Thursday, August 4, 2022

Faithful Stewards Caring for Sacred Waters


The Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake team by the Bay

Faithful Stewards Caring for Sacred Waters

by Natalie Johnson, M.A

People of faith, no matter their religion, are united in one fundamental expression – love.  We are called to love people and all of Creation.  Water is a matrix of Creation, a ritual substance, and a gift from God intended to benefit all.

Through water we are all connected.  Our survival depends on clean water and it is a necessity for all life on Earth.  Water keeps us alive by quenching our thirst, providing sustenance, recreation, and religious ritual practice (christening, wudu, mikvah, etc.)   We are often tempted to create and maintain firm boundaries between old and new, humanity and the rest of creation, between one another, as well as between the divine and ourselves.  However, just like water flows in between and through, we believe that communities of faith can bring about a transformation of awareness and action that reflects respect for our brothers and sisters in this watershed, and for future generations.

Our faith also calls us to foster healthy communities and be in relationship with water in ways that contribute to healing and restoration.  The way that we treat water is a reflection of how we treat those around us, and we must bear responsibility for it.  This connects us with the golden rule common to all major faith traditions - to love our neighbor and at Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake (IPC) we like to use the "Watershed Golden Rule" of environmentalist Wendell Berry, "Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you."  In doing so we are expressing our faith and commitment to environmental justice.

Ethically, fresh water is a substance that requires attention to justice: It is the poor and vulnerable who are first and most profoundly affected by lack of sufficient, clean, fresh water.  In the Chesapeake Bay watershed, many communities are exposed to pollution that place an unequal burden on the people living there.  Coastal and inland flooding also takes its hardest toll on marginalized communities. In our context, God makes the rain, but we make the runoff. Polluted stormwater runoff is the number one source of water pollution that is increasing in local streams and waterways and eventually the Chesapeake Bay.  Development that increases the impervious surfaces on land creates stormwater runoff that leads to water quality impairment. When rain falls on roofs, streets, and parking lots, water cannot soak into the ground and runs off as polluted stormwater, entering storm drains that empty unfiltered into nearby creeks.

Congregations own hundreds of acres of land, with large parking lots and roofs that generate urban stormwater runoff. By implementing best management practices (BMPs), congregational properties can be retrofitted to reduce stormwater runoff.  Restoring the Chesapeake Bay watershed requires ensuring that communities have access to clean water and healthy environments.  Public policies are needed to bring about major change and to undo the harm that has been done to our environment, specifically the watersheds of the Chesapeake region.  As individuals, and in our institutions, our behaviors can go a long way toward harming - or healing - our watersheds.  

Changing public policies offers lasting, systematic change.  In the past, our supporters have worked to bring about such policy changes as the Pollinator Protection Act of 2016 which limited the use and sale of neonicotinoid pesticides which are harmful to the smallest of God’s creatures. More recently we advocated for The Environmental Human Rights Amendment which seeks to place in the Declaration of Rights of our Maryland state constitution the right of each person to a healthful environment. We all have a moral obligation to engage both in the political process and to adopt behaviors that ensure justice and respect for the entire web of life.   When we forge a spiritual relationship with our local waterways and pay attention to what is happening, we may learn what God is calling us to do as stewards of Creation.

Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake (IPC) is a nonprofit organization that works to engage congregations in being good caretakers of our shared watershed.  IPC works to raise awareness of the power that people of faith have to restore clean water and environmental justice and can offer hands-on assistance to install healing projects, such as rain gardens, tree plantings, native plantings and more.  Hundreds of IPC’s partner congregations have pledged to join our movement to help protect the sacred blessings of Creation, with many forming green teams to lead their efforts. We ask our supporters to use their voice for justice as we envision a time when faith communities across the Chesapeake honor, care for, and protect the watershed we share so all our communities, and future generations, may thrive.

Natalie Johnson is Office Manager and Development Assistant at Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake. They won the RESTORING CREATION AWARD from Presbyterians for Earth Care in 2018.

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