Creek walks and bug talks are good reminders: places matter.
Early Moravian adventurers first came to Forsyth County’s life-sustaining creek banks in the 1700s. Today, over 350,000 people live in Forsyth County. I wonder: How much do we who live here know about the creeks and streams that weave and wind their way across this place and nurture our life together?
This is why Forsyth County Creek Week, most recently held last week, is important. Activities ranging from children’s water-centered workshops at SciWorks to water treatment plant tours encourage city and county dwellers to get in touch — literally -- with this, our place. Splashing around in Salem Creek or scooping mud out of Bear Creek makes us stop and notice how important local creeks are to everyday life.
Dave Penrose, an aquatic bug expert, talked with a group of us city-dwelling Creek Week participants about insects. Caddisflies, mayflies and stoneflies, Penrose told us, also dwell in our county, in our creeks. They are wise teachers. From them, we learn volumes about local water quality.
Dave, along with extension agent Wendi Hartup, weathered cold rain to lead us to Bear Creek. Using nets, we stirred up quite a few creek-dwelling insects. We got our feet and hands muddy in the creek, and this waterlogged participant was glad. Those miniscule bugs made me think about intricate ecosystems that keep this place I call “home” healthy.
I am a worship professor at the Wake Forest University School of Divinity, and I am convinced that effective religious leaders minister “in place.” To minister in place is to be committed to the well-being of all the inhabitants of one’s locale. Students deepen their commitment to diverse locales by learning how to pay attention to all of the dimensions of those locales. I want ministry and baptism to come alive for communities in new ways. Perhaps using Creek Week activities in my baptism course can spark new attention to baptism, belonging and “place.”
How are a baptism class and Creek Week connected? Perhaps since Christian baptism involves water, students need to know more about local waters. They need to know something about how urban sprawl impacts community watersheds. Maybe they even need to hear the wisdom of creek bugs.
As students learn about Christian history’s baptism controversies, I want them to learn as well about controversies that have been stirred over Forsyth County creeks and how we have tried to straighten the crooked paths our waters wanted to take.
When students pour baptism waters on babies’ heads or immerse people in church baptisteries, I want them to think about the gifts and dangers, the risks and possibilities of local waters.
Students who connect baptism and Forsyth County’s waters will make similar connec-tions in other places where they live and lead. The habits of attentiveness they have practiced in this place will go with them to contribute to health in other places. They will also be prepared to join other public leaders to work to restore the health of diverse dwelling places. Wisdom that the place of Forsyth County gives us is wisdom that opens hearts and minds to the value of diverse places across the globe. Places where people live and work and give birth and offer care in death are to be cherished, cared for and shared.
Creek Week invites people to glimpse Forsyth County’s unique and life-sustaining beauty. It also gives people a chance to meet some of their neighbors. In fact, Creek Week is neighborly from the outset, as it is sponsored by more than 15 county offices and organizations. What happens when we get to know our place and neighbors while slogging through Muddy Creek? Perhaps something stirs within us to cause us to name this place and each other in it as sacred and then to commit ourselves to seeking justice and grace for the place and each other.
This year’s Creek Week began for me March 15. I walked the paths of an urban wetland with Audubon Society member Jeremy Reiskind.
“I have been watching birds since I was a boy,” Jeremy said, “and that was more than 50 years ago.” As we walked, Jeremy pointed out an Eastern Phoebe, three kinds of spar-rows, two kinds of hawks and more. In that wetland, within sight of the city’s sky-high buildings, we saw 23 species in less than an hour. That walk and those birds reveal some-thing about human communities and about baptism and belonging. We are a diverse people here in Forsyth County, but we can belong and thrive together in this place and share with blue jays and sparrows spring breezes and the life-giving waters of Forsyth County creeks.
I, for one, celebrate the planners and organizers of this year’s Forsyth County Creek Week. The events were excellent, and I have been reminded once again: places matter.
Jill Crainshaw is the associate dean for Academic Affairs at Wake Forest University School of Divinity and Blackburn Professor of Worship and Liturgical Theology. Her blog is drdeacondog.wordpress.com