PA Nuns Step up Defending Land Against Pipelines

The Adorers pray before Thursday’s hearing resumes, Sister Martha, Sister Bernice, Sister George Ann, Sister Joan and Sister Linda. Photo by Lancaster Online’s Richard Hertzler.

Earlier in July, more than 500 people gathered in a hot and dusty Pennsylvania cornfield yesterday to join the Catholic sisters of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ for the dedication of a new outdoor chapel, built on land about to be seized from them by a corporate developer planning to build a natural gas pipeline. (Read more.)

This past week, five Lancaster County landowners, including the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, were in US District Court in Reading, PA, fighting to keep the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline off their land. Transco/Williams seeks immediate possession of these properties, even though the eminent domain process is far from finalized, according to a press release.

After two full days of testimony and argument, the hearing came to an end. Judge Jeffrey Schmehl said he would review the cases and “render a ruling at an appropriate time.”

Organizers identified key takeaways from the court hearing:

*The Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline (ASP) still lacks permits from the Pennsylvania DEP that must be obtained before construction begins. David Sztroin, project manager for the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline, testified at the hearing that those permits—assuming they come—are not expected until early- to mid-September.

*Furthermore, the PA DEP could ultimately deny Williams the necessary water permits to begin construction, effectively derailing the project. Why should Williams be granted advance access to landowner properties for a project that might never be built? In early 2016, the state of New York denied similar permits for the Constitution Pipeline. That project remains stalled to this day.

*Attorney Michael Onufrak conclusively demonstrated that the ASP is largely designed to export Marcellus fracked gas overseas. This fact clearly undercuts the legitimacy of FERC’s approval of the project, as well as the use of eminent domain.

*On Friday, July 14, the Adorers of the Blood of Christ filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against FERC. The suit alleges that a fracked gas pipeline through their farmland in West Hempfield Township violates their long-demonstrated religious commitment to environmental justice.

The Adorers, whose religious practice includes protecting and preserving creation, which they believe is a revelation of God, allege that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and its Commissioner, Cheryl La Fleur, have violated a federal law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, by forcing the Adorers to use their land to accommodate a fossil fuel pipeline. Such use is antithetical to the Adorers’ deeply held religious beliefs.

The Adorers allege that FERC’s action places a substantial burden on their exercise of religion by taking their land, which they want to protect and preserve as part of their faith, and forces the Adorers to use their land in a manner and for a purpose they believe is harmful to the earth.

See more media stories.

Wade Through Deep Water: An Introduction to D.C.’s Watershed

Tevyn East as Miriam and Jay Beck as John the Baptist in “Wade Through Deep Water”

By Rose Marie Berger
Introduction to “Wade Through Deep Water” presentation held at the Festival Center in Washington D.C.

In the Roaring Twenties, the WWI war profiteers were enjoying unprecedented prosperity, while rural landholders were losing their farms to debt and moving into the cities looking for work. The war had displaced millions of refugees who also were pouring into the cities.

Along with immigrants came the Chinese exclusion act of 1923 and National Origins act in 1924. With the rise in urban population came the “modernization” of the city, the rise of tenements, streets for automobiles, and rudimentary cisterns and sewers. The Roaring Twenties are also sometimes called the Jazz Age. And Jazz captured the frenetic, complex energy of a city in the way that Mississippi delta blues never could.

In March 1923, Robert Frost published a poem in The New Republic titled “A Brook in the City.” In it creates a snapshot of the once solitary farmhouse nestled into fields swallowed by new urban sprawl. Frost meditates on the stream that used to identify the watershed in that place.

