By Jed Duvall and Bev Hunter
When you assemble a crowd of Rappahannock people, you get a little of everything. There’s an artist. There’s a preacher. There are many gray hairs. There are churchgoers and atheists. There’s a man from a rescue squad and a woman who teaches Latin. There’s a farmer, a prominent man in the county. Then there is another farmer, this one a woman. There are teachers, parents worried about their children’s future, gardeners, musicians. There are volunteers from the Food Pantry, there are public servants.
At the first “Conversation on Care of Our Common Home,” Sunday, Feb. 14, a crowd of people from (mostly) Rappahannock assembled in the public library’s meeting room. We spilled out of the regular meeting area — the Jamieson room — into the children’s area. It was an impressive turnout for people of all faiths, or no faith at all, to talk about something written by the Pope — people taking the risk to share ideas and information on some very difficult questions.
All are invited to join “The Conversation,” with the next scheduled for Sunday, March 13, at the Washington Fire Hall, 3:30-5:30 p.m. Sponsors include the environmental group RappFlow, as well as St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, The Green Team of St. James Episcopal in Warrenton, and the Unitarian Universalists of the Blue Ridge.
In the encyclical “On Care for Our Common Home,” Pope Francis pleads: “I urgently appeal for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone….” He calls on all human beings to recognize that we are causing damage to our common home, the Earth, and, especially because this damage hurts poor people the most, he urges us to do something about it.
People who usually ignore messages from popes about peace in the world have, in the case of Francis, sat up and taken notice of what this Argentinian has to say to us, and about us. It was this Pope’s message that drew an extraordinary turnout and promises — as word gets around — to draw even more at future Rappahannock “Conversations.”
Among the questions focusing the Conversation: Can we integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor? Does living in Rappahannock insulate us from seeing the needs of the poor?
To address these fundamental questions, the roughly 60 people at the first Conversation were informally organized into five separate talking circles. Their ideas were then collected by volunteer scribes — one for each circle — and then, when boiled down to a sentence or two, filled 15 pages of single-space copy. Here is a sampling:
- Belief in interfaith dialogue.
- Rappahannock is on the map as an exporter of clean water.
- We need to rid ourselves of an addiction to a perpetual growth model for our economy.
- Dominion over the earth should become responsible stewardship.
- The United States is the only place in the world where climate change is politically controversial; we are out of step with the rest of the world.
The Conversation is not a debate. Each person makes a point and sometimes others in the group respond to that assertion or characterization, and sometimes the next speaker (in each of the 10-person talking groups) simply moves on to another thought. At the close of the event, roughly ninety minutes after introductions, one or two of the organizers close discussions and ask for a brief report by the volunteer scribe in each group. From those summaries is prepared a written summary, emailed out to all the participants a few days later.
Suggestions to each other about what individuals and families can do include:
- Downsize our homes and cut energy use.
- Recycle. Buy local. Persuade neighbors away from pesticides; we do not need vast, perfect lawns anymore.
- Turn off air conditioning once in awhile.
- Go meatless a couple of times a week.
- Change light bulbs to LED. Take a walk. Ride a bike. Shift to a clothesline.
- Those in the stock market should look carefully at their holdings and consider boycotts of companies that are not helping.
Some groups spent time considering the extinctions of animal and plant species and suggested that perhaps the Rappahannock News would write and print obituaries of species that have disappeared. Following that idea, someone suggested that ministers, from their pulpits, could conduct services to memorialize the dead species.
There was consideration given to those who do not agree with a good deal of what was suggested at the Conversation. It was offered that folks “listen to obstructionists in a contemplative way so that they do not feel alienated.”
And then there was the song. Judy Reidinger, of the Sperryville Rescue Squad and Trinity Church, in one of the talking circles, burst into song — lyrics of her own — about pollution and the world we live in. It was a small audience, just one little group, and with all the other groups chatting away, it wasn’t easy to catch all of Judy’s words. So maybe Judy can be persuaded to offer the song to everyone at the next Conversation this month.
Bev Hunter is the founder of RappFlow. Jed Duvall is cofounder of the Old Rag Gazette, where an earlier version of this story appeared.