You cannot look...

Published: January 27, 2012

You cannot look into someone’s eyes and pretend that you do not see. -Sister Peg

For twelve days in early January, twenty seminarians from five different seminaries looked into the eyes of the people of Appalachia. The multi-cultural immersion course, entitled Fierce Landscapes, took us to Yancey, Buncombe and Madison counties in western North Carolina for an opportunity to learn about the Appalachian culture, economy and religion. We visited with local ministers, toured Madison High School, participated in a shape-note singing and so much more. Our schedule was full from sunrise to sundown and beyond. However, some of the most meaningful experiences were the ones that were not scheduled.

A light in the dark, hope for rural Appalachia. Photo by Melissa Kessler, First Year.

On the 6th day of our trip we had the opportunity to explore the landscapes of Madison County. What we found was the warm and welcoming heart of Calvin at Big Laurel Missionary Baptist Church. We stopped to eat lunch at Big Laurel’s covered shelter by the creek and as we prepared to leave, Calvin, not expecting our visit, welcomed us into his church for a much needed restroom break. With no questions asked, this Appalachian man let us take a tiny glimpse into his life. As we left, I thought, ’THIS is Appalachia.’ As I reflect on our trip, however, I realize that there is so much more to Appalachia, past and present.

This region is fighting for its existence and its unique culture. The mountains that have insulated this region are literally crumbling due to mountaintop removal and their way of life is being transformed as the outside world moves in. This course allowed us to witness these changes, firsthand, and we cannot pretend that we did not see. The fierce landscapes of Appalachia have left their mark.

Throughout the immersion, students blogged about their experiences and posted pictures. Check out more here.

Amy Starr Russell
Second Year