At AMERC we invite people of distinct voices, traditions and experiences to discover community and find empowerment to create hope-filled future stories. Mountains have birthed the culture of countless people and civilizations. They are a significant part of the faith narratives of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Dharmic religions, and other polytheistic and pantheistic religions. Mountains awaken the sense of the resplendent, the awful, and the mysterious in people and cultures. Mountains inspire and shape our music, stories, myths, building materials, architectural styles, clothing, crafts, cuisine, mores, and traditions. Mountains matter because they give expression to our world building activities.
One of our favorite resources on Appalachia is, At Home in the Web of Life, A Pastoral Message on Sustainable Communities in Appalachia, 1995. The document introduces biodiversity noting: “Here flourishes one of the richest biosystems in the world. To live in these mountains and forests, and with their trees and plants and animals, is truly to dwell in Earth’s community of life, as one of God’s awesome cathedrals.” Mountains matter because they are home to a diversity of life. Mountain forests are the most biodiverse ecosystems on earth and the Appalachian Mountains are among the richest ecosystems in North America.
The world building, we call Appalachia began with a supercontinent that made up much of North American’s core and is composed of min¬erals that are more than a billion years old. A second story begins, once upon a time about 540 million years ago, when the earth’s crust split into pieces that drifted away from each other. Seawater spread into low areas and formed new oceans. (We believe the Cherokee Nation’s stories regarding the creation of Appalachia gives us insight as do the stories of geology, but both stories hold wisdom.) No definition of region exists in a vacuum. No single story or construct can hold all of the truth. “Appalachia” holds thousands of stories.
The mission of AMERC is to promote contextual education for theological students, faculties, and leaders. Working primarily through an ecumenical consortium, AMERC supports experiential learning about the theological, social, economic and environmental aspects of Appalachia culture.
Our students are able to listen to the voices of the mountain people. We become immersed in mountain geography and culture. We experience how the people from the hills respond to the unique challenges and opportunities before them. We learn how the marginalization of mountain regions is part of the systemic violence that can be traced back to colonialism. At AMERC we believe the voices of the world’s mountain residents have often been marginalized, demeaned, and excluded. Nevertheless, as Ann Kingsolver explains, “living on the edge of society has given mountain communities a viewpoint that allows them to look beyond the worn-out binary paradigms and benchmarks that belong to the dominant voices of nationalism and culture” (Kingsolver, et al. Global Mountain Regions: Conversations toward the Future. Indiana Univ. Press, 2018, pp. 4-5).
Appalachian Ministries Educational Resource Center (AMERC) was founded in 1985 by Dr. Mary Lee Daugherty. Mary Lee was born in Bluefield, West Virginia. A mining accident left her paternal grandfather disabled. Following college, Mary Lee traveled to Brazil as a Presbyterian educational worker. Upon her return to the Appalachian region, she explored her own heritage from a feminist perspective. In time she imagined a graduate center devoted to contextual education among the people of Appalachia. The vision for AMERC had taken seed. Never before had 30 seminaries and 17 denominations come together to forage an educational center. AMERC conducted courses out of its campus in Berea, Kentucky.
Courses are now taught by consortium member schools who receive grants from AMERC. Seminars sponsored by AMERC have focused on small church, the social context of Appalachia, the Eighth Century Prophets in Appalachian Context, Narrative Pastoral Care, Appalachian Literature, and Preaching in the Purple Zone.
Students in AMERC courses have represented 88 seminaries. Our students have come from 22 different countries and have included the faith communities of Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Shintoism. Over 3,000 students have taken part in contextual/immersion courses funded and resourced through AMERC. The ecumenical emphasis of AMERC continues to be critical.
While the mission of AMERC has evolved over the last 35 years, our devotion to the region has not. We honor Mary Lee’s promise that, “All AMERC programs will celebrate the broad diversity of God’s people. Our entire mission is founded on the conviction that effective Christian leaders must embrace every child of God, most especially those who live on the margins.
COVID-19 Update. In January, the World Health Organization announced that the “world needs to be on alert now and be ready for any cases that come from the epicenter." AMERC’s last immersion “Walking Our Spiritual Paths: An Introduction to the Spirituality of the Cherokee People” was held in March of 2020. Our upcoming immersions were canceled. AMERC is aware that the Coronavirus has placed significant stress on graduate schools. We stand in hope with the people of Appalachia.
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