Let me introduce you to the two new members of Diocesan Council’s Resolution Review Committee, Joyce Munro and Felicity Thompson. Both Joyce and Felicity are eager to help make the connection between the Church and the broader community. These connections often begin with the resolutions passed in our governing bodies: General Convention, Diocesan Convention, Diocesan Council and Executive Council. While the legal-sounding language of resolutions may seem stuffy and obtuse, each resolution comes to us because people within our greater Household have come to recognize the needs and concerns of the people whose lives are touched by the issues reflected in the resolutions. I am excited to be working with these two enthusiastic women and can’t wait to see what we can bring to you over the course of this next year! Welcome Joyce and Felicity!
Water. We drink it; we bathe in it; we prepare food with it. And, we are brought to the family of God through the waters of Baptism! Our bodies are over 60% water. Seventy-one percent of our planet is covered with water. Water is vital for all of life! For a state with the longest freshwater coastline in the country (3,288 miles), it seems especially pathetic and tragic that Michigan makes the world news scene because Flint’s drinking water has been tainted with toxic levels of lead. Likely most of us take our water for granted. We turn on faucets and expect that the water we drink or in which we bathe and wash our clothes is free of harmful chemicals. After all, what could be more pure than nice, fresh water? Sadly, we know not that this is not the case. Episcopal News Service reported:
“Over the last two weeks, Flint’s water crisis and the state’s failure to respond, have dominated mainstream headlines, with President Barack Obama declaring a ‘state of emergency,’ and last week Governor Rick Snyder using his State of the State address to apologize to Flint residents.”
Even if the state hasn’t responded, the churches and local community groups have! The Rev. Dan Scheid, rector of St Paul’s Episcopal Church in Flint, told ENS:
“This is a social-justice issue. The poor and marginalized simply were not listened to by those in power, they were repeatedly told the water is fine, the water is fine, and at some point they realized that the water wasn’t good and it’s going to take additional reporting and digging to find out who knew what when….October 1st  is when the governor said he knew, and that’s when things started to change.”
But the problem began in April 2014 when, under the leadership of an appointed emergency manager, Flint switched its water supply from the Detroit’s municipal water service coming from Lake Huron to the Flint River. This more-corrosive water source leached lead from the un-protected lead pipes of Flint’s system into the tap water throughout the city’s system. It only took a few months for Flint’s residents to recognize problems from the water. In January 2015, a public meeting was held at which residents complained about the “bad” smell, taste and appearance of the water. Since that time, two major scientific studies have been done, one by Hurley Medical Center whose findings will be published in the February 2016 edition of the American Journal of Public Health and the other by Virginia Tech with funds from a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant. Dr Marc Edwards, professor of engineering at Virginia Tech, and his team of volunteers found that at least a quarter of Flint households have levels of lead above the federal level of 15 parts per billion (ppb) and that in some homes, lead levels were at 13,200 ppb. In an interview with Public Radio International, Edwards said: “It was the injustice of it all and that the very agencies that are paid to protect these residents from lead in water, knew or should’ve known after June at the very, very latest of this year, that federal law was not being followed in Flint, and that these children and residents were not being protected. And the extent to which they went to cover this up exposes a new level of arrogance and uncaring that I have never encountered.”
I’ve spent the last few hours reading articles about the crisis in Flint – and there’s a lot written on the subject. Residents of Flint have LeeAnne Walters and other concerned citizens to thank. Walters, a mother of four, whose persistent public outcry alerted officials at the Environmental Protection Agency when her children’s blood tests came back showing excessive lead levels, got the ball rolling toward accountability by the governing agencies involved.
But it’s not over yet. Help is still needed in the form of financial donations and bottled water. St Paul’s in Flint has been a distribution center for bottled water having received grants from the Dioceses of Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan and donations from congregations all across Lower Michigan. They have also received a $5,000 grant from Episcopal Relief and Development which they have used to purchase water filters for the schools. In addition, community groups and churches are looking for ways to increase healthy diets for the children in Flint since it’s been scientifically shown that foods rich in vitamin C can begin to lessen the effects of lead poisoning.
You can help, too! Financial contributions allow the local team to allocate money where it is most needed at the moment. Checks can be sent to:
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
711 S Saginaw Street
Flint, MI 48502
Please be sure to note on your checks that the gift is for water relief.
Contributions are important, for sure, but that’s not all that we can do. Rev. Scheid made an important comment for all of us: “It’s not just in communities like Flint where poor and marginalized citizens are without voice, it’s in cities, towns and rural areas across the United States. Aside from financial contributions, one way Episcopalians can stand in solidarity with Flint’s residents is to address issues of injustice and inequality in their own communities….The church has the moral and civil authority to lift those voices up; the church should take care of those issues in its own context. That is one way to be responsive to what’s happening in Flint.”
Maybe your community – or mine – isn’t struggling with water issues but are there other issues in which injustice and inequality are present? Who are the marginalized in your neighborhood? What are their needs? Let’s all take a look around us and heed Rev. Scheid’s words to reach out and make a difference!
The full ENS article can be found here – http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2016/01/26/church-considers-long-term-response-to-flints-water-crisis/
For background information, check out this link – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flint_water_crisis
Here’s the link to the EDOMI page on how you can help both for Flint and Detroit – http://www.edomi.org/contribute-to-aid-water-emergencies-in-flint-detroit/
Let us pray –
Grant, O God, that your holy and life‑giving Spirit may so
move every human heart and especially the hearts of those whose decisions brought about the water crisis in Flint; that justice and healing can occur; that speedy solutions will be found; that clean water will be made available to all; and that we may live in justice and peace. And may we each hear the voice of your Spirit calling us to be attentive to the needs of those within our own neighborhoods and communities that we might be your hands and feet and voice; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
~ The Rev. Deacon Judith Schellhammer, Resolution Review Committee