It Begins with a River

J Stuart Taylor III | Elkin River, North Carolina

I fell in love with water growing up in the mountains of western North Carolina. But I discovered that water is life in the desert southwest. There I was part of humanitarian efforts to provide water for migrants crossing the desert. There I learned that water is a resource we can never take for granted. After 18 years in Tucson Arizona I decided it was time to return to my roots in the Carolinas. I am a Presbyterian pastor grounded in the social justice tradition of the church. I landed in a small town (Elkin) that has a river running through it.

The Yadkin River, the 2nd largest watershed in NC. I went to a continuing education event at Wake Forest School of Divinity entitled Watershed Discipleship, led by a friend and mentor of mine the theologian Ched Myers. Ched has developed a new kind of mission for the church that re-grounds faith communities in their ecological responsibility for their local watershed. I felt a call to action from this and founded a 501c3 called Watershed Now. We are focused primarily on one of the major tributaries of the Yadkin River- Big Elkin Creek. We have three major initiatives: 1) working with our town to create policy to protect our water source. 2) working with our city schools to incorporate watershed stewardship into the k-12 school curriculum. (Every year for the last five years we have an annual creek week for our middle school, using our creek and 7 learning stations along it.) 3) and working with farmers and other landowners to adopt best practices that protect our waterways.

In addition we received a grant to design a watershed exhibit for a new Trails and Heritage Center for the Yadkin River Valley that will epitomize our ecological responsibility to protect our rivers and creeks. Part of this exhibit is a film we shot using drone photography of our river. (see link below)You can’t save something until you love it and you can’t love it until you know it. We also participate in annual floats on the river encouraging people to get out and kayak it. In addition we are exploring some public art for our town using the exceptional river photos of a gifted photographer who has dancers in various poses along the river. We also team up with area musicians for concerts and are planning an event for our next creek week in a newly re-opened theater on the theme of the spirituality of water.

The greatest joy that I have experienced in my career was to be invited by the Wake Forest School of Divinity to teach a course on the theology, ethics and spirituality of water. The joy and life of water is spreading in our community. And it all begins and ends with a river. Thanks for asking for my story. Grateful for your great work around the country on behalf of American Rivers.
Peace, Rev. Stuart Taylor

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