Water Memories, Water Stories
Preserving and protecting water is a gift given to and from each other. The RECLAIM act restores God’s creation and creates jobs in coal-affected areas.
All of my life I have had a sense of the importance of water as a gift of life. I have always known that I could not live without water, because my body needed it to stay hydrated, but also because my soul needed its beauty, its cool refreshment, its movement, its permanence on this planet. I remember loving to play in gentle rains that came or in the tiny waterfall in the creek that meandered in my grandfather’s woods. I grew up swimming in lakes, in streams, in pools and knew that in the hot and humid summers of my North Carolina childhood, these were the places I most wanted to be. Knowing the necessity and joy of water—good, clean, pure water—has been a foundation of my life. Since living in West Virginia my relationship with water has deepened as clean drinkable water has not always been readily accessible.
After seminary I moved to a small, former mining town in West Virginia to begin my ministry. The mines were no longer running. However the pollution from the old mining days lingered in the air and water as the mines had not been properly cleaned up. The trains that used to run day and night had ceased. The buildings stood in various states of decay, with wild plants that grew up the walls and through long-ago broken windows and across floors that no longer were sturdy. The once bustling town had dwindled to very few. An elementary school, a post office, and a very tiny United Methodist Church were all that kept the community together. My parsonage sat up on a hill just beside the church. The day my family moved in one of the members met us at the door and showed us around what would be our home for the next few years. As she was getting ready to leave, she said, “now don’t forget, you can’t use the water to cook with. You can use it to bathe or wash clothes with, but don’t try to cook with it.”
When I went into the kitchen, I discovered in the pantry that there were several gallons of water just for cooking. I wasn’t clear where we were supposed to get water for cooking or even what would happen if I tried to use the water. When I tried to ask, I would always get the same answer: “Everything turns blue and it tastes horrible and more than likely you will get sick.”
Soon, I was told a secret. The best water for drinking and cooking could be found about an hour’s drive away, into the hills, where a fresh spring poured out of the hillside. As soon as I heard the secret, I was out the door and on my way. The journey for water became a monthly trip, with lots and lots of gallon jugs. Sometimes when I got to the spring, I had to wait my turn in a line of three or four or even more cars, in order to get the water, I needed or that I wanted. It was on those days, when I had to wait my turn, that I felt guilty for the amount of water that I took, but the spring never seemed to run out.
In those days it didn’t dawn on me that there was no need to feel guilt, but that there was every reason in the world to feel anger. Water is a gift to all of Creation, from the Creator with love and joy. It is not something that humanity should be able to withhold from other humans and yet, that is what was happening in the life of that community. Even thirty years later, this is still the case in small, isolated communities in West Virginia and indeed, around our country and world.
Water- which gives life to everything on planet earth is polluted with discharge from abandoned mines. Even coal mines that have been closed for decades are still leaching harmful chemicals into the water, air, and land. However, we should not lose hope. There are paths forward- one of them is the RECLAIM Act. The RECLAIM Act is a step forward towards healthier people, plants, & animals as well as a boost to the local economies through job creation. The RECLAIM act restores God’s creation and creates jobs in coal-affected areas. This piece of legislation is a big step towards water justice in coal-affected communities that have been sacrificed for the sake of dirty energy– like mine.
Preserving and protecting water is a gift given to and from each other. It is not something that we can leave up to someone else to fix, but so often, there seems to be little that we, on an individual level, can do. Water is hope. Water is healing, not for just a few, but for all the world. We must protect and restore water in West Virginia and nation-wide. I encourage congress to take a stand for environmental justice, health, and economic recovery through this bill through passing the RECLAIM act.
Rev. Alicia Randolph Rapking is an elder in the WV Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church, serving as pastor of First United Methodist Church in Parkersburg, WV. She is currently working on a Doctor of Ministry through Wesley Theological Seminary in partnership with Wesley House, Cambridge, UK, studying refugee/immigration issues and environmental issues and the possibilities for local congregations to learn and respond. She is the author of prayersofmyheartblog.com.