Judging from comments of participants after this all-day “Living Waters” summit at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, the answer was a profound “Yes!”
Water is sacred across all faiths, cultures, and time, one participant observed, urging everyone to return home and engage their communities in projects that help protect local streams and rivers.
“This is God’s earth, and we need to be good stewards of it,” another said.
Still another proposed that the Virginia General Assembly create a “Sacred Waters” caucus of legislators who acknowledge and prioritize the Chesapeake Bay and its importance to Virginia.
Many found strength in the like-minded people at the summit who shared an earth stewardship ethic and were energized by the discussions and the prospects for moving forward. One woman testified she has believed and practiced earth stewardship for 40 years but has often felt like a voice in the wilderness in her church community.
“What a blessing for me today to be with you all," she said. "This is just beautiful.”
Symbolizing their shared value for water stewardship, many participants brought small containers of water from their hometown streams and rivers, and at the start of the summit they emptied them into a single large bowl, literally blending together the living waters of the Commonwealth. At the summit’s conclusion, each person returned to the bowl to fill a small vial to take home for future inspiration.
In between, summit goers heard from singers, drummers, faith leaders, scientists, and policymakers who related their perspectives on the intersection of faith, values, and clean water.
Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin, chair of Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake in Annapolis, Md., said people have too long taken the Earth for granted. She urged a new, more caring narrative for relating to nature and encouraged everyone to align their conservation values with their identities.
Former Virginia legislator and Secretary of Natural Resources Tayloe Murphy affirmed that faith can bridge the polarized politics of today.
“Faith is a much greater motivator than party affiliation,” he said, and reminded all of the powerful role faith leaders played in the volatile civil rights struggles of the 1950s and ‘60s.
Lee Ware, a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, lamented the “commodification of our natural resources” and viewing the environment through a cost-benefit prism. He called for a reorientation, a more transcendent view of water and natural resources.
“Nature is an enchanted garden, not a commodity,” he said.
Dr. Carl Hershner, a marine science professor at the College of William and Mary, conceded that when reaching the limits of what science can tell them, most scientists are deeply spiritual and view nature with a sense of awe.
Still, science and facts make it clear that when it comes to the problems of the Chesapeake Bay, “We have seen the enemy and it is us,” Hershner said. The cumulative actions of everyone have so altered the Bay system today that everyone now must do his part for conditions to change, he said.
J. Herbert Nelson, director of the Presbyterian Church (USA)’ Office of Public Witness in Washington, D.C., said faith “needs feet on it… We are free thinkers. It is imperative that we get engaged and transform our reality.”
Shelton Miles, a Baptist pastor, cattle farmer, and conservation advocate, told the group that God expects mankind to steward His creation. Creation is all connected and all is one, he said.
“People of faith are uniquely positioned in the current hyper-partisan atmosphere to be problem solvers," Miles said. “It ought to be in our DNA to be seekers of truth, recognizing that all truth, whether from science or theology or any other discipline, is ultimately God's truth."
Ralph White, former manager of James River Park in Richmond and self-described secular humanist, counseled a practical approach: faith communities and conservation advocates should partner on small, local, outdoor projects.
“How do you build a movement?” he asked. “Do things in the environment…Focus on the little things, the small projects that don’t cost a lot of money. You can change the world. Follow your heart. Seek places to make change in your community.”
The Living Waters Summit was sponsored by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in partnership with the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, Virginia Conservation Network, Caretakers of God’s Creation, Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake, the Office of Justice + Peace, and Virginia Interfaith Power & Light.
A detailed summary of summit discussions and recommendations will be produced over the next several months. To receive a copy or for more information on organizing similar forums in your community, contact Ann Jurczyk at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chesapeake Bay Foundation