Faith That Saves Mountains
On the kitchen windowsill in front of where she washes dishes, Pat Hudson keeps a piece of coal she picked up on a tour of a mountaintop removal site in 2006. Hudson had visited an Appalachian ridgeline in Kentucky with a group of interfaith leaders. The contingent had hiked up a mountainside to a vista overlooking the devastation wrought by companies that blast away the tops of mountains in the pursuit of more coal and more profit. In response to the shock and grief provoked by what they saw, the group joined together to sing “Amazing Grace.” As they did so, horns and sirens of warning began to sound from down below. During the final verse, the mountain standing across the valley from the group exploded and collapsed. This life-changing event galvanized Hudson. The coal on her windowsill reminds her of the realities so many Appalachians face every day outside their kitchen windows.
A 2009 report estimated that 501 mountains had been destroyed from mining blasts. At the time, the total area impacted in the Appalachian mountains reached 1,160,000 acres. An assessment by the Environmental Protection Agency noted the “devastating” effect of blasts on nearby communities as the foundations and walls of houses cracked, water wells dried up, and drinking water became contaminated. When Hudson travels to Washington to meet with Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee next Monday, she will focus her comments on health impacts such as increased rates of birth defects, cancer, heart disease, and early death. Hudson is asking Alexander to introduce the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act to the Senate. Among other measures, this act would halt new mountaintop removal permits as well as the expansion of existing permits until the Department of Health and Human Services determines that such mining does not present health risks to surrounding communities.
Hudson grounds her work in her faith and church community. Her pastor at Church of the Savior UCC in Knoxville, Tennessee was with her on the mountain ridge as they sang “Amazing Grace.” To its liturgical calendar, the church has added a Mountain Sunday service to celebrate the sacred gift of mountains and to raise awareness of their endangerment. Another church member, Dawn Coppock, worked with Hudson and a legislative guru to draft the Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act for the Tennessee state legislature in 2007. The act has yet to pass.
When asked about the kind of faith it takes to save a mountain, Hudson affirms that such work is that of “a marathon, not a sprint.” She additionally notes that the Pope’s encyclical serves as “a major milestone” in marking progress. Ten years ago she would get blank stares when she spoke of “the scriptural call to care for the earth,” but now “those concepts are catching fire” in faith communities. “It’s a wonderful thing to witness,” she says. In the effort to save the environmental soul of the nation, Hudson’s trip to DC promises to indicate just how far the country has come.