By Jessica Brodie
PORTLAND, Ore.—South Carolinians joined others at a global United Methodist Women event May 16 during General Conference to rally for access to clean water.
The rally—“Don’t Poison Our Water! Water Is a Human Right!”—addressed various clean water and water access issues going on in the United States and around the world, including the lead in water crisis in Flint, Michigan; pollution of water in Liberia and the Philippines; the Portland Harbor Superfund Site cleanup process, Portland, Oregon; and more. The rally was part of a daylong United Methodist Women anniversary celebration of their 150 years of faith, hope and love in action.
Harriett Jane Olson, general secretary of United Methodist Women, gave a prayer-welcome to the large crowd of men and women, many ringing bells and carrying water drop signs proclaiming “life,” “joy,” “justice” and “human right.”
“I pray our hearts will be moved…and our minds be fixed on doing your work in this world,” Olsen prayed.
The crowd heard first from Nichea Ver Veer Guy, United Methodist Women director and head lay delegate for the West Michigan Annual Conference, who spoke about the Flint water crisis. She called on those present to stand with the people of Flint and those helping as they face the continuing challenge to clean up the water and help those hurt by the poisoning.
“We will persevere, and we will conquer this abuse of the water in our grounds and community,” she said. “Racial justice, environmental justice, economic justice, gender justice—they all intersect with the issue of water.”
Next, Rose Farhat, of Liberia United Methodist Church, spoke about her nation’s water crisis, involving rubber pollution of water by Firestone.
“This is social injustice and extremely wrong,” Farhat said. “What does employment do when the environment is being wronged?
“These people are desperate, they’re poor and they’re depending on the church for righteousness.”
Bishop Julius Trimble, Iowa Episcopal Area and United Methodist Immigration Task Force, spoke next on what he called “the unprecedented amount of global exodus and mass migration.” He said the church can play a big role in stepping up to help.
“Something is wrong with the picture when people all over the world do not have access to water. …Water is a right for all of God’s children.”
A group of women calling themselves the Raging Grannies got up next to lead the crowd in clean-water-themed songs set to popular tunes, such as “We Speak for the Voiceless” (set to the tune of “Annie’s Song”) and “Who Cares? We Care” (set to the tune of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”).
Bishop Deborah Kiesey of the Michigan Episcopal Area said what is going on in Flint is a human-made crisis caused by one person who switched the water from the Detroit to the Flint River, which corroded lead in the pipes and leached into the river, poising many.
“This will be a generations-long issue,” Kiesey said, noting her biggest concern is the children who were affected.
Kiesey said the crisis garnered attention in the fall, and by October, The United Methodist Church and the United Methodist Committee on Relief were on the scene, doing all they could to provide clean water.
The United Methodist Women’s partners for the rally totaled more than 20, including Black Methodists for Church Renewal, Church Women United, general agencies and more.