A BROOK IN THE CITY by Robert Frost

The farm house lingers, though averse to square
With the new city street it has to wear
A number in. But what about the brook
That held the house as in an elbow-crook?
I ask as one who knew the brook, its strength
And impulse, having dipped a finger length
And made it leap my knuckle, having tossed
A flower to try its currents where they crossed.
The meadow grass could be cemented down
From growing under pavements of a town;
The apple trees be sent to hearth-stone flame.
Is water wood to serve a brook the same?
How else dispose of an immortal force
No longer needed? Staunch it at its source
With cinder loads dumped down? The brook was thrown
Deep in a sewer dungeon under stone
In fetid darkness still to live and run
And all for nothing it had ever done
Except forget to go in fear perhaps.
No one would know except for ancient maps
That such a brook ran water. But I wonder
If from its being kept forever under
The thoughts may not have risen that so keep
This new-built city from both work and sleep.

Tonight we gather with members of Holy Fool Arts as they present “Wade Through Deep Water,” a Ceremonial Theater event “tracing the soggy footprints of a people through the wombs of the Red Sea and Jordan River to birth an Exodus thirsting for collective liberation. Come near to hear the voice of water’s lament as told by Miriam, Moses’ sister, and John the Baptist—two of God’s prophets whose water-logged lives kept them swimming in transformation.”

But before this ancient narrative can well up in our own, we have to learn about where we are. Here at the Festival Center on Columbia Road in Washington, D.C. we are guests in the watershed of our country’s largest estuary, the Chesapeake Bay. The bay was formed 35 million years ago when a speck of stardust was flung from the hand of God into Delmarva peninsula, punching a hole that slowly filled with water. For 10 million years, the estuary spread. It sprouted rivers—the Anacostia, the Susquehanna—in the fissures opened in rock by melting ice. Twenty thousand years ago the Anacostia settled into her riverbed, creating this watershed, this basin of biotic relationships (see Brock Dolman).

For more than 10,000 years, Native peoples have created thriving societies along the Anacostia and her tributaries: the Powhatan, the Piscataway, and the Nanticoke.

The Piscataway had about 8,500 members in 1604 when the English arrived. Within 100 years only 300 remained. And they remain still. We give honor here to the Tayac family to Chief Billy, Gabrielle, Sebi, and the community. The Piscataway Nation continues to offer prayers for the Cheseapeake bay, for Anacostia river, for the streams and tributaries. They serve as sacred water protectors here.

These rivers, like this city, were weaponized during wars—the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and World War II—with bases and armories built on their silty backs. Until 125 years ago, this city was known for its artesian springs—like Rome today There were more than 50 public wells and hundreds of private springs that provided fresh water.

Here on Columbia Road we sit on Lanier Heights, the very western edge of the Lower Anacostia watershed. This neighborhood is held in the arms of two abandoned and buried tributaries—Reedy Branch and Moore Spring.

All the wells and springs were backfilled in the 1920s. A system was devised to divert water from the Potomac for public use.

Only in the past 10 years–with the pressures of climate change–are we reversing the way this city uses water and looking at how to revive and protect our underground streams. The most stunning example of this is the project to return the Broad Branch tributary that has been piped in and concreted over back to the surface in a process called “daylighting.”

As Robert Frost wrote, “No one would know except for ancient maps / that such a brook ran water. But I wonder / If from its being kept forever under / The thoughts may not have risen that so keep /This new-built city from both work and sleep.”

This is where we are. Now we ask: What does it mean? I hope these underground streams will delight and disturb your dreams.

—Rose Marie Berger (9 June 2017, Festival Center, “Wade Through Deep Water” ceremonial theater). Find out more in Watershed Discipleship: Reinhabiting Bioregional Faith and Practice, edited by Ched Myers (Cascade, 2016).

Ched Myers: Watershed Discipleship and ‘Catechism of Place’

Ched Myers is an activist theologian, biblical scholar, popular educator, organizer and advocate who has spent the past 40 years working in movements for social change, and empowering Christians in the life and work of peace, justice, and radical discipleship. He is the author of more than 100 articles and over a half dozen books, including Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus, The Biblical Vision of Sabbath Economics, and Our God is Undocumented: Biblical Faith and Immigrant Justice. Most recently, he is the editor and contributing author to Watershed Discipleship: Reinhabiting Bioregional faith and practice. He lives in the Ventura River watershed in southern California where he carries out his work through Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries. In this episode of RePlacing Church, he joins Ben Katt to discuss:

  • What is a watershed?
  • How two-dimensional political maps harm our imaginations?
  • The triple entendre of Watershed Discipleship
  • Why church needs to move beyond creation care
  • His personal journey of re-place-ment
  • How to undergo a “catechism of place”
  • Why it’s a great time to be a disciple of Jesus and trying to figure out how to be church

Watershed Discipleship: A Conversation between Ched Myers, Denise Nadeau and Rose Berger

Excerpt from Rose Berger's poem "Prophecies from the Watershed Conspiracy"
Excerpt from Rose Berger’s poem “Prophecies from the Watershed Conspiracy”

“Watershed Discipleship: A Conversation between Ched Myers, Denise Nadeau and Rose Berger” is now available online for $9.50 (recorded March 22, 2016). The purchase price supports the transformational discipleship work at Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries.

This 1.5 hour webinar celebrated World Water Day with a conversation about various strands of the watershed discipleship vision.  Ched recently edited an anthology entitled “Watershed Discipleship: Reinhabiting Bioregional Faith and Practice” (Wipf & Stock, to be published later this year).  Denise Nadeau wrote the Foreword to the volume; joining us from Vancouver Island, she talked about the indigenous “Waterwalking” movement.  Rose Berger contributed poetry to the volume. Rose shared her poetry and some of the symbolism and meaning behind the beautiful words.

Purchase webinar here.

Vancouver, B.C.: Celebrate ‘Salal and Cedar’

Laurel Dykstra at ordination
Laurel Dykstra at ordination

My friend Laurel Dykstra in Vancouver, B.C., has joined with others for a new church plant in the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster on Coast Salish territory where the Fraser River meets the Salish Sea.

By “new” I mean revolutionary and visionary and ancient and deeply now. This is an example of how the church can still offer new wine skins for prophetic new wine — and how our salvation comes from God through the margins and marginalized.

Thank you, Laurel. May we all offer a prayer for Salal and Cedar! See Laurel’s epistle below:

Hello Friends and Fellow Travellers,

I am incredibly excited to introduce Salal and Cedar, a new environmental justice ministry in the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster on Coast Salish territory where the Fraser River meets the Salish Sea.

After months of planning scheming and preparing with collaborators near and far we are starting a church plant/watershed discipleship community for Christians in and around Vancouver who:

• have a heart for creation
• feel most connected to God in ocean, forest, river and field
• are deeply concerned about global climate change
• want to bring their faith to work for ecological justice
• are environmental activists but keep they faith quiet
• believe racial justice, economic justice and environmental justice are connected

Rooted in the Anglican incarnational theology, we are part of a growing commitment to the Fifth Mark of Mission “to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.”

Ecumenically we identify with the Watershed Discipleship Movement: communities that are asking, “what does it mean to be a follower of the Jesus Way here, among the land, water, creatures and people of a particular place?”

Continue reading “Vancouver, B.C.: Celebrate ‘Salal and Cedar’”

Video: If These Guys Can Adopt A Watershed, So Can You


Watch this 4 minute video to see how you can turn your church parking lot into a water conservation project. Learn how to adopt a storm drain. Cut down on your impermeable surface payments with rain gardens. Cut down on your water bills with rainwater recovery systems.

Caring for creation is a core value of most religions and water is symbolic in most faith traditions. See what congregations are doing to reduce polluted runoff to their local rivers and streams. These houses of worship are doing their fair share to reduce polluted run-off and in many cases, the environmental projects are defining their missions. If this diverse group of Christian and Jewish communities in Maryland can do it, then so can you!

Find out more at Riverwise Congregations.
Learn about Watershed Discipleship.