Written by Anthony Moujaes
United Church of Christ pastors and religious leaders across the Michigan Conference of the UCC are voicing their concerns about water shut-offs in Detroit. Together, they are banding with the larger faith community standing on the side of poor and vulnerable people, demanding the city end the shut-offs until it can help low-income residents access water.
The Rev. Campbell Lovett, conference minister for the Michigan Conference of the UCC, and many UCC pastors in Detroit are doing what they can to help families find clean water for drinking, cooking, cleaning and washing.
"It is significant that the UCC at every setting has been involved in calling for affordable access to potable water," Lovett said. "The U.N. has called this access [to water] a human right and we agree."
The city of Detroit is shutting off water to any customer who is more than two months behind on a bill of more than $150, regardless of that customer's ability to pay. As many as 150,000 homes are threatened with shut-off, with about 3,000 happening each week.
The concern from the international community, including the United Nations and the Nurses Alliance, is that a lack of water will create a health emergency, especially for the elderly, children, and the impoverished. The situation has attracted attention, even across international borders, as a "water caravan" from Canada crossed into Detroit to deliver fresh drinking water for city residents.
Two national officers of the church, the Rev. M. Linda Jaramillo, executive minister of the UCC Justice and Witness Ministries, and the Rev. James Moos, executive minister of the UCC Wider Church ministries, joined Lovett in a recent letter from the interfaith community in Michigan and from national organizations calling on the city to stop the shut-offs. Their names, along with 11 others from the UCC, are among the letter's 130-plus signatures sent to city leaders.
"In many faith traditions, be it Christian or other, water is what brings creation to life," Moos said. "For centuries, it has nourished us and cleansed us. And now, to deny the most basic resource to tens of thousands is a dangerous injustice to humanity."
"As religious leaders and communities, we join our voices to say, in the name of humanity stop the shut-offs," the letter reads. "To Detroiters we say, alert, defend and protect your neighbors from shut-off. To faith communities we say, become stations of water distribution, as well as places of education, community and resistance."
UCC congregations have answered that call by protesting and distributing water, Lovett said.
"Local UCC churches and members have been active in demonstrations and civil disobedience regarding this issue in Detroit," said Lovett, pointing to the example of the Rev. Denise Griebler, a UCC pastor who lives in Detroit and serves a church in Richmond, Mich. Griebler was arrested two weeks ago as she and other people of faith blocked the gates at a maintenance facility that was sending out crews to shut off water.
"Last week, conference and association leaders marched with thousands of others through downtown Detroit to protest the shut-offs and call for a more humane way of dealing with the overdue bills," Lovett said.
Two UCC churches in Detroit are serving as water stations for residents whose water has been shut off, Lovett said.
The Conference at its October 2013 annual meeting passed a resolution calling for solidarity with the residents of Detroit in the face of financial troubles, and the Detroit Metropolitan Association of the UCC – which has seven churches in Detroit – has actively protested the presence of an emergency financial manager.
That manager has governed the city for the last year in the face of an economic crisis, and indicates the city's assets may be sold or privatized, which include the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.
Lovett said the Detroit Metropolitan Association Social Justice Committee is meeting weekly to plan actions in response to the water shut-offs and other crises in Detroit.