Prayer Vigil for Good Neighbor Day

Last Wednesday, September 28th marked Good Neighbor Day and the two year anniversary of Annie Brown’s death. We had a full day together in Walnut Cove with both the prayer vigil and filming for a documentary with Climate Listening Project. The prayer service was lovely and actually streamed live on Facebook. It ended with a beautiful group prayer led by Marie. She released a basket of three white doves. A special thanks to church member Anthony Dalton, who trains the doves for release throughout the Triad.

Many thanks to Dayna with Climate Listening Project for taking this amazing picture. The crew was there filming the prayer vigil as part of a mini-documentary about my work around coal ash, art and prayer.

Following is my speech and prayer, which is quite lengthy! I hope it leaves you hopeful. Please join us in ongoing prayer. We had a highly informative coal ash reuse panel this past weekend. We need continued discernment in this complicated issue.


Good afternoon.

My name is Caroline Rutledge Armijo. As we approach October, it marks the four-year anniversary of inviting Appalachian Voices to Stokes County to learn more about what was happening to our friends and families. As we began organizing in early 2013, few people knew what coal ash was, even with it in our very own backyards.

Just a few years later, people all over the world know about coal ash and understand the major threat it poses to our health thanks to the sharing of OUR stories. I mean that literally. Stories from Stokes County have been featured in two international publications, numerous national articles and documentaries, – Thank you to Soul Ash Pictures and Clean Air Moms Action and Climate Listening Project, who are here today! And countless articles right here in North Carolina.

In April, we hosted the US Civil Rights Commission on Coal Ash regarding Environmental Justice. Only one of two hearings in the nation! Right here in Walnut Cove at the library. Many in this room testified along with scientists, lawyers and river keepers. There was a call this past week reviewing the recommendations of the commission to the EPA, which was also shared with the President. Our voices were heard.

By simply holding up our stories and sharing our truth, we are changing the world. Here in a sleepy Southern town of seemingly small significance. And through this openness, vulnerability and truth, we have attracted great minds that want to help us.

Like Marie Garlock, through her doctoral studies at UNC, who emboldened several of us to value our stories, told us they were sacred and helped us raise them up for the world to hear.

Like the members here from UNC’s Well Empowered Team. They are helping us learn the expanse of the toxic heavy metals found in our drinking water and in our bodies.

Like the group from A&T University, who shifted their research from a focus on building materials to a short-term storage solution for coal ash that has the opportunity to be reused as technology advances. There is a whole new industry based on this technology waiting to be unveiled right here in Stokes County.

Plus all of the non-profits who have guided us through this incredibly complicated and seemingly impossible task of citizens enforcing the laws around coal ash and helping us prevent fracking — like Appalachian Voices, NC Warn, Clean Water for NC, BREDL, SELC, Earthjustice, and the NAACP.

Like each of you, I now see that what was once a source of shame: my health — the childhood illnesses, my lack of energy, my asthma and snotty nose – is now a glimmer of hope. Not just a glimmer, but a bold, growing beacon of hope.

Let us pray:

Dear Great and Gracious God,

Thank you for bringing us together in the presence of you and our beloved neighbors, here on Good Neighbor Day.

We continue to ask that you pour forth your knowledge and wisdom to help guide us to the best solution for cleaning up the coal ash within our community. We strive to be a role model that can be replicated in the fourteen locations of coal ash ponds throughout our state, the nation and the world. And also help us go even further to create a plan to help encapsulate the ash at landfill storage facilities, as well as the coal ash negligibly dumped in communities like the Walnut Tree over the years.

While we are grateful for the valuable heavy metals in our midst, we recognize that they are detrimental to our health and our environment. Free us from the demons of mercury, arsenic, lead and others. Guide us to a way to harvest them from our water, air, and land and restore their beneficial reuse to prevent further mining elsewhere in the world. Also help guide us to safe, gentle solutions that will remove the toxins from our bodies.

Guide us to best practices for dewatering the coal ash ponds and healing of the Dan River, Belews Lake and the surrounding ground and well water, perhaps through activities like bioremediation and wetlands. Until then, help our residents understand the ins and outs of a permanent water solution, as established by recent laws.

God, bless ACT against coal ash, our statewide group this weekend as we gather information from leading experts in all of these areas. Provide us the wisdom of how to discern what is best for our community and how to create a plan to implement it, as well. We are open to new solutions, which results in new jobs and a new sense of financial security and prosperity. Open the willingness of Duke Energy and our government to make this dream a reality.

Finally help each of us here today and throughout all of Stokes County, to open our hearts to the expansive opportunity of co-creating with God. For those with financial ties to this land, we pray that they will be willing to develop or sell their dilapidated buildings and unwilling to lease their land to fracking opportunities, so that we may preserve our cultural and environmental resources in a way that is pleasing to you.

And with that, we give thanks for a few of the countless seeds already blooming here in Stokes County:

The Permanent Forsyth Tech Stokes County Center in Walnut Cove
The Arts Place of Stokes in Danbury
The New Community and Medical Building in Pine Hