Teacher, waterman sees her work as sacred trust

By Melissa Lauber, Special Contributor…

LUSBY, Md.—When water appears in the Bible, it often is a symbol that God is about to act. The same might be said of Olivet UMC in Lusby, where Rachel Dean, one of Maryland’s few female watermen, finds the gospel in her work and is seeking to share it with the young women of her church.

Ms. Dean, 30, is a teacher at a local high school and a commercial fisherman. She is concerned that her students often lament about living in Lusby, saying they can’t wait to graduate and leave. But, she said, they don’t seem to know about the joy and their heritage on the water, which is all around them.

The people of Lusby seem to be becoming less connected to the church and less connected to the water, said the Rev. Faith Lewis, the pastor of Olivet UMC, who speculated that that might be a contributing factor to the increase of drug abuse, suicide and crime among teens in the community.

When Ms. Dean was a child, she said, the old watermen were all churchgoers—they believed their vocation was a holy one and they began each morning with prayer. “You could hear their morning prayers echo across the water—but now that is all gone.”

One June day, Ms. Lewis, Ms. Dean and her brother, Jason, took a group of youth out on Ms. Dean’s boat—the Roughwater.

Rachel Dean, a United Methodist teacher and commercial fisher in Lusby, Md., hopes to build pride in the community and an appreciation for Maryland’s coastline. PHOTO BY MELISSA LAUBER/UM CONNECTION

She and her brother shared hands-on lessons about dredging for oysters, capturing some very slippery eels and the lives of crabs as they traveled along Mill Creek, where baby osprey had recently hatched.

The water felt like a wonderful playground, but bathed in prayer, the journey also felt to Ms. Dean like a kind of “lectio divina,” in which a sacred story was being read in all that surrounded her.

“There are just moments that you don’t fully understand, but something makes you stop and realize this is pretty amazing,” she said. “God created this.”

The three high school girls on the boat that afternoon appreciated the water, the sunshine and the sea life. In recent months, church has given her the opportunity to “be closer to God,” said one of the girls, Kara Chaffee.

“Over the last year, multiple suicides occurred in Lusby, prompting many to consider, ‘What is the hope within us?’” Ms. Lewis said.

She and other church members provided a safe place for the youth to discuss their feelings and a group of teenage girls formed a small group, based on Wesley’s model of covenant discipleship. Many of the girls were unchurched and never had a Bible of their own. But they were intent on coming up with ways to address bullying, extend grace and make a difference in their community.

“What we came up with is the God Squad,” said Kayla Barrett, who is the president of the new group. “We’ll help out people with all kinds of things from yard work to babysitting to cleaning. We’ll do what people need.”

“Out of this small group, they are putting their faith into action,” said Ms. Lewis.

So is Ms. Dean. This summer, through the Calvert Marine Museum and its educational programs, she is sharing with young people the life of watermen and efforts to restore the Crassostrea Viginica oyster. Preserving Maryland’s coastlines and conserving its natural resources are very important to her. It’s a sacred trust—in church and on the water.

Ms. Lauber is the editor of UMConnection, the newspaper of the Baltimore-Washington Conference.

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