It is so nice to write to you again!
Some of you are probably wondering what happened to my letters? What happened
to the ideas of eco-chaplaincy? The Eco-Chaplaincy Initiative? The updates and
action alerts regarding the movement to end mountaintop removal coal mining? A
few more of you are just now receiving your first letter even though you asked
me to send you one two months or two weeks ago! Well, here
it is, after a summer of soaking up love and commitment, and focusing on
creating a foundation for a family, I am writing again!
I am writing first to tell you that
during my absentia from writing I married a wonderful partner named Robert Sage
on July 17th. To all of you who celebrated with us in person or
spirit, thank you! Even the President of the United States, Barack Obama and the first family witnessed
our wedding! I kid you not - they were vacationing on Mt. Desert Island, in
Maine, at the exact same time, and they actually drove by and waved right when
Sage put the ring on my finger after our vows! Ha! We have stories to share forever
We’ve spent a great deal of the summer
traveling between West Virginia (where we lived and celebrated) and Maine
(where we married), and then topped it off by moving further south to
Swannanoa, North Carolina, just outside of Asheville. After a lot of
discussions (some painful, some hilarious), we landed on Swannanoa as a place
to build our first home together, which meant moving from Ansted, and our great
community there. I am still grieving, as West Virginia is an important part of
my heart, and I am committed to working there. However, we decided to move
because of what Swannanoa offers: a diverse and thriving community near enough
to the coalfields to make it possible to continue working throughout the
region, while living in a place where Sage and I are able to grow together spiritually
as an inter-faith couple, and hopefully find more sustainable economic support.
Living in Ansted and in West Virginia for a
year was an incredible experience, and I hope I get many opportunities to
continue working there. Meanwhile, I love Swannanoa! I am getting to do
something that was really hard in the midst of the coal region, which is to
deeply fall in love with Appalachia! We live on a small farm next to the
National Forest, on the crest of the Blue Ridge and the Smoky Mountains. What a
treat! These mountains are ancient and the result is a phenomenally biodiverse
eco-system. I knew this of course, and could sense it in West Virginia, but
what a difference no coal makes! You would (or ideally should) think that having
coal would make communities richer, and this isolated mountainous area of North
Carolina would be in rough economic shape, but of course, greed has worked its
horrid hand in the coal-fields and the areas that are supplying the world with
coal have higher poverty rates and less healthy communities than nearly
anywhere else. Ugh.
So I am still
committed to following the calling that brought me to Appalachia in the first
place – to help bring attention to the atrocity known as mountaintop removal
coal mining where entire mountains are literally being blown up and dumped into
valleys for the sake of profit and cheaper energy; and offer myself to the many
members of this inspirational and strong community-based movement through the
profession I coined “eco-chaplaincy.”
Soldiers at war have military chaplains
who can listen to their fears and prayers, sit in silence or guide them in
meditation. Patients in hospitals have chaplains who will sit at their bedside
holding their hand, providing presence, or maybe reading holy texts or offering
services. Veterans have chaplains who facilitate groups about post-tramatic
stress disorder (ptsd) and have individual listening sessions. So now
environmental social justice activists and engaged community members have their
eco-chaplain who can walk beside them, listen deeply, help mediate conflict or
facilitate group dialogue and help bring the work that reconnects into our
movements. The movement to end mountaintop removal coal mining has their very
own eco-chaplain, through the support of all of you, and I hope to really dive
into this role throughout these next many years.
Like I wrote in my last letter, (all my
letters are online at www.ecochaplaincy.net/svletters),
my calling has matured and with it the focus is more clear. I am happy to announce
that Sage and I are really close to launching the Eco-Chaplaincy Inititive
officially! By ‘officially’ I mean with fiscal sponsorship while we await our
own non-profit status, which means that all donations should be tax deductible
by the end of the month! I will write you as soon as this is a reality. It also
means that in order to be able to fully follow through on this vision and
calling, your generosity is very much appreciated. Seriously. Thank you!
Nearly a month ago Sage and I
facilitated a workshop on conflict transformation at a weekend training for
organizers, put on by the Alliance for Appalachia. The response was inspiring.
It seemed both useful and needed and left me determined to offer myself as a
trainer and facilitator/mediator more within the general movement using the
skills I learned while in seminary, including organizing and facilitating community
based restorative justice circles Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication.
Sage and I have begun to talk about planning seasonal series’ that we can take
to different organizations and communities in the region about conflict
transformation, restorative communication, and peace-keeping. We are putting
together interactive workshops designed for local coalfield community groups
and environmental groups to help transform our culture of conflict avoidance
and escalation to one of healthy conflict transformation through communication.
We also are pursuing a collaborative project with the group Sage works for,
Christians for the Mountains, (www.christainsforthemountains.org),
which we named the “Healthy Hearts, Healthy Homes, Healthy Hills” program to
organize and facilitate spiritual renewal and soul care retreats for weary
activists and community members.
Also as I write one of the largest
mobilizations yet to end this devastating practice is quickly approaching.
Appalachia Rising is coming up two weekends from now in Washington D.C. September 25-27th. The weekend, September 25-26 is called “Voices From
the Mountains,” and is full of workshops and trainings about the issue, as well
as nonviolent direct action. I will be helping out with some of the panels and
around to provide pastoral support. On Monday, September 27th, there
is a large public demonstration planned, calling on the EPA and the President
to end mountaintop removal. If you can come, great! If you want to help from home,
please consider calling the White House and your senators and representatives
to ask them to end mountaintop removal coal mining that day, and/or donating to
help Sage and I get there through paypal at www.ecochaplaincy.net/donate. I
will send out information about how to join in solidarity that week as well.
The link to Appalachia Rising is at www.appalachiarising.org.
I promise, you’ll be hearing from me a
lot more often again, well, once a month or every few weeks. If you are glad to
hear from me, thanks! If you want to forward this or any other letter, please
d send me the address so I can include your friends in the future. If you
don’t wish to receive any more of these updates, fear not, just send me quick
note and I will remove you from my list. Again, all of my past letters are on
my website at www.ecochaplaincy.net/svletters
I am working on writing grants and
seeking collaborative funding through working with other organizations and of
course will keep you all posted. Sage and I head up to Kentucky in the morning for
a three-day training at Berea College at the Brushy Fork Institute about
non-profit leadership and web design! We will be taking what we learn and
combining it with what we know to help Christians for the Mountains and to also
officially launch the Eco-Chaplaincy Initiative by the end of the month!
If you are able, will you please
consider donating money toward this work so that I can continue to focus on
supporting the movement to end mountaintop removal and working as an
eco-chaplain? Your support means everything to me and to the people I have the
honor to work with (many of whom – you – are reading this :)
I have a donation link through paypal on
my website which can take credit or debit cards, and can do monthly donations starting
at $25/month, as well as one-time donations. The address is www.ecochaplaincy.net/donate. If you would rather send a check in the mail,
my new address is PO Box 890, Swannanoa, NC 28778. In order to survive here I
have to raise at least $2000/month now, so please donate if you can. I have
applied to four jobs at local grocery stores as backup, but in my heart of
hearts, I really want to focus on eco-chaplaincy as much as possible.
For now, good night dear friends. The
moon is out over the field below our cabin, and the stars are out. The local
blackbear is probably over feasting on the dead trout from the trout farm our
neighbor/landlords run. I leave with the Celtic blessing our guests sang during
May the longtime sun shine upon you,
All love surround you,
And guide your way on.
Vekasi-Phillips (my new last name!)
M. Vekasi-Phillips, M.Div.
304-640-7960 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 304-640-7960 end_of_the_skype_highlighting