The speech that follows was written and delivered by my friend Minister Stephen Philbrick. He was one of a team I brought together to organize an event we called a Community Resiliency Summit in March 23, 2013. About 110 of our friends and neighbors showed up to hear a series of short talks followed by lunch conversations.
I was inspired to organize this event in order to reconnect people some years after a fruitful Sustainability Group emerged and then faded. Inspired by concerns over the environment and the potential for local community to address those concerns together, the group had fostered and provided energy for a number of interesting projects. These included (loosely speaking, because it’s hard to separate what all came out of the group and what were inspired independently) the founding of a member-owned coop to buy and run the local grocery and deli, a seed-saving group, a community garden, a support service for families with new babies, a sewing center and a bag share project to make cloth shopping bags. Plus, the group brought together a lot of people who might not have met otherwise. Many have continued to support each other to learn new skills and live a new rural life.
We also hoped to reach beyond our little group, to organizations and government entities serving the rural hilltowns that may not have felt drawn to the mission of a group. Our sense was that all of us — summed up for me by Stephen’s phrase “old-timers and newcomers” — need each other, but we don’t always make the connection. Frankly, to this day, this remains an issue and an impediment to New Ruralism.
In this speech, I think Stephen did a great job of highlighting the potential benefits of the social connections many of us seek from one another.
Resiliency Summit Keynote Address — March 23, 2013
Stephen Philbrick, Minister, West Cummington Church
We are all welcome here. And the next person who walks in the door, they’re welcome, too.
I am Stephen Philbrick, Minister of the West Cummington Church. I’ve lived here for 34 years and I have found many things, but mostly … room:
- Room for a city boy to learn to drive a tractor and run a baler, a rake, a tedder, haybine and a manure spreader.
- Room for a person like me to be a part of government (Finance Committee, Planning Board, Little League coach).
- I did a 21-year stretch at the old Creamery and I’ve been minister for 18 years in a church where I’ve been welcome to try and to fail and to try again.
There is room for what you want to be, there is room for what you are NOT, but want to try; there is room for what YOU are not, but your neighbor is. BUT when the future is obscure and the way isn’t clear, all this room can be too much. We can feel isolated and fear that no one else gets it. Maybe there’s nobody out there.
We all walked in that door and out of isolation and into a community which is always new and has always been there; it is a bunch of talkative loners, optimistic pessimists, back-to-the-land and never left it; the politics are Left, Right, Center and who needs to know?
Religion? A variety; Hindu, Jews, Christians, Muslims, those who follow traditions that were old when the Jews, Christians and Muslims arrived; atheists devout in their beliefs. There are pagans and, as at West Cummington Church, no organized religion at all.
We earn our money various ways, at home, in workshops, studios, barns and fields, factories, offices, stores. But what is really important is: we don’t make a killing, WE MAKE OUR LIVING and our lives here.
We all have a stake in this place but, hard as we’re trying, we can be working parallel to each other, at cross purposes to each other, duplicating efforts — and we’re getting a little curious about what that noise is, from the other side of those trees; and what is that delicious aroma from the kitchen next-door, and who am I going to call — when the phones don’t work and where am I going to go when the road’s washed out?
This can be discouraging in the institutions that have held the Hilltowns together – Fire, EMT, police, town governments, schools, churches, Worthington Health Center, CDC, the Fair.
Too few people trying to do too many things.
It can be discouraging trying to get a little group organized and off the ground – Sustainability, charter and Conwell schools, Hilltown Seed Saving Network, It Takes A Village, Family Center, a coop, Venture Scouts, permaculture, food labeling. [a variety of local projects]
Too few people trying to do too many things.
Well: look around you. Here are the kind of people who show up!
We are not perfect, but we’re here.
If we’ve done a good job organizing this, you’ll see some people you don’t know. I see some people, I am a person some of us here don’t know. I hope we can meet at lunch time.
You may also notice that our panelists are all one color. Don’t blame them. Blame their parents. That reflects a lack of imagination on, at least, my part. This fact makes its own point.
In changing times — and it’s always changing times — real security comes from growing closer to those we think of as “Outsiders” (by race; or by newcomer/born-here status, by income or occupation or whatever your categories may be). We and our ancestors are all descended from outsiders, immigrants, wanderers. It is real resilience to have more languages, backgrounds, traditions to draw on in whatever the future brings.
We are more than we think we are
And we are less than we want to be.
I’ve spent time with people here of various points of view and I’m telling you that the person you don’t know wants the same thing you do: A surviving — thriving!! – Hilltowns, where anybody’s kids – and their grandchildren — can live a meaningful life with healthy trees, air, water, plants; with wonderful teachers, healers, honest dealers in our institutions.
The other person may come at it a little different than I do — thank God– but they come at it!! They — WE — are here!!
And we have what the world needs, but doesn’t know it.
We have what the world pretends to value (hometown, home grown, home made). The world pays lip service to family farms, crafts people and artists, fire fighter heroes, mothers, teachers, but the world doesn’t give up much money or any power for local, for sustainable, for Cummington or Plainfield or Goshen.
We have what the world needs and sometimes fears – ideas and ideals, flexibility, courage and humor – and what we have we’re willing to share with the poor old world. But let’s start with our neighbors.
I saw a friend yesterday. He said he was coming to the Summit. I said, “Great. You know about life in the Hilltowns.” And he said, “I know a part of it.”
And I realized: That’s it! We all know a part of it so it’s going to take all of us.
So — Welcome. Let’s get to work.