Connecting with Appalachia

Appalachia

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A delegation from the United Methodist General Board of Church & Society (GBCS) will travel through Appalachia July 16-21 to develop relationships in support of the denomination’s emphasis on “Ministry with the Poor.” GBCS’s chief executive, the Rev. Dr. Susan Henry-Crowe, will lead the journey to sites in Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

Red Bird Missionary Conference

“We are so excited for the opportunity to come build and renew relationships in the Appalachian region,” said Susan Henry-Crowe.

Appalachia is a complex, diverse region stretching along the Appalachian mountain range from Mississippi to southern New York with area in 13 states and 25 million population. The GBCS delegation will listen to a variety of voices about current challenges and creative opportunities for social change that abound in the region.

The delegation’s itinerary includes United Methodist-related agencies, such as Henderson Settlement and Red Bird Missionary Conference, both in Kentucky, and Project Crossroads in Marion, Va. Other visits include United Methodist Appalachian Ministry Network, Appalachian Service Project and the Appalachian Center at Emory & Henry College.

The delegation will also be briefed by individuals who have special insights into Appalachia. These include Koni Purscell, a missionary with the General Board of Global Ministries serving as a Church & Community Worker in the Big Stone Gap District of the Holston Conference in Southwest Virginia, and Robert Gipe, Appalachian program director for Southeast Kentucky Community & Technical College.

On the journey

Members of the delegation include John Hill, GBCS assistant general secretary for Advocacy & Organizing; Jessie Smith, GBCS researcher; and Minoka Guneskera, a student at Duke Divinity School who is serving an internship with GBCS this summer. Two members of the agency’s board of directors are also participating: Kurt Karandy from the Upper New York Conference and Dr. Solomon Christian from Memphis Conference.

Henderson Settlement

“The larger church stands to benefit from the historic and longstanding ministries of the region,” said Smith, who helped coordinate the trip. "This is an opportunity to learn from Appalachia's wisdom and expertise about mobilizing for social change, and doing ministry with the poor in a relational way."

The trip was coordinated through Kentucky Conference Bishop Lindsey Davis’ office, Holston Conference Board of Church & Society chair Susan Montgomery, and the West Virginia Conference.

“The trip is truly an expression of the connectional nature of the denomination to connect local and regional expertise with the larger church,” Henry-Crowe pointed out. “With GBCS focused on ministry with the poor and marginalized, Appalachia is a key area of the United States for the agency to forge relationships.”

Rich and poor

Appalachia is an area known for its richness in music and visual arts, its beauty, and its natural resources. It is also, according to the Appalachia Regional Commission, a place with one of the highest poverty rates in the country.

The GBCS fact-finding trip will focus on ministries and organizations that work on dynamic ways of promoting economic and environmental justice in the region.

The itinerary includes the following confirmed visits:

  • Appalachia Service Project, which for more than 40 years has brought thousands of volunteers from around the country to rural Central Appalachia to repair homes for low-income families.
  • Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, a grassroots organization of almost 9,000 members across the Bluegrass State that uses a set of core strategies, from leadership development to communications and voter empowerment, to impact a broad range of issues, including coal and water, new energy and transition, economic justice and voting rights.
  • Appalshop, a media, arts, and education center located in Whitesburg, Ky., in the heart of the southern Appalachian region of the United States.
  • Robert Gipe, Appalachian program director for Southeast Kentucky Community & Technical College who is developing a series of plays about his community of Harlan County to tell the stories of locals in a variety of restored buildings around the county.
  • Henderson Settlement, a United Methodist-affiliated organization whose purpose is to meet the basic human needs of people in southeast Kentucky and northeast Tennessee.
  • Red Bird Missionary Conference, whose ministry with Appalachian families living in the coal region of southeastern Kentucky addresses spiritual, physical, educational and economic needs.
  • Woodland Land Trust at Clearfork Community Institute, whose mission is to purchase and hold lands for local residents to provide a secure base with which to begin holistic community development from a rural perspective.
  • Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, Knoxville, Tenn., committed to nonviolence to stop nuclear weapons production at the Y12 Nuclear Weapons Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and protecting the environment threatened by legacy and ongoing activities at the Oak Ridge Nuclear Reservation.
  • Koni Purscell, GBGM missionary who works in church and community renewal, providing support and programs for systemic change for people in this rural area.
  • Appalachian Center, Emory & Henry College, which integrates education with service and citizenship by providing individuals and student groups with short-term and extended service activities, while establishing service partnerships between the college and local rural communities to deal with root causes of social inequities.
  • United Methodist Appalachian Ministry Network (UMAMN), designated by the General Conference, the denomination’s highest policy-setting body, to work with local, district, conference and general church leaders to collaborate and coordinate ministries that seek justice for all God’s people in Appalachia. More than 8,500 local United Methodist congregations are located within the region.
  • Project Crossroads, a mission in Marion, Va., of the United Methodist Holston Conference, serves the needs of God's children through home repair, new home construction, firewood delivery and emergency assistance.

In addition, the delegation will worship Sunday, July 19, at First Broad Street United Methodist Church in Kingsport, Tenn.

Other visits were being confirmed at press time.

The General Board of Church & Society is one of four international general program boards of The United Methodist Church. Prime responsibility of the board is to seek implementation of the Social Principles and other policy statements on Christian social concerns of the General Conference, the denomination’s highest policy-making body. The board’s primary areas of ministry are Advocacy, Education & Leadership Formation, United Nations & International Affairs, and resourcing these areas for the denomination. It has offices on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., and at the Church Center for the United Nations in New York City.

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