The phone rang in my Kansas City Office.
When I answered, the voice on the end of the line was that of a pastor of a partner church in Oberlin, Kansas. The pastor had remembered me saying at a church meeting, “those of us in the inner city and the rural areas had a lot more in common with each other than either of us had with those in wealthier, suburban settings.”
“We need your help,” he said.
“The Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Energy Department of the United States want to put a nuclear waste dump on land in our area.”
“You have more experience with organizing than we do, but we want to know if you and your congregation can write letters urging them NOT to put the waste from nuclear reactors from around the country in our back yard, just because we don’t have a lot of people to resist them.”
The congregation I served as pastor and I had some experience with church-based community organizing (gathering neighbors together to discern and act upon their shared understanding of values and self-interest in order to have the power to impact our own lives and the environment in which we live.) From our work we came to understand our deeper connections with each other in our neighborhood and across many miles.
So I agreed. And I shared the concern of this pastor with our congregation. We prayed for their situation in our gatherings and in worship. And we wrote letters.
And we continued to communicate with each other.
On one occasion, he told me how he had observed a local musician learning a new song over the telephone, listening to a musician from another rural community in Nebraska which had gathered together to resist this effort to dump nuclear waste in their neighborhood. That song was then taught to the crowd and sung in the public meeting in Oberlin.
In the end, thousands attended the public meeting with the officials, who gulped as they entered and saw the resistance in the faces of those gathered. One commented to my colleague, “I hope these people are Christians.”
Today, as I embarked on my Fall Kansas Tour, I took a different route through eastern Colorado, southwestern Nebraska and western Kansas to my Belleville destination.
This route took me directly through Oberlin, and I remembered again the power of this story, and of the role that music played in gathering and coalescing a group of people to express their power, united against the outside decisions that would negatively affect their quality of life.
And I gave thanks for relationships, for music, for connections and these memories. And this thanks makes me sing!