The latest census found the average American drank more than 23 gallons of bottled water a year. For a lot of people, bottled water is just a part of everyday life. But members of one church are arguing it shouldn’t be. Karen Kelly talked to a minister who’s helping to spread his church’s message:
The latest census found the average American drank more than 23 gallons of bottled water a year.
For a lot of people, bottled water is just a part of everyday life.
But members of one church are arguing it shouldn’t be.
Karen Kelly talked to a minister who’s helping to spread his church’s message.
When he was growing up, Reverend Andrew Jensen lived just two blocks from a sandy beach on a
large river. But on a lot of hot days, the beach was closed because of pollution. And when it was
open, his parents were afraid to let him swim there. He says that early experience really made
him appreciate water.
“To have all of that there, to have your parents worry you can’t really touch it too much because
you might get sick… It was really disappointing. You know, you grow up on an island and you
can’t go in the water!”
Now, Reverend Jensen preaches about water. He’s the minister at Knox United Church, a
Protestant church in Ottawa, Canada.
(Fade in sounds of sermon)
“Again and again you have shown your grace to us through water… cleansing of the earth through
the flood… the exodus of the Red Sea, flowing from the rock of the wilderness…”
It’s Baptism Sunday, and Jensen is standing in front of the congregation. He’s extending his arms
over the baptismal font. The service is about the sacredness of water, the idea that it’s a gift from
God meant for everyone. Which is why the idea of bottling and selling water really bothers
“Water really is something we believe is a shared resource and we have to keep on sharing it. And
the more we chop it up into little bits and try to make a profit off of it, the farther we are getting
away from that basic human connectedness and from a religious perspective, that basic sense that
this is something that God has given us that’s for all of us and not just for people.”
A few months ago, the United Church of Canada officially called on its members to avoid drinking
bottled water. The campaign is part of a growing grassroots movement among churches to tackle
some of these issues on their own – in part because the federal government is backing away from
For Jensen, preaching about water means talking about the dangers of it becoming a product.
The more people buy it in bottles, he says, the less attention might be paid to the public drinking
Plus, church leaders point out that the water in the bottles is often taken right from the tap – for
free – by the companies that sell it. And of course, there’s the issue of where all those bottles go
when we’re done with them.
Not surprisingly, the bottled water industry is not too happy about this campaign.
Elizabeth Griswold is executive director of the Canadian Bottled Water Association. She says the
United Church should focus its energies elsewhere.
“We don’t understand why any church would single out an industry that uses comparatively so
little water – our members use two-tenths of one percent of all groundwater taken in Canada, and
by focusing on the bottled water industry, we are missing a chance to develop long term
(Congregant: “Coffee or tea, Ma’am?”)
Back at Knox United Church, members help themselves to coffee, tea and pastries. The church no
longer hands out bottled water at events. But it’s hard to tell how much of an effect the boycott is
The people who say they still drink bottled water refuse to go on tape.
But Sophia Doole and others say the church’s action has changed their behavior.
“Motivation-wise, I think it’s respect for the environment, respect for our own bodies and what
we’re putting into it and also respect for our own church and what they believe and to do to our
best to be guided by them.”
Reverend Andrew Jensen says he’s had calls from people, saying, ‘The church is against bottled
water? What kind of stupid stand is that?'”
That’s when Jensen explains that it’s really not about bottled water. It’s about clean water for
everyone – to drink, to share, and even to swim in.
For The Environment Report, I’m Karen Kelly.