This was a tough one. Organizers labeled it “challenging.” The third in a “Conversation” inspired by Pope Francis’ concerns for the environment and for poor people drew thirty-nine folks to the Washington, Va fire hall on Sunday, April 10, 2016.

Russ Savage welcomes the participants

Russ Savage welcomes the participants

The group was given paragraph number fifty from the encyclical “Care for Our Common Home.” What makes this discussion challenging is that the subject is, without using the phrase, birth control, and the church’s highly controversial stand against it.

Pope Francis, in his concern for the poor, writes that “to blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism…is one way of refusing to face the issues.” (The complete paragraph and handout is available here.)

Nobody threw it in Francis’ face; people in Rappahannock are too polite for that. But it was offered in some of the discussion that “the thought adopted by this group is that we are the enablers of our consumption addiction, and the church needs to do more to support contraception and smaller families.”

In a different group, there was this thought: “Overpopulation and over-consumption are linked.”

(It is well to note that the 39 women and men who came to the Conversation on Sunday were divided into four discussion groups. Some groups had eight participants, some ten. After some ninety minutes of folks in each group exchanging ideas, one person, having been appointed scribe for that group, rose to give a report on what had transpired. Thus, this report is a review of those four summaries.)

Ann Stenner takes notes for her discussion group.

Ann Stenner takes notes for her discussion group.

Bonnie Dixon reports on her group's discussion.

Bonnie Dixon reports on her group’s discussion.

A group discussion showing James Reston, Beverly Hunter, and Mimi Forbes.

A group discussion showing James Reston, Beverly Hunter, and Mimi Forbes.

Judy Lamana reports on her group's conclusions.

Judy Lamana reports on her group’s conclusions.

At the outset of each Conversation, members of each group are encouraged to draw close and speak quietly, since there are four circles going at once. So, people are nearly knee-to-knee, and here’s how it sounded from four folks in one group after the moderator went around the circle asking for introductions:
“I am an aging flower child.”
“I am a retired English professor.”
“I grew up in Rappahannock county.”
“I’m now ninety years old.”

And so on around the circle and around the room. In full support of what the Pope has been saying about climate and poor people, there was this thought near the beginning: “Those who are living in an unsustainable way have to find the joy of living in a sustainable way.” This was followed by the observation that “we are a wasteful society; we throw away babies, the elderly, and our natural resources.”

Ralph Bates taking notes.

Ralph Bates taking notes.

In yet another group, two thoughts came tumbling out: First, “how can we take small steps? Can we say ‘ok, we all give up something and reduce our dependency’?”

And second: “let’s have a new mantra: less stuff, more fun!”

There was indeed around the room for much of the ninety minutes, expression of changing the growth model to sustainable living, of not believing advertising that “makes us want bigger houses and bigger cars,” of opening up to more immigration.

One pleasantly-expressed caution came from a participant to the effect that that folks in the room are, as the saying goes, preaching to the choir. “What can we do?” this person asked, “when the people that we should be talking to are the Rappnet bunch, who are not here. If we all agree (with each other) there is something wrong.”

Indeed there was agreement on recycling, on composting, on more efficient land use, on helping the poor with donations to the Food Pantry, even on adopting children.

This last thought came from a gentle, well-spoken woman who said “I have adopted three children, one red, one brown, and one black.” (All three, the lady told a reporter later, are doing well, two in their twenties and one in his forties.)

Father Tuck Grinnell, organizer of the Conversation.

Father Tuck Grinnell, organizer of the Conversation.

Further support for being careful about overconsumption came from a long-ago king, who may even be mythical. The quotation as given: “King Arthur said to his knights when they came back from the crusades not having the Holy Grail but a great deal of treasure: ‘enough is as good as a feast’.”

In the Conversation, the conversations often take unexpected detours. In one group that was responding to Pope Francis, the talk turned to taking care of the environment and one Rappahannock veteran boomed out his view that it was “nice to see the convicts now and then working along the main highway, picking up trash.” This dear fellow was gently corrected by another long-time resident who said, “those are not convicts, those are Democrats!” — pointing out that the local Democratic Party Committee is responsible for periodic litter cleanup on section of the road.

One of the scribes at the Conversation offered a thorough review of what had been hashed over in her circle and then wound up this way: “Our group didn’t really agree with the Pope on population, but, then again, a lot of people want to get rid of plastic bags in Rappahannock county.”

A Word on Turnout

This Conversation, third in the series of five, drew 39 folks. The first two brought in many more. What was the difference?

Two of the organizers, Tuck Grinnell of St. Peter Catholic Church and Bev Hunter of RappFLOW, both said the subject was more of a challenge this time. And both mentioned a competing attraction in Washington, the RAAC film festival.

If these are the reasons, that gives rise to this aphorism:
when the going gets tough, Rappahannockers go to the movies.

What Happens Now?

Where does all this conversation go? Is anyone listening? Is it enough of a reward for the women and men in the group to simply have had their say and then go home? How can there be any followup?

Well, it is not the entire answer, but there is another gathering just head. Conversation number four is scheduled for the same Washington fire hall on Sunday,

May 15th. Again, 3:30 PM is the start time, and you are encouraged to come early and get yourself situated. Parking is free. Nobody pesters you for a donation. This time Mimi Forbes brought cookies, and maybe she will do so again.

There are two good reasons to be here in May, besides, of course, taking part in a very interesting and important discussion. Reason one: you get to see people you know. Reason two: you get to meet people that you do not know and you will have been glad to meet them. I’ll betcha on that.

by Jed Duvall, Amissville