Rev. Jeff Allen, Executive Director for The West Virginia Council of Churches (Council) read a letter written in 2016 from the Council to the people of Flint. “A Church that extends the Incarnation always asks, ‘Who is sick? Why are they sick? Who is hungry, why are they hungry?’... When we ask who is thirsty, why are they thirsty? We believe that these questions have power in and of themselves, reminding us of our neighbors and our failure to love manifested in neglect, exploitation, classicism and environmental racism.”
After the narration, Krystina White, the Chief Operating Officer of Black Millennials for Flint and Harold Woodson of the Bethel United Methodist Help Center presented the group with an overview of the Flint water crisis and the state of the city today. Harold came with the perspective of a Flint resident who has been there since the beginning of the crisis and now works tirelessly through his ministry to provide water and nutritious food to citizens of Flint. Krystina White spoke about the lead policies Black Millennials for Flint focuses on throughout black and latinx communities nationwide.
The evening wrapped up with a water blessing facilitated by Janet Keating of Green Shepherd.
The next morning, Lutheran Disaster Response coordinator Pastor Sherri Schafer spoke about her work responding to disasters caused by the disrupted watersheds in West Virginia.
On Tuesday, Susan Farrell of the Wilderness Society shared the recently launched fossil fuel threat mapping tool. This database and interactive map show available data about fossil fuel sites on public lands. The database also shows the Environmental Protection Agency data on bodies of water that the sites have polluted. The group zoomed in on nearby decimated Kayford Mountain as an example site, and lamented the permanent damage caused by mountaintop removal mining throughout the state.
This session wrapped up with civic engagement actions. Attendees participated in West Virginia Interfaith Power and Light’s postcard campaign to advocate for the passage of the RECLAIM act. Additionally, participants were invited to sign-on to a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency urging Administrator Wheeler to uphold methane pollution standards instead of rolling back protections, as is currently proposed.
Annika Harley of Creation Justice Ministries said she left the retreat “inspired and committed to continue to work in solidarity with communities that have lost access to safe drinking water.”