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Baptized in Toxic Water: Wymer and Daley Mosier to Engage Baptismal Practices in Flint, Michigan

July 8, 2020
Protest in Flint, Michigan

Image: BET

The Calvin Institute for Christian Worship has awarded a Teacher-Scholar Grant to Rev. Dr. Andrew Wymer, assistant professor of liturgical studies at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, and to Kristen Daley Mosier, a current doctoral student concentrating in the area of theology and ethics. Titled “Baptized in Toxic Water: Baptismal Solidarity Amidst Ecological Injustice,” this project will engage the baptismal practices of diverse Christian communities in Flint, Michigan, the site of a well-documented case of toxic water. Reflecting on these realities, Wymer and Daley Mosier will construct a theoretical and practical vision of baptismal solidarity for the broader Church.

Recognizing themes of Spirit-laden, life-giving baptismal waters abound throughout Christian history, this project will examine the complex material realities surrounding the politics of water and baptism which reveal that the water utilized in baptismal rites might not be a pure source of life. For Wymer and Daley Mosier, this reality begs a question for the broader Church. How can we, the baptized, live into the beautiful image of “one baptism” and the baptismal unity which it envisions when the material and political realities of this world reflect an immense baptismal divide between baptisms that require contact with poisonous water and baptisms that do not?

“The initial idea for this research emerged in 2016, when I heard about the devastating impact of toxic water on the residents of Flint,” said Wymer. “Kristen and I have since partnered in this project, and our goal is to reimagine baptismal theology and practice in light of the experiences of those human and nonhuman communities at greatest risk of living with and baptizing in toxic water. Through this project we hope to invite Christian communities to enter into consistent, material expressions of baptismal solidarity with all human beings impacted by toxic water and even the earth itself.”

For Daley Mosier this project is about solidarity, and therefore the research methodology needs to follow a set of logics different from traditional extractive models. “Following an emerging trend, it is our intent to be research partners alongside and (therefore) fully accountable to the communities and congregations with whom we connect. As we made changes to the project in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we realized, with some excitement, that here is an opportunity to design our project in ways that meaningfully contribute to the community.”

Embarking upon this one-year project, Wymer and Daley Mosier intend to present their findings at the local level in congregations and seminaries and will submit their research to national organizations such as the North American Academy of Liturgy for consideration to present. In addition, they are exploring opportunities to publish this work in journals and possibly as a book.

Wymer, a doctor of philosophy alumnus of Garrett-Evangelical, joined the faculty as assistant professor of liturgical studies this year. His research engages liturgical and homiletical theory and practice with attention to race, social justice, and ecology. He is the author of articles in Worship, Practical Matters, and the International Journal of Homiletics. Recently he guest-edited an issue of Liturgy on liturgy as protest and resistance. His first book, Revolutionary Preaching: A Homiletical Ethic for the Twenty-First Century, is under contract.

Daley Mosier completed her master of divinity at Fuller Seminary Northwest (Seattle) in 2012, and holds a bachelor of arts in art history from Western Washington University. Based in the Pacific Northwest, her research interests explore intersections of creation, spirit, materiality, and place. She is particularly interested in developing a theology of water that connects persons, places, and the experience of baptism through the life of the Holy Spirit.

The Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, located at Calvin University and Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is an interdisciplinary study and ministry center that promotes the scholarly study of the theology, history, and practice of Christian worship and the renewal of worship in worshiping communities across North America and beyond.