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Letters by Sarah Vekasi
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December 3, 2010


December 3, 2010

Dearest friends,

                Hello! I am so grateful for this opportunity to reach out and say hello to all of you once again. I have some big news to share which is that I am officially launching the Eco-Chaplaincy Initiative with tax-deductible non-profit status! Hooray!  This means that any contribution you or your friends make can be deducted from your taxes! It also means I have been accomplishing the goals set out last spring and slowly, excitingly am getting closer to realizing them. I have been trying to finish my new website before launching, but it is taking me so long I thought I better reach out and say hi now.

 I know that every other group out there is making an end of the year appeal, and now I get to join and ask you to please officially donate to the Eco-Chaplaincy Initiative. You can donate here (http://www.ecochaplaincy.net/donate.html)  through paypal, sign up to be a monthly donor here, or send a check to the Eco-Chaplaincy Initiative to PO Box 890, Swannanoa, NC 28778.

If you are interested in giving a donation to the Eco-Chaplaincy Initiative as a gift in someone’s honor, I will send them a beautiful homemade card explaining how they are helping contribute to a more life sustaining society and saner Appalachia through this gift (just send me their information). If you contribute $150 or more, I will send you a homemade piece of pottery thrown on a wheel by me!

Hopefully you are wondering what this money will go toward. Thus far I have been using all of your donations to participate as much as possible in the general movement to end mountaintop removal as an eco-chaplain – providing individual pastoral support, offering my skills in helping facilitate conflict resolution and conflict transformation, working with communities of faith to organize resistance from within clergy, congregations, and the like, actively participating in demonstrations and rallies, and encouraging a culture of civility through writing, speaking and participating in meetings and events. I also got a job at a local coffee shop to help continue funding this work, and want to continue to offer it as much as I can.

Now that Sage and I live in Swannanoa, North Carolina, our lives are more removed from the direct day to day situation of mountaintop removal, so we want to focus more of our energy on organizing and facilitating workshops and retreats for renewal, preventing and healing from burn-out, self-care and soul care. The top of my list is to facilitate the Work that Reconnects as I learned it from Joanna Macy. I want to offer the Work that Reconnects throughout the region this winter and spring for the committed activists working to protect and sustain the ancient mountains and working communities of central Appalachia struggling against mountaintop removal coal mining.

I can assure you that there are no community organizers out there getting rich fighting the coal industry and working to transform the coal-poor region of the United States – as such, I try to offer this work for as low-cost or no-cost as possible with your help.

Since Appalachia Rising occurred in September, I have stayed pretty close to home, with several pretty wonderful exceptions. In October we went up to Kayford Mountain in West Virginia to help with the Mountain Justice Fall Summit. Sage and I offered a nonviolent direct action training, opened up the Sunday service with meditations and prayers, and witnessed a very inspiring act of civil disobedience when nearly forty people risked arrest by walking out onto the active mine site surrounding Larry Gibson’s home and planting trees. The message was about the need for real economic transformation and ecological restoration.

Early last month I drove up to West Virginia again and stayed with Larry and Carol Gibson, and together we went to Athens, Ohio to help convene a wedding between two dear friends and the Appalachia Mountains! Yes – you read correctly – Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens publicly married the entire mountain range, and I am proud to say that I was their eco-chaplain and helped them open the wedding ceremony. It was part art and politics and all real at the same time. Larry and I had a lot of moving conversations ahead of time about the wedding to the mountains, and while we both agreed that there were ways to think of it as a stunt or a mockery, to us, and to the brides, it was a very bold and serious endeavor to publicly commit to love, honor and cherish the mountain range that sustains our life, and try to offer our best selves to the relationship. I was honored to help use creativity, art and pastoral authority to help draw out that vital relationship we have with our landscape – the inseparability of our life from our home.

Next weekend I will be meeting with people from throughout the region to discuss how we want to go forward as a movement on the heels of Appalachia Rising. It is an honor to be included in such a historic discussion and I am so grateful to all of you for helping me participate!

As you know, Eco-Chaplaincy is a new field drawn from very old roots. I am learning as I go and excited to share what I am learning and bring more people into the fold. I hope that as the Eco-Chaplaincy Initiative grows, I can do more writing and sharing, and offer the work in a broader, more accessible way. Meanwhile, I am embodying what I teach about self-care by diving into my newest passion – pottery! I joined a community clay studio in Black Mountain and have been throwing clay on a wheel as often as I can. I work as a barista right next door for an easy commute and have found great solace and inspiration in the art of clay.

I am honored to participate in the movement to end mountaintop removal coal mining as an eco-chaplain, and am grateful for all of your support – financially, socially, emotionally, etc. with this journey. Thank-you for reading these letters, and supporting the work of eco-chaplaincy. If you are able to contribute financially to the Eco-Chaplaincy Initiative, please send a check to PO Box 890, Swannanoa, NC 28778 or donate online herehttp://www.ecochaplaincy.net/donate.html) . I really appreciate it. (

                I will close with this quote my Aunt Margaret sent my Mom this morning. It is a poem by Sam Levenson and famously read by Audrey Hepburn:

For attractive lips, speak words of kindness.  For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people. For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry.  For beautiful hair, let a child run his/her fingers through it once a day. For poise, walk with the knowledge that you never walk alone. People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of each of your arms.  As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands; one for helping yourself, and the other for helping others.

In gratitude and solidarity,

Sarah Vekasi-Phillips, M.Div.