Every year, Wesley Adjunct Faculty member Beth Norcross, arranges a boat ride down the Anacostia River in Washington, D.C., so that her Spirituality in Nature class and faculty can see the polluted water of the “forgotten river” first hand.
“We have heard about it, but when you see it up close and personal, it becomes real,” she said.
“The Anacostia is a significant example of ecological injustice – environmental abuse disproportionately suffered by the poor and marginalized.”
Norcross, a Wesley graduate who teaches classes on Greening Sanctuaries and Eco-Theology, is passionate about nature and the ecosystem. Norcross is also the founding director of The Center of Spirituality in Nature based in Arlington, Va. She and Dr. Joe Bush, director of Practice of Ministry and Mission at Wesley, helped to create a certificate in Eco-Theology through the Washington Theological Consortium.
Norcross became aware of “the neglect and abuse of the Anacostia River,” which runs 8.7 miles from Bladensburg to the District of Columbia and passes through several residential neighborhoods. She noticed the river had become “a dumping site.”The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) says the Anacostia River “is rigorously polluted by toxins, sediments, and trash.” Because of the slow moving tide, contaminants get flushed downstream at a very slow pace.
“The Anacostia runs through some of the poorest neighborhoods in DC and has suffered decades of environmental abuse,” observed Norcross. This led to her efforts to raise awareness in her students and faculty through the annual Anacostia boat tour, organized by The Anacostia Watershed Society and made possible by a donation from a Wesley graduate.
“The trip is funded by a Wesley student who was so moved by her own Anacostia experience in the Spirituality in Nature class that she wanted to share this experience with the Wesley faculty and staff, “ said Norcross.
Students continue to be impacted by the experience of the boat ride on the Anacostia. One student said, “The trip gave us much to think about in regard to the impacts of our human behavior on human and non-human communities. In particular, you educated us on how eco-justice integrates with our shared desire for social justice. What a privilege to spend time with you on/in this ecologically significant and resilient riverine community.”
Norcross’ concern for the Anacostia is rooted in her love for nature, which began when she was in high school. “I loved the sense of freedom outside,” she said. “I grew to know that God was present there, despite any doubts about religion or church.”
Norcross does have hope for the future of the waterway .“The Anacostia Watershed Society is doing things to clean up the river,” said Norcross. “They have organized a trash cleanup effort, removed evasive species from river banks, and added more vegetation in the surrounding area.”
“The Anacostia, like the community around it, also shows great signs of resilience, “ said Norcross, “ and is home to numerous birds, turtles, amphibians and other creatures.”