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If You Want to Know More About Appalachia

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Anna Pinckney Straight is curating a series on ministry in West Virginia and Appalachia. We’ll hear perspectives of folks from there and folks who’ve moved there, as well as depictions of the area in book, song, film, and photo. What makes it a place where people choose to live? What are the particular challenges and opportunities of ministry there? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Anna Pinckney Straight

What I found in curating this series of blog posts is more questions than answers. I still don’t know how to solve food distribution issues.

And I’m convicted by knowing that West Virginia not only has the highest rate of transgender teenagers of any state in the nation, but also higher than average suicide rates. There is work to be done.

So, if you’d like to know more, here are some places to start:

Elizabeth Catte’s What You’re Getting Wrong about Appalachia is my #1 recommendation. Written, in part, to respond and rebut J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, this is a good read for people who are new to Appalachia and those who have grown up here.

(Pro tip: if you like Hillbilly Elegy you’re probably not from Appalachia. If you’d like to know more about why it is NOT a book about Appalachia and why so many people dislike it, please get in touch and I would be happy to be in conversation with you).

In her text, Catte challenges stereotypes:

There are currently around 36,000 miners in the entire region. The real forgotten working-class citizens of Appalachia, much like the rest of the nation, are home health workers and Dollar General employees. They’re more likely to be women, and their exemption from the stability offered by middle-class employment is not a recent phenomenon.

She points out the folly of the word “Appalachia”:

…people woefully overuse the term “Appalachian culture.” This is particularly true in our current moment that fetishizes the presumed homogeneity and cohesiveness of the region and uses these characteristics to explain complex political and social realities. Appalachian scholars and activists often prefer to stress our interconnectedness to other regions and peoples rather than set ourselves apart as exceptions. Individuals in Appalachia, for example, offered support and solidarity to communities in Flint and Standing Rock, understanding that the struggle for clean water is local, but also national and global.

And, maybe best of all, she writes with hope:

How does life go on in “Trump Country” for those of us who never lived in “Trump Country” to begin with? It goes on much the same as it always did. For me, I will try to build power with likeminded individuals and challenge the institutions that harm us. I won’t do that by reaching across political divides that are far more complicated here than you can image. I’ll do it by exercising the basic principles of mutual aid and community defense. The people of Appalachia have never needed empathy; what we need is solidarity, real and true, which comes from understanding that the harm done to me is connected to the harm done to you.

If you’d like a broader look at the region through the eyes of economic history and critique, Steven Stoll’s Ramp Hollow: The Ordeal of Appalachia may well be your cup of tea. In this text Stoll painstakingly goes through the history of this region through the lens of the land and the economy – who has the land, when they have it, who is kicked out of the land, and who makes money from its resources. His approach is both local and global with consideration for how the earliest American settlers found a land that was not empty but very much inhabited.

 

 

 

I’m still waiting on my copy through inter-library loan, but everything I’ve found that’s written by Edward J. Cabbell is well worth the read. There is a perception that Appalachia is very white. That’s not false, but it’s also not true. This is the classic text, I’m hoping it leads me to more modern insights.

If you’d like to hear Cabbell you can hear him talk and sing here.

Another such text is Affrilachia: Poems by Frank X Walker.

There are also powerful testimonies found in fiction rooted in Appalachia:

Blackberries, Blackberries, by Crystal Wilkinson

Storming Heaven by Denise Giardina

The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake by Breece D’J Pancake

And for a great website with powerful stories: http://herappalachia.com/

Thanks for reading this month-  I hope that you will ask your questions as well as share your suggestions and observations in the comments!


Anna Pinckney Straight is the pastor of the Old Stone Presbyterian Church in Lewisburg, West Virginia. She moved to Lewisburg with her family in 2016 from Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Her first call, back in the 1990s, was to the Community Presbyterian Church in Arthurdale, West Virginia.

Meditations of the Heart by Howard Thurman “Sheds a Little Light”

by Lee Hinson-Hasty

Eighty years ago (1937) this month, the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. published a poem by the Rev. Howard Thurman, an African American Baptist minister, professor of theology, and dean of the chapel at Howard University. The title of the poem was “O God, I Need Thee.” Thurman poetically describes our need of God’s sense for time, order, and future.

