By Emily Campbell
The EcoFaith Network (EFN) of the Minneapolis Area Synod was recognized as one of the “Watershed Heroes” by the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District (MCWD) on Thursday, November 2. Through “Our Watershed Moment” campaign, the EcoFaith Network has worked to help congregations foster deeper connections to the land. For this work, EFN has been awarded the Watershed Hero Service Award for its “collective achievement in engaging a broad network of congregations in the watershed to increase awareness of water quality issues and spark stewardship of the natural resources in their communities.” In addition, the MCWD stated, “Over the past two years, congregations have hosted stewardship events, adopted sustainable property maintenance practices, educated their congregants about clean water, and pursued sustainable measures to mitigate polluted stormwater runoff.”
Our Watershed Moment has worked to engage faith communities in discussions and actions around water; encouraged congregations to host Gather at the Water Events where people can experience water through faith, education, and community; and developed a Watershed Moment Toolkit to help congregations bring initiatives to their own communities. By fostering these connections, EFN hopes to spark the development of more leaders in clean water work.
For example, Pastor Chris Chiles has worked with confirmation students at Maple Grove Lutheran Church to develop an understanding of their relationship to the water through the EFN’s Connect the Dots initiative. While students were initially skeptical, many wrote their confirmation faith statements about the connection of the faith and care for creation. She notes that the connection to water and to care for creation for church people is deeply tied to scripture. When confirmation students, and others, experience water through a spiritual lens for the first time, they gain a new understanding of both the earth and their own faith.
AS PART OF THE WATERSHED MOMENT Initiative, Pr. Mike Rusert, mission developer at Intertwine Northeast, helped to organize a Nibi Walk along Minnehaha Creek. Nibi Walks are Indigenous-led prayer ceremonies, centered on prayer for healing and prayers of gratitude for the water. Rusert had the opportunity to organize the Nibi Walk with Sharon Day, executive director of the Indigenous Peoples Task Force and Ojibwe artist and activist. Rusert reflected on the experience as one of connection. “Water can heal us. So much of our human energy is going to fixing problems and seeing ourselves as the ones with the power to change things and water has the power to change us,” Rusert explains. “It has the power to bring us together and transcend those things that divide us – like ethnicity or race or whatever categories we create that separate us. Water has the ability to wash those away.”
Earlier this month, the Minneapolis Area Synod’s EFN hosted “Canoe the Urban Waters,” another Gather at the Water event. The day started with a worship service to ground participants in the connection of faith and water. After a worship service, the group paddled on Lake Bde Maka Ska
, with each Voyageur canoe taking samples to test the water quality of the lake for the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District. “There’s something visceral about gathering at the water. It sparks a connection that we hope people will take back to their home congregations and communities,” reflected Chiles.
Relationships like the one with the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District allow EFN to expand its work and identify new leaders, according to the group’s leaders. Rusert commented, “I’m grateful that we’re collaborating – religious organizations with city, municipal, and nonprofit organizations. I think there a deep power there and I have gratitude for the openness for that collaboration.” Chiles added, “The name ‘Ecofaith Network’ was very deliberate. We want to be a network that keeps organizing and finding new leaders.”