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Letters by Sarah Vekasi
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Dearest friends,

            I am writing from my home at the head of a hollow, next to a trout farm and a creek, at the base of the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Pisgah National Forest. When I listen I can hear the ever-present buzzing and humming of cicadas, grasshoppers, birds and bugs, and the warm air feels good on my skin as the leaves are already beginning to change a little bit on the forested hills all around me. My garden is overgrown, my kittens are becoming cats, and I am glad to be back home after being away for nearly three weeks.

            This letter is a little bit different than normal because I have been away, so please hold on as I talk about eco-chaplaincy more than mountaintop removal this time. I left at the end of July for an intensive retreat to study with my mentor and friend Joanna Macy. The intensive was considered a “Deepening Intensive” for people whose work relies on and is influenced by the ‘Work that Reconnects.’  For those of you who do not know, Joanna Macy is a world renowned eco-philosopher and activist who, among so many beautiful aspects of her work and life, expanded the field of general living systems theory by demonstrating many Buddhist parallels and then took the theories of mutual causality and deep ecology into real life in straightforward ways to benefit movements, organizers and activists by bringing forth experiential group work in what is now called the “Work That Reconnects.”

The Work that Reconnects is so many beautiful things all at once. Among many, it is a methodology to help us observe the time we live in and make choices accordingly in a Great Turning toward a life sustaining society and away from the industrial growth society; and experiential practices to help groups process and transform our grief, anger, hopelessness and apathy in regards to the earth and its communities. Joanna brings the Work that Reconnects into the world in many ways, and facilitates interactive workshops that encompass all of the above: group experiential work, teaching, and skill sharing. If you have the opportunity to participate in a workshop that Joanna is facilitating, go with all speed. It is a profound experience that has lasting effects. Barring that, I truly love facilitating the Work that Reconnects in its workshop form, and would love to facilitate more this year. Please contact me if you are interested (particularly if you or your group is in Appalachia).

This intensive was the first part of nearly a month away, which was my first time away from my work and family in two years. I was able to reflect on the nature of my work thus far and found that I am at a transition point for the Eco-Chaplaincy Initiative. So far I have been just going ahead as fully as I can, getting involved any way that opened up. Now I want to go forward with more focus in specific directions. This includes both with my current work as an eco-chaplain in the movement to end mountaintop removal, and in terms of my aspiration to expand and develop the field of eco-chaplaincy.

Every time I travel and am asked what I do, I hear people say, “eco-chaplain? Interesting, that is the first time I have heard that…” and I smile and say, “yes, well I hope it is not your last”.  You too may still be wondering what eco-chaplaincy is, so let me explain. I coined the term eco-chaplaincy back in 2005 to try to expand the field of pastoral support to include support for organizers, activists and communities encountering environmental and social justice issues (my whole thesis is on my website www.ecochaplaincy.net if you want to read what I wrote a few years ago). As an eco-chaplain, I strive to makes space for activists and organizers to safely vent, process, reflect, pray, practice, release, transform, engage, commit and heal, while still actively working. Ideally eco-chaplaincy aids activists and organizers in the work of finding and sustaining vision, preventing and recovering from burn-out, addressing conflict and morale issues, and transforming personal and group organizing models so that they model what people are working for and not what they are fighting.

Now, after three years of full time study and professional training as a chaplain, and three years of working in the field, I can honestly say there is something new and delicious and tangible about eco-chaplaincy, and I want to share it as best I can. During this reflective time away from Appalachia, I realized that while I want to keep working as an eco-chaplain, it is also time for me to begin more actively sharing what I have learned and training people in this field, through writing about it in a book and in articles, teaching, and speaking.

            For this I need your support if you are so willing. Will you please consider hiring me as an eco-chaplain to work with you and/or your organization? This can look like many things: group facilitation in terms of collective or organizational visioning, conflict transformation, group processing, workshops which facilitate the Work that Reconnects, self-care and group care workshops and retreats, personal pastoral counseling, etc. If you are even just curious about this, please don’t hesitate to call me at 304-640-7960 or e mail me at sarahsunshine@riseup.net.

Furthermore, will you please consider donating to the Eco-Chaplaincy Initiative? All donations help! I need to raise funds so that I can develop and write, as well as to continue the support work I love doing here. I would also love any ideas for grants and fellowships that you may think of. For over two years now I have been living from donations, just like the nuns and monks in my old Zen monastery in Japan. Any time I have been able to benefit our movement here in Appalachia fighting mountaintop removal, I know that it has been because of all of you and your generosity. Thank you! All donations to the Eco-Chaplaincy Initiative are tax-deductible and go straight into this work. 

Please consider becoming a monthly donor to the Eco-Chaplaincy Initiative. You can sign up through paypal to automatically withdraw $25, $50, $100 or more each month from your credit card or checking account. To do this, please go online at http://www.ecochaplaincy.net/donate.html. If the link does not work, go online to www.ecochaplaincy.net and click on the donate page, or just call me at home at 828-296-7514. You can also make donations of all amounts online the same way, or send a check to the Eco-Chaplaincy Initiative, PO Box 890, Swannanoa, NC 28778. Any donations over $150 receive a piece of handmade pottery by yours truly! As many of you have seen, the other way to help support me is to buy my pottery, perhaps for holiday gifts and/or perhaps a new dinnerware set. I have some samples for sale online at http://www.etsy.com/shop/sarahsunshinestudio and I am happy to make custom orders.

Thanks to each of you for the work you do in service to your communities and to Earth. I am so glad to be alive at this time because of all of you! I appreciate all of the support you give the Eco-Chaplaincy Initiative and I support all of the work you each do.


Love and Solidarity,

Sarah Vekasi