When I thought about being in Appalachia for 2 weeks, all kinds of images flowed through my mind. I had a particular economic group, social class, and geographic location in mind. My time has been spent primarily in Garrett County, MD. The more people I met, the more similar they seemed to myself.
One of my professors always challenges us to go deeper than the obvious, to "look under the rug." Part of this took place last night and today as those of us who spent January term here met togethe rin Morgantown, WV, at WVU with campus pastor Matt Riegel, Dr. Gil Waldkoenig (professor at Gettysburg Seminary), and Bishop Ralph Dunkin (bishop of the WV/Western MD Synod of the ELCA). One of the things I discovered was that parts of the Southern Tier of my own New York State, are technically part of Appalachia, including Jamestown, the birthplace of Lucille Ball. Hmm...that certainly caught my attention.
There are those places however, which do typify what I had originally imagined. For example, earlier this week, we visited a general store in WV which most of us would think of as authentically Appalachian. On the other end, are the beautiful homes of those living in the area surrounding Deep Creek Lake. The spectrum is very broad indeed.
In the midst of Appalachia, we ate dinner last night at Kenyan's, a wonderful restaurant in Morgantown that serves organic, Kenyan cuisine such as Ugali, which was a delightful taste experience of which I had only heard about from former missionaries to Kenya. I did not expect that to be on the menu in this university town in Appalachia!
One of the questions, perhaps the main question we must consider is what it means to be Appalachian. The answers vary according to the location, particularly between north and south. Bishop Dunkin shared characteristics with us such as, "Never lie to an Appalachian," stressing the importance of transparency in relationships. I think these should apply to all of our associations.
Sunday this particular block of learning, meeting people, and discerning comes to a close. I will be preaching at St. John's in Accident, St. Paul's in Accident, and Grace Church in Friendsville, MD. I will be saying good-bye to some wonderful people that have helped me to more clearly hear God's voice and call. I am grateful for the marvelous hospitality I experienced. My prayers will continue to be with the people of Garrett County and those who minister to them in a variety of expressions. Thanks be to God for those who are willing to share their lives, stories, and hospitality with us.
Pictures courtesy of flickr and Wikipaedia.