To the People and to the Hills
A Christmas Pastoral Letter to the People of West Virginia
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
Greetings from the West Virginia Council of Churches! This year, as we celebrate 136 years of ministry, we begin a tradition of offering a pastoral letter to the people of West Virginia at Christmas.
December 23, two days before Christmas, is the six-month anniversary of the flooding that took many lives and destroyed much property in our state. We remember the homes destroyed, friends and neighbors taking refuge in shelters, furniture strewn along the roadside, and churches and schools piled high with supplies. We are grateful for all those who reached out during this disaster and offer our continued prayers and support to those who are in need.
We remember loved ones caught in or lost to addiction. The West Virginia Council of Churches has traveled from Moundsville to Martinsburg, from Parkersburg to Beckley, and from Huntington to Keystone, and many places in between to listen to communities dealing with this issue. We have been honored to hear your stories of struggle, redemption, and loss. We have mourned with you and we have celebrated the good news of prevention and recovery.
We understand the anxiety of our times, as coal miners and their families, teachers and other workers, and entire communities face economic turmoil in our state. We watch with dismay the rise of hate crimes across our country. We see and feel the sharp political divisions in our country and state and we mourn the loss of civil discourse. We recognize that, this Christmas, we have drifted into uncertain times. And yet, because of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we have hope.
This season reminds us of the generosity we are capable of, the multiplying of good will and peace, and the opportunity of new beginnings. The 2016 flood was a profound experience of how much we need one another and how interconnected we are. Water washes away distinctions. When it began to rain and flood, there were no more Republicans and Democrats, no more liberals and conservatives, only real human beings in need: vulnerable, shaken, and hungry. The flood was a reminder of the reality that we as human beings face and brought home to us our capacity to rise to the occasion when someone is in need.
Christmas helps us to recall the Image of God in each one of us, to see Christ in our neighbor, and to remember that God comes to us weak and vulnerable in the Child Jesus. That God comes to us as a child enables us to proclaim that no one and no thing is expendable: our miners and their families are not expendable; local communities are not expendable; our land and the environment are not expendable; and the people of West Virginia are not expendable. We recognize that where one hurts in our community, state, or world, we all hurt (1 Corinthians 12: 26). We must not be afraid to listen, to change, and to love until all are healed. We must move forward to create the Beloved Community that Dr. Martin Luther King,Jr. spoke about, where all are valued. Black lives do matter.
Our prayer this Christmas is that we will find a way to keep building this community, which reflects the Reign of God, in West Virginia, a community where we recognize our neighbors as created in the Image of God, whether that neighbor be Caucasian, African American, Jewish, Muslim, immigrant, refugee, LGBTQ, or sometimes just not very friendly.
Sisters and brothers, what we lay down at Christmas, our anger, our prejudices, and our fears, we do not have to pick up again. What we hold onto at Christmas, the joy, hope, love, and peace that come from God, of that, we do not have to let go.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, bless and keep you this Christmas and always. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Rev. Jeff Allen