This month, the NEXT Church blog will help us all investigate God’s timing, order, and future by recommending and reviewing books that shed a little light on what is happening all around and within us in these seemingly chaotic days of 2017. The inspiration for this phrase, “shed a little light,” comes from James Taylor’s song, “Shed a Little Light.” You can watch a video of it being performed by the Lowcountry SC Voices in Columbia here.

Lent, if nothing else, is a time for reflection on what has been and living toward what is possible with God’s help. We die to our old selves as we pray to rise to newness of life in fullest form.

Thurman published Meditations of the Heart in 1953, the second in a volume of meditations that were originally written for personal and congregational use at Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples in San Francisco where he served as co-pastor with Alfred G. Fisk, a Presbyterian minister, and professor of philosophy from 1944-1953. Both were deeply concerned about building bridges of understanding among varied races, cultures, and faiths.

The purpose of these meditations is, as Thurman puts it, “to focus the mind and the heart upon God as the Eternal Source and Goal of life.” The meditations in this 210-page book are chock full of insight, centering prayer, and nourishment for the journey. For me, all three are needed in these days as they were for his congregation in the 1940’s and ’50’s. Meditations are the type of sustenance that fed civil rights leaders including the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr,. who was, in many ways, mentored by Thurman.

Mentoring voices from around the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and beyond will follow this post throughout the coming weeks, each from various walks of life and ministry contexts including those leading theological schools, congregations, presbyteries, the General Assembly, and non-profit organizations. Each will identify their context for ministry and call, a book they recommend, what the book is about, and why they believe it is critical reading today. My prayer is that these will become timely and descriptive “meditations of the heart,” so to speak, for a holy pilgrimage into God’s imagined future: the NEXT Church.

My sincere hope is that these posts will also provide a foundational backdrop for the conversations many of us will be having at the 2017 National Gathering on Well-Being in a Thirsty World.


I am Lee Hinson-Hasty and my call to ministry centers on vocation of leaders in the church and the world. I am always curious about how we find what Thomas Merton described as “our true selves.” Discerning vocation is, I believe, a personal, spiritual, religious, and theological journey, and, for Reformed Christians, it is a communal process. Vocation discerned becomes educational and, ultimately, economic in a particular social context. As a resource and advocate for theological education in the PC(USA) for more than a decade, I find my current call as Senior Director of Theological Education Funds Development at the Presbyterian Foundation provides me the best opportunity I know to invite and embolden others to used their gifts to glorify God in ways that will empower leaders of Christ’s Church by supporting future ministers. I pray regularly with James Taylor and others that we will all “Recognize there are ties between us… ties of hope and love, sister and brotherhood. …. We are bound together by the task that stands before us and the road that lies ahead. We are bound and we are bound.”

Nones and Dones Book Recommendations

At the 2016 NEXT Church National Gathering, Renee Roederer hosted an optional ministry context conversation on “nones and dones,” people Renee defines as spiritually curious and institutionally suspicious. As part of that discussion, a book list emerged for those looking to learn more:

Church Refugees: Sociologists Reveal Why People are DONE with Church but not Their Faith – Josh Packard and Ashleigh Hope

Josh Packard and Ashleigh Hope provide a sociological study that explains why the Dones are leaving churches behind. They explore the primary themes for departure in order to listen to the concerns of the Dones and help churches adapt.

The Nones are Alright: A New Generation of Believers, Seekers, and Those in Between – Kaya Oakes

Kaya Oakes provides historical analysis about why people are leaving organized religion and how some are reclaiming it outside of institutional structures.

Grounded: Finding God in the World – A Spiritual Revolution – Diana Butler Bass

Diana Butler Bass argues that what appears to be a religious decline in the U.S. is actually a new, transformative movement of people experiencing God as intimate and incarnational in the world.

Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory  – Tod Bolsinger

Tod Bolsinger tells the story of the Lewis and Clark exploration as they had to dramatically adapt once they reached the Rocky Mountains. In the same way, church leaders recognize that dramatic adaptation is needed as culture is changing.

The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why – Phyllis Tickle

Phyllis Tickle argues that the Christian Church experiences a major reformation approximately every 500 years,  and that a new, great emergence is currently developing which will invite more into the faith as the institutional church changes.