It was quite the milestone this past Thursday when we at First Presbyterian, along with our partners at the Bristol Area Ministerial Alliance and a multitude of donors and volunteers, managed to cross the 1,000-purifier mark.
The Rev. Samuel Weddington
For those who don’t know much about the landfill, one thing you should know about is the tremendous community-driven effort to bring relief to residents of Bristol, Virginia and Bristol, Tennessee in the form of air purifiers. Despite all the terrible headlines about the dump, its impact on the community, and all the question marks about what we ought to do next, I have marveled at the resilience of our community as we come together to help our neighbors.
In fact, I want to tell you about one of the greatest neighbors I’ve met in this struggle, Jane Frye Nichols. She is resident of the Fairmount neighborhood that is consistently bombarded by the landfill gases. As she will tell you, her home is regularly invaded. There are other parts of her story that are fitting only for her to tell, but suffice it to say that Jane is a sweet woman who carries a world of problems on her shoulder beyond the landfill.
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I’m telling you about Jane because Jane is my hero. Despite shouldering burdens many of us would struggle to carry, well beyond the added burden of the landfill, Jane has made almost every one of the calls on the air purifier recipient list, telling residents when, where, and at what time they could pick up their purifier. In many cases, Jane has gone above and beyond, often calling residents back to make sure they got the message, or seeing if she could deliver a purifier to an elderly or sick resident. To top it all off, you can see Jane almost every Saturday at the landfill rallies, holding signs and letting her voice be heard.
Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 that the love and consolation we have received in Christ equips us to “console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.” Translation: we have been loved so that we can love others with that same love. Jane is my hero because she has embodied this in ways that my words fail to describe. With every phone call, every text, every social media message, every reminder to report the landfill gases, every delivery she makes, she loves her neighbors in measure with the love she has received. Jane is the kind of servant we should all aspire to be.
In closing, I raise Jane’s example before us all as a reminder that in light of the challenges before and behind us relating to the landfill, we get a choice about what kind of neighbors we are going to be. We can yell at each other, say terrible things about one another, and allow accusation to season our every word, or we can choose speak truth in love, remind one another of the duty of care we owe to each other, and serve in ways that truly challenge what we think is our capacity.
We are going to need each other in the days ahead. We are going to need to help the city of Bristol, Virginia find ways to fund the landfill remediation. Bristol, Virginia is going to need to step up and help its residents. We can do this. Let my hero, Jane, be our example.
The Rev. Samuel Weddington is senior pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Bristol, Tennessee. He holds a doctorate in Christian ecological ethics. If you are interested in donating to get purifiers for affected residents, you can send a check to First Presbyterian, designating the donation for “purifiers.” You can also go to fpcbristol.org, and click give.
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