On a sunny Saturday morning, hundreds of Lutherans and Anglicans gathered under the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill to worship and raise awareness about protecting Canada’s water supply.
This morning’s service, which included traditional aboriginal drums, prayers and small group discussions, was organized and almost entirely run by youth. It was meant to raise awareness about water pollution and the lack of clean drinking water in First Nations communities.
“It’s a strong sign to our church and our country that we are being led by the strong voice of the youth who are crying out for justice,” said National Lutheran Bishop Susan Johnston, who helped lead the service with Anglican Primate Fred Hiltz.
She pointed to the link between the “Right to Water” campaign, and the joint recommendation for responsible resource extraction at the assembly. “I hope that people will take seriously the commitment that we made, that we are going to learn and advocate, to do the best we can to work for change.”
Bishop Lydia Mamakwa, from Kingfisher First Nation north of Sioux Lookout, who also joined the service, knows firsthand the need for Canadians to protect their water. “In my tribe, we have many fresh water lakes and we used to be able to drink out of them all the time but now it is polluted,” she said, following the service.
Also attending the service, was Archdeacon Larry Beardy, from the Tataskweyak Cree Nation in Northern Manitoba, located on the Nelson River, which flows into the Hudson Bay. Although surrounded by lakes of fresh water, Archdeacon Beardy said the water quality had been impacted by hydro development. “A lot of people don’t understand the water situation, especially in First Nations communities,” he said. In Canada, “we have an abundance of water. Sometime we have to take it for granted. We have to respect water like the land.”
This includes, as Primate Hiltz said, being careful about how much water we use in cities where it feels like there is an unlimited source. “Today, when I woke up, I was very mindful of water as I was able to take a shower, and drink many cups of water. All that clean water was there for me.”
Primate Hiltz also said it was a gift that the two churches could come together and talk about this issue. “There’s an old saying, one voice alone is kind of ragged, but together we’re a much stronger sound.”
The service included prayers in the four directions. With the crowd facing north, a prayer was recited for rivers. To the east, the crowd paused for a silent prayer for the ocean and fisheries, and “for people who still cross oceans to find a safe home.” With the crowd looking at the Ottawa skyline, a prayer was said, “to be mindful of using water responsibly” in cities where we have water at our fingertips. And finally, the crowd looked to the west, and prayed for farmers who use water to grow crops, and rural communities, especially places “who do not yet have access to safe, reliable drinking water.”
Sophie Ruprecht, a 17-year-old member of St. John Lutheran Church in Ottawa, participated in the service and hoped the morning was an effective way to raise awareness. “It’s right in front of Parliament. It’s catching people’s attention.”
As the leaders closed with the benediction, long strips of blue material representing water were passed down through the crowd. People began to spontaneously sing “O Canada,” clearly moved by the worship service.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada is Canada’s largest Lutheran denomination with 145,376 baptized members in 594 congregations. It is a member of the Lutheran World Federation, the Canadian Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches.
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