For Love of Science and Religion

Science and religion—two belief systems that have been both in love and at odds with each other over the course of history. Although some people and organizations have attempted to keep the two disciplines at arms length, others have chosen to use one to inform the other. For example, the international Society of Ordained Scientists (SOSc) acknowledges a “Creator and Redeemer of all that is, source and foundation of time and space, matter and energy, life and consciousness.” In their daily lives, SOSc members are charged to honor “the mysteries of creation” and to witness to the “work of science and technology in the exploration and stewardship of creation.”

This past July, the Rev. Mark William Frazier, Ph.D., M.Div., T’01, was invited to join The Society as an associate. As both a scientist and a member of the clergy of The Episcopal Church, Frazier has a passionate reverence for the created world, the process of creation, and the Creator. “Diversity is the repertoire of nature, and we have no idea of how many species are yet to be discovered.” To Frazier, “protect the planet” is not a political slogan but a creed that reminds humankind of the ancient words “And it was good.”   

Science and religion have nurtured Mark’s wonder in creation equally since he was a boy. Frazier initially pursued a scientific call, earning his doctorate in molecular biology at Vanderbilt University. During his fellowship at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington, Frazier earned a National Service Research Award from the National Institutes of Health for his work on gene expression in cancer cells. His career then drew him home to Memphis, Tennessee, to the Departments of Molecular Pharmacology & Biochemistry and of Molecular Pathology at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. During this tenure, Frazier began to feel “a nudge,” as he calls it. After more than 10 years in scientific academia, he decided to answer that call.

Frazier enrolled at the School of Theology where here he received the School’s American Bible Society Prize in Hebrew as well as the Freeman Award for Academic Merit. Since his ordination in 2001, he has served parishes in New Jersey, New York, and Virginia and has found ways to blend the two fields ever since.

In addition to his position as rector of St. Thomas Church in Christiansburg, Virginia, Frazier is also an assistant professor at the Jefferson College for the Health Sciences (JCHS) in Roanoke, Virginia. At JCHS, Frazier teaches biology and biochemistry and is leading student research projects that will focus on “optimizing the growth conditions for various food plants by using controlled-environment agriculture.”

While in his role as rector, the lectionary recently allowed for the integration of science and religion in a sermon. In the Parable of the Sower, Mark says, “God calls community into existence, and soil is community. Made up of rocks and minerals, air and water, soil recycles over time into a community that grows life—and grows it abundantly. Science derives tremendous benefits from healthy ecosystems, and to destroy these ecosystems is not only careless, it is sinful.”

“Even before I got here, St. Thomas understood environmental stewardship to be a big part of our shared ministry,” Frazier says. For example, members of the parish actively support “Gleaning the Margins.” One part of this program occurs after the commercial harvest at nearby farms, where parishioners follow behind the machines, grubbing in the soil and collecting overlooked, perfectly healthy potatoes, which then are donated to local food pantries. A few hours of work can yield hundreds of pounds of potatoes, depending on the number of gleaners. The produce of the parish’s demonstration garden (and the surplus from home gardens) is shared through similar outlets.

Like his colleagues in the SOSc, Frazier seeks to “bring faith to the scientific community and science to the church.” By not choosing one over the other, Frazier believes that all who engage the two are made richer by far.