Group discussion

–or– How an Overflow Crowd of Rapphannock Folks Were Brought Together By a Guy from Argentina That Most of Them Have Never Met

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; a lot of retired men and women.  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 who is at least as well-known in our community.

On Sunday, February 14th, there was a crowd of people from this county assembled in the public library’s meeting room.  The number who showed up in the mid-afternoon was eventually counted and there were 56 women and men in the 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, and no faith at all, to talk about something written by the Pope.

Yes, the encyclical by Francis calls on all human beings to recognize that we are causing the climate to change and, because this change hurts poor people most, urges us to do something about it.

People who have spent their lives ignoring routine 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 get around – to draw even more to another session on Sunday, March 13th.

The official name of the gathering is a Conversation, or Care of Our Common Home.  Some eager and concerned people from the environmental group RAPPFLOW as well as those from St. Peter’s Roman Catholic, The Green Team of St. James Episcopal in Warrenton, and the Unitarian Universalists sponsored the community talk, and invited anyone and everyone to join the conversation.

The ideas that rose from all these folks, who had been collected into five separate talking circles, were collected by volunteer scribes  — one for each circle — and then, when boiled down to a sentence or two, fill fifteen pages of single space copy.

Here’s one:  Belief in interfaith dialogue.

Here’s another: Rappahannock is on the map as an exporter of clean water.

There was one person in the group who had attended the recent climate change talks in Paris.  This person reported that the United States is the only place in the world where climate change is a controversial topic: we are out of step with the rest of the world.

On the subject of sustainability, there was this observation: we need to rid ourselves of an addiction to a perpetual growth model for our economy.

Here’s a related thought: dominion over the earth should become stewardship, responsibility.

The Conversation, as you may have noted by now, was 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 ten-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.

(In the manner of many community meetings in America in the 21st century, a paper is passed around at the beginning; folks print their names and email addresses.  This is how we live now.)

We were reminded that the Pope speaks of climate change with special emphasis on how poor people are disproportionately affected by the warming of the planet.

We also spent time passing along suggestions to each other about what individuals and families can do, what direct actions can be taken.

Item — Downsize our homes and cut energy use.

Item — Recycle. Buy local. Persuade neighbors away from pesticides; we do not need vast, perfect lawns anymore.

Item — Turn off air conditioning once in a while.

Item — Go meatless a couple of times a week.

Item — Change light bulbs to LED. Take a walk. Ride a bike. Shift to a clothesline.

It was also suggested that those in the stock market look carefully at their holdings.  Consider boycotts of companies that are not helping.  As a corollary, it was suggested that, in awarding scholarships to high school kids that we make it a condition that they do not go to work for Monsanto.

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. To that end, it was offered that folks “listen to obstructionists in a contemplative way so that they do not feel alienated.”

Can I, someone asked, learn to engage with people who I had not been able to talk with on these subjects?

And then there was the song.  Judy Reidinger, she of the Sperryville Rescue Squad and Trinity church, was in one of the talking circles. Late in the event, Judy 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 others 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 the entire Conversation at the next sitting, which brings us to the date and time.

Next time: Sunday, March 13. Place: Washington Fire Hall. Time: 3:30 to 5:30 PM.

There are two other articles in this magazine on this meeting, here and here.  The handout provided by Father Grinnell at the meeting is here.

by Jed Duvall, Amissville