The grazed and cultivated farmland, the good food and drink, the historical sense of time and place . . . even the ticks that carry Lyme disease. As unlikely as at first it may seem, Vienna, Austria, and environs — from which I’ve just returned — is in many ways reminiscent of Rappahannock County.
The land is less wild, to be sure, more manicured. Instead of an unusually cold and snowy winter, theirs was unusually warm and dry, and the spring skies are overcast with dust blown across the Mediterranean all the way from the Sahara.
Of course, in many other important ways, the ancient seat of the Habsburgs and the Austro-Hungarian Empire is decidedly foreign. Still, it now seems linked with Rappahannock County, for the inspired leadership of Rev. Jenks Hobson, of Trinity Church in Washington, created the opportunity for a week-long tour to where the First World War began, on the eve of its 100th anniversary.
In partnership with Rappahannock artist Merrill Strange, Jenks began these annual Old World sojourns in 2003. Previous trips covered London, Florence, Pisa, Rome, Paris, Venice and Milan. Parish members and others interested in “theological reflections,” as Jenks puts it, are invited to participate. This latest trip — and my first — numbered 16 participants.
It’s an opportunity, Jenks says, “to look at the wider world around you and see how it reflects scripture and faith.” Often focusing on “the bursting moment of Renaissance art,” the trip itineraries are designed “to amplify Bible studies and provide a deeper understanding of Christianity.”
Sparsely populated and rural, Rappahannock County could easily be inward-looking and isolationist; but people like Jenks and Merrill, forever youthfully curious, make sure that doesn’t happen. They know, like Socrates, that “knowledge is virtue, and ignorance is evil.”