Immersion in Appalachia

How do faith-based communities and health care systems interact within  the economic context of Appalachia? In January, 11 seminarians spent 11 days studying this question in eastern Kentucky, visiting with people of faith, ministers, health care workers, coal miners, drug rehab counselors, and private citizens, as well as hospitals, crisis centers, day care centers, musicians, and film makers. The PSR students were taking part in an immersion course, “Faith, Health, and Economics: An Appalachian Experience,” developed in partnership with Appalachian Ministries Education Resource Center. The course was led by Lynn Rhodes, associate professor of ministry and field education, and field ed staff member Maura Tucker.

When the students returned to Berkeley, in addition to writing up papers on their experience, they decided to establish an ongoing commitment to the people of Appalachia. A lump of coal, about the size of a fist, brought back from a mine they visited in Kentucky, is being carried by each of the students for a week; they are encouraged to place the coal at the center of any gathering—a meal, for example—and to then converse about issues that come up.
“In my week,” said George Bennett, “I often found myself telling the stories of my experience in Appalachia. Things also tended to get deeper and richer. When at a table with international students, for example, I learned how ‘resources’ were treated in the Pacific Islands and in Puerto Rico. I was also able to connect with someone about the perils of poverty in our own families. Coal is a symbol of the journey that we experienced together in Appalachia, and I have found that the connectedness of the stories of oppression and hope are reaching the community we live in as well.”

MDiv candidate Wade Meyer wrote the following poem about his immersion experience:

What if a miner coughed every time I switched on a light?
Or three drops of coal ash sludge oozed out of the electrical
Socket every time I turned on my computer?
What if I lost one increment of hearing every time I judged
‘those people’ as uneducated because of the accent in their voice?
Then I might begin to know the cost of living in my world.

Or would I learn that a cough is the sound of a light switching on,
And learn to live with poison and cancer?
Would I simply adjust to hearing no voice but my own?

The cloth was started before we were born.
The future is woven before we see the pattern.
Yet God is somehow embroidred here and there,
And the answer to our prayers is the touch of thread across thread.

Please visit the contextual learning page for current MDiv contextual learning information.