The Reverend Of The Anacostia River (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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The Reverend of the Anacostia River

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

13:26:08
We move now from highways to waterways, one waterway in particular, the Anacostia River. The Anacostia is more than eight miles long and supports nearly 200 species of birds and nearly 50 species of fish. But these days, you're more likely to glimpse a soda bottle making its way downstream then you would, say, a sturgeon, shad or striped bass. And in the eyes of one woman, that's not just a shame, it's a sin. One she hopes to address as the river's reverend. Jessica Gould brings us this profile of a minister on a mission to save the Anacostia.

MS. JESSICA GOULD

13:26:44
It's a sunny, summer day and Dottie Yunger is out on the Anacostia River again, trolling for trash.

MS. DOTTIE YUNGER

13:26:51
Sometimes, I've seen flotillas of trash so big, so deep and so wide that you can watch the great Blue Herons walk across them. From a distance, it looks like the birds are walking on water, but they're actually walking on the trash.

GOULD

13:27:05
Yunger is the Anacostia Riverkeeper, part of an international network of advocates devoted to protecting the world's waterways.

YUNGER

13:27:13
I try to come out and patrol at least once a week, just to see what's going on, what's happening out on the river.

GOULD

13:27:18
So keeping an eye on the Anacostia is her job, but she says it's also her calling.

YUNGER

13:27:24
Ministers are called to serve those in need and traditionally we have to find those in needs as people. As an environmentalist, I think of it bigger than that. I think of the earth in need. I think of environments in need.

GOULD

13:27:46
Take the Anacostia River.

YUNGER

13:27:49
It used to be a pristine river with sturgeon so large you could see them in the river. You could come down to its banks and pull them out of the river.

GOULD

13:28:00
But now, she says, raw sewage flows into the river after heavy rains. Chemicals leech into the water and fish carry toxins deep in their tissues so people who used to come to the river to swim, eat or be baptized, keep their distance.

YUNGER

13:28:16
As Reverend Riverkeeper, I don’t want to just see this river fishable and swim-able, I want to see it fishable, swim-able and baptize-able.

GOULD

13:28:24
For the past six years, Yunger has been studying to become a Methodist Minister. Now she wants her bishop to recognize the river, its organisms and the communities that surround it as her parish.

YUNGER

13:28:36
And that includes just going to houses of worship and preaching, sharing that word, creating bible studies for folks to use in their houses of worship that connect people to the scripture and connect them to current environmental issues. But that's also things like working with the church, like I am on Capitol Hill, to put in a 600 gallon rain barrel to catch the storm water that comes off of their property.

GOULD

13:29:04
After all, Yunger says, caring for creation and specifically respecting water has deep roots in religion.

YUNGER

13:29:11
I mean, Jesus Christ is described as the Living Water for Christianity. And Judaism, it's the living water in which people ritually bathe themselves and cleanse themselves through the Mikveh. These are all deep, deep biblical traditions and I want to see us return to those.

GOULD

13:29:33
But Yunger says scripture has also been used as an excuse to take advantage of the earth's resources.

YUNGER

13:29:39
For example, this being created in the image of God. I think folks have taken that to mean that humans are God-like, humans are mini Gods here on earth so we can act as if we are God. We can play God here on earth and the consequences be damned.

GOULD

13:30:00
So she says, the environmental issues that plague the river are also spiritual issues. But so far, Yunger's efforts to become the Reverend Riverkeeper have fallen short. Her bishop asked her to take on another assignment at a traditional church with four walls, a pulpit and pews. Yunger declined.

YUNGER

13:30:20
This river needs a voice and the communities that live and work and play along the Anacostia need a voice, that there is a deeper healing that can come if the voice for them was not just an environmentalist, but also a Minister.

GOULD

13:30:40
Still, Yunger says, even she gets discouraged sometimes.

YUNGER

13:30:44
It's disheartening to go out on the river after a really large rainstorm and see all of the trash in the river. And you think, how can one person possibly make a difference?

GOULD

13:30:54
But then she says she thinks about her flock of herons, ospreys and eagles and for their sake, as well as her own, she's got to have faith. I'm Jessica Gould.

SHEIR

13:31:12
Do you think the Anacostia River or any of our regions rivers or parks ought to have its own Minister? Let us know what you think at Facebook.com/metroconnection.org.
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