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Mission: ENTREAT explores religious, scientific dimensions of water issues

By Phina Borgeson

Photo by Eugene Willard
Province IV Environmental Ministries network coordinator Joyce Wilding (Diocese of Tennessee) and the Rev. Jeff Golliher (Diocese of New York), program associate for the Environmental and Sustainable Development in the Office of the Anglican Observer at the United Nations, using water as part of a blessing for the March 8-9 ENTREAT conference.   (Photo by Eugene Willard)

Photo by Eugene Willard
From left, Joyce Wilding, the Rev. Canon Jeff Golliher, Dr. Robin Gottfried, and Roberta (Robbi) Savage at the ENTREAT conference in Sewanee, Tennessee, March 8-9.   (Photo by Eugene Willard)

[Episcopal News Service]  The scientific, public policy and faith dimensions of water issues were explored March 8-9 in Sewanee, Tennessee, by participants gathered for ENTREAT (Enter Now the Reflection, Education, Action Treatise), a collaborative program at the University of the South that examines the interface between religion and science, especially regarding environmental issues.

About 150 participants engaged in this year's conference, "Water for Life: Conserving Water for Nature and People," through listening, reflecting, networking, hiking and praying.

The Rev. Canon Jeff Golliher, program associate for the Environment and Sustainable Development in the Office of the Anglican Observer at the United Nations, spoke on the water of baptism and of life, exploring the water crisis and the call to sustainable use.

Creating a national and ultimately a global water budget "and finding the balance between need, want, fairness and survival is a role tailor made for the community of believers," said Roberta Savage as part of a March 8 address, "Water Rights and Dynamic Water Policies."

Savage's remarks drew on her extensive experience in water conservation, working from 1978 to 2006 as executive director of the Association of State and Interstate Water Pollution Control Administrators.

"The first step in developing a global water budget would be to involve ourselves in the creation of watershed plans and the development of total maximum daily loads (TMDLs) within our own communities," said Savage, a parishioner at Grace Episcopal Church in Stanardsville, Virginia. "In our country, the Clean Water Act requires the development of TMDLs for waters impaired by pollution and pollutants."

Citizens can get involved at local watershed, state, national and international levels in shaping resource plans and developing a global water budget, she explained.

"Episcopalians might become active in our watersheds by first becoming water monitors and participating in World Water Monitoring Day," suggests its founder, Savage. "We can promote the importance of water quality and water scarcity within our own parishes and dioceses. Taking things a step further, we can develop church policies at the statewide level, then churchwide in the US and ultimately throughout the world." 

The Rev. C. Scott James, a recently retired priest from the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast, where he chaired the Commission on the Environment and the Integrity of God's Creation, said: "I had to reflect on the question, 'Am I being a good steward of God's creation of living water in the ways I use this precious resource? Do I find myself thinking globally, but acting locally for my own interest at the expense of others? Do I find myself trying to justify my use of water, changing God's gift to a commodity?"

Following major presentations, a panel considered further how science and religion groups can work together.

"I was edified to find the scientific community open to working with the community of faith in addressing the apparent water crisis and sustainable development on the Cumberland Plateau," said James, who now lives in the Sewanee area. "And I was pleased to see the bridging of not only science and religion, but also the academic community on the mountain and the working community in the valley."

Toward the end of the conference, environmental ministry leaders from dioceses in the Episcopal Church's Province IV discussed what they had learned and explored the emerging priorities.

"We really needed more time to address water ethics and economics of water," reflected Joyce Wilding, ENTREAT conference planner and coordinator. "But the diversity of participants from the local area and from the several dioceses was very gratifying, and they warmly accepted the conference mix of lecture and discussion, music and the visuals arts, blessing and ritual."

The Rev. Dr. Susanna Metz, director of Field Education at Sewanee's School of Theology and ENTREAT board member, reminded conferees in her homily at the concluding Eucharist that "religious institutions of every kind must be prophetic ... Sisters and brothers let's go down to the river -- study the old ways -- go down to the river and pray."

Further information about ENTREAT is available here.

Get involved with World Water Monitoring Day here.

Learn more about safe drinking water, one of the targets for Millennium Development Goal #7, at the International Water Association Bonn Charter for Safe Drinking Water website.