river

SLIDESHOW: 'Rev. Riverkeeper' in Action

As Dottie Yunger writes in 'Rev. Riverkeeper' (Sojourners, November 2013), the Anacostia River is a “river of contrasts,” flowing through rich and poor communities in and around the nation’s capital. Yunger, a pastor at Metropolitan Memorial United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C., spent three years serving as the watershed’s appointed “riverkeeper.” Like the Anacostia itself, Yunger’s identities—as a person of faith and an environmental activist—are contrasting, yet deeply connected.

View the slideshow below of Yunger putting her faith into action as Rev. Riverkeeper.

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A River Runs Through It

"HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?" pondered the middle-aged woman as she panted up the road to her village of Sychar, water jar forgotten. “How did we get into this heavy theological conversation from a simple request for a drink of water? Sometimes conversations take sharp turns, but this is just too bizarre. I’ve known a number of men in my life, but only the crazy ones told me they were the messiah! Better check this out with the town elders.”

In contrast to the approximately 800 references to water in the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament is relatively spare. A friend explained the difference. The ancient Hebrews emerged from the eastern desert cultures of Egypt and Babylonia (now Iraq), which built their empires around rivers and where water was scarce and precious. But the New Testament writers were oriented toward the wetter West, where seafaring Greeks and Romans had appropriated the Mediterranean Sea as their major mode of transportation and conquest. For example, even though the book of Acts only mentions the word “water” in reference to baptism, the early missionary movement depended on travel by ship to spread the gospel message.

Water in the synoptic gospels
All four gospels introduce us to John the Baptist down by the Jordan River, who dunks in its flowing water those who repent from sin as a symbol of their cleansing. After John moves offstage, the synoptic gospels center much of Jesus’ activity in the towns around the Sea of Galilee. Here he not only teaches from a boat (Matthew 13:2; Luke 5:3), but he and his disciples travel in it from one side of the lake to the other, which includes a miraculous walk on and rebuking of the stormy waves (Matthew 14:22-27; Mark 6:47-52; Luke 8:22-25). Other references to water are few and sometimes incidental.

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'Rev. Riverkeeper'

THE ANACOSTIA RIVER is a river of contrasts. Often called “the nation’s forgotten river,” it flows for eight-and-a-half miles through some of the richest and poorest communities in and around D.C., through residential and industrial zones, through marshes and military installations. In fact, the federal government owns so much land in the watershed that when all those federal toilets flush during a heavy rain, they drain directly into the river.

The Anacostia River watershed is home to more than 800,000 people, 43 species of fish, and nearly 200 species of birds—including our nation’s symbol, the bald eagle, and the majestic great blue heron. Yet the trash in the river is so deep and wide at times that you’re just as likely to see a heron walking across a flotilla of trash rather than flying over the water.

As the Anacostia Riverkeeper—part of the Waterkeeper Alliance movement to protect local waterways—it was my job for three years to be the eyes, ears, and voice of its watershed. Of the nearly 200 waterkeepers worldwide, I was the only riverkeeper who was also a minister. I was called “Rev. Riverkeeper.”

The antiquated sewer system that pumps more than 2 billion gallons of raw sewage, mixed with polluted runoff, into the river each year is not just a shame, it’s a sin. African-American churches along the Anacostia used to baptize their members in the river. Nowadays, the river wouldn’t wash away anyone’s sins. My goal as Rev. Riverkeeper was an Anacostia that was not only “fishable” and “swimmable”—as required by the Clean Water Act—but also “baptizable.”

THE ANACOSTIA RIVER is in desperate need of healing. “How has one river fallen so far from grace?” asked one community leader.

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Reflections on an Eco-Justice Anacostia River Tour (PHOTOS)

Brandon Hook / Sojourners
The river tour gave a few of us the opportunity to get some waders on and clean the river. Brandon Hook / Sojourners

On Saturday, Sojourners sent a group of staff members sailing down the Anacostia River.

But this was no pleasure trip.

Dottie Yunger, from the Anacostia Watershed Society, teamed up with Sojourners’ Creation Care campaign to teach some of our staff and a few other members of the local community about the state of the Anacostia river, how we as people of faith can be better stewards of our God-given resources, and how we can help create a healthier system where all creatures (both human and non-human) can survive and flourish.

Here are a few reflections from the trip.

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