In the lush mountains of Appalachian West Virginia known as “God Country” seven members of the Kean Catholic Newman Club, accompanied by the campus minister, were welcomed with warm embraces and repeated “welcome homes” from the staff members of Nazareth Farm on their spring break service trip.
Nazareth Farm is a Catholic community in Doddridge County that was established in 1979 on the four cornerstones of community, simplicity, prayer and service. Kean students learned this by attending prayer services every morning and evening,going to various worksites everyday to perform home repairs, interacting with locals as well as other students from universities from around the nation and conserving energy, food and water by not using electronic devices, composting and only being allotted a maximum of three showers, two of which had to be outside bucket showers.
“I never thought that not using my cell phone for a week, not knowing what time it was, or only taking one shower would be a completely freeing experience,” said Kean student Dana Sullivan.
“ In a world that is constantly on the run, moving from one thing to the next at super-fast speed, it was so great to be completely present where we were and to be able to fully enjoy God’s beautiful creation and the beautiful people that we were meeting, helping and spending time with.”
Aside from Kean, students from Notre Dame, Syracuse, Saint Xavier’s and Evansville University attended during spring break. To increase community building, work groups were composed of students from various schools. Each day a different group went to a different staff member’s work site that included projects such as ramp building, porch building and underpinning.
On one night in particular all the students and staff members attended the Mountain Justice Conference. The conference focused on the extreme energy extraction done across Appalachia via water fracking and mountain top removal. Both have everlasting effects to the environment and local residents, the fracking alone left 30,000 West Virginia residents with unusable water for the past two months. The panel discussion at the conference was filled with real examples of ways to take on this unfair energy extraction system other than just protesting, such as changing the laws from the inside out via pursuing a career in law.
On another evening after work the farm had a community night. Members of the community, young and old, were invited to the farm for dinner and students were allotted the opportunity to spend time with them. There were also times during home repairs to get to know the homeowners and listen to their vast life wisdom. Students learned and exercised the ministry of presence, just being their for people to talk to and have genuine, human interactions with.
Although the farm focuses on Catholic Social Teachings, some students that attended were not Catholic or even Christian, yet none of them were made to feel uncomfortable, or the need to conform. Human dignity, solidarity, preferable options for the poor, dignity of work and care for all of God’s creations are among the social teachings emphasized on the farm. These basic principles are more general human morals rather than specifically “Catholic”. As were the prayer services, everything was very euceminical and focused on building each individual’s relationship with God and their fellow man.