I am in Louisville, Kentucky for the Board of Directors meeting for the Appalachian Educational Resources Center (AMERC). Our offices are in Berea, Kentucky which is where we usually meet, but this time we moved to Louisville for the convenience and expense of members who must fly. I have been on the Board for the past twelve years, having previously served for a couple of years in the mid 1990’s.
AMERC exists primarily to help prepare persons for ministry in Appalachia. Principally we do this by providing grants to seminaries to offer courses that introduce students to the region through “immersion” experiences, typically travel seminars. We have had hundreds if not thousands of students from every conceivable denomination take these courses.
I am thankful for the ecumenical character of AMERC. The courses are offered at seminaries from differing denominations and are open to students from any of our member schools. Students are introduced in non-judgmental ways to the churches and peoples of the region.
AMERC courses may focus on a specific topic or issue (healthcare, environment, etc.), but are always holistic, placing the issue in social, economic, ecological context. Ministry is about more than professional activities; it is about people and the influences on their lives.
My pleasure in serving on the Board revolves around the friendships I have made. I especially mention four friends. The late Mary Lee Daugherty (a Presbyterian Minister and grand-daughter of a snake-handling Pentecostal minister) was the founder. Ben Poage was the Executive Director for several years and Lon Oliver is our current Executive Director. I am now one of the senior Board members and I serve as Vice-chairman of the Board. Lee Carroll of Columbia Theological Seminary is longest serving member; he is a true Christian gentleman and insightful leader. Bill Leonard who is Dean of the Divinity School at Wake Forrest University is another long term member; he was a professor of mine at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary who has taught extensively on Appalachia.
There are Episcopalians, Methodists, Baptists, Disciples, Presbyterians, and Catholics. I have enjoyed working with each of them. We share a love for Christ, a compassion for people and creation, and a burden for this abused and neglected region. It has been a true gift from God to work in this ministry.
May 7, 2010