greater Seattle, E is the Communications & Community Engagement Manager at Surge Reproductive Justice as a Community Impact Fellow with RVC , and as a member of the board of Got Green, a BIPOC-led environmental justice organization in South Seattle.
E deeply believes “we are uninhibited when we know our power” and is committed to co-creating a world where everyone intimately knows how powerful they are and directs that power toward collective liberation
This year we are piloting a new process: convening a cohort of congregations for a 6-month dive into our faith traditions and community organizing practices, discerning next steps together toward aligning the use of faith-owned land with the visions of faith communities.
“But what do you actually DO?” – some of us at the Church Council still struggle to answer concisely. It is hard to capture the complex web in which our work is inextricably embedded. But we are blessed in community by those who innovate together the individual efforts and broader visions that carry our world toward to justice.
The surest way to truly understand what it is we “actually do” at the Church Council is to hear it from the community leaders who make the work possible themselves.
E.N. West both represents and redefines what it means to live out the call to justice. Beth Amsbary, our Philanthropy Manager, sat down with E (virtually, of course) to hear what it is to be so vitally embedded in the Church Council’s work during this unique moment.
What’s the difference between cultivating leaders and doing a program?
That’s an interesting question! Doing a program tends to be one–sided: doing a good that is received. When cultivating leaders, you’ve already deemed them leaders, recognizing their wisdom, that they have something to offer. The word “cultivation” has agricultural roots. It takes time to cultivate ground, and leaders. It is mutually beneficial.
You are a busy person, with many ways you could contribute to the community. What made you want to get involved in this organizing effort with the Faith Land Cohort?
It’s been a long time coming. It was clear that churches all over the country are going through the same thing and having the same reaction: “We used to be hundreds of people. Now we’re not. The grand building doesn’t serve us anymore.”
Church folks feel we are relevant, but we need to revisit that to make it clearer to others and to ourselves. Especially in Seattle, with its agnostic overtone, churches need to be very clear about the value of spiritual work and community.
I was having 1-to-1 meetings with churches and kept hearing: “This justice work you are bringing to us is important, but what is pressing is this building.” We needed to respond to the actual needs of churches.
On a personal note, this is something I wrote about on my entry essays to divinity schools: the political implications of church land. I want to bring a faith-based community-organizing approach to the question. [Notions like] repurposing faith buildings into multi-purpose community spaces that are spiritual political homes for communities. It’s radical in the ancient sense. In my mind folks should be able to:
Go into them for free.
Center spiritual questions.
Are there any vivid moments that stands out for you in the Cohort process?
The second session of the Faith Land Cohort, a participant realized that maybe they should sell their [church] building and redistribute the money to People of Color. He said “We don’t need the building. We don’t need the money.” I was surprised that perspective [popped out] so soon in our meetings.
People are so often caught up in a market mentality that they feel like they have to hold on, that the building is where their value is.
It’s fun to see cohort participants use the structures we’ve been sharing to energize their congregation.
What is personally energizing about this cohort for you?
Land. When we struggle for justice, we often don’t ground it in land. This process is predicated on land. Land speaks. It is a power of itself.
It’s exciting to be on the early side of creating a process, to see it unfold. We’ve seen that [land] development easily falls into capitalism and White Supremacy culture. So I’m excited we’re going about this with an equity lens.
I’m also excited by the possibility of transfer or partnership in a way that brings us all together. BIPOC leaders are so clear about what they would do if they had land and money. White churches often are not.
Our goal is to shift how we all engage with these issues from the get go.
When we can all gather again to share a meal after COVID, what would you like to bring?
I look forward to bringing a big batch of a hot drink for us all to enjoy (or a cold drink if it is summertime), so we can all toast to being free of this pandemic!
More from E.N. West:
Dear neighbor, the leaders who connect us urgently need your support. Please, make a gift to the immediate & enduring work being done through the Church Council of Greater Seattle today.
Read here: E and two more local leaders of the Church Council tell you about their organizing circles. Every week for the next 3 weeks, we’ll share another of their full interviews on our website and send emails as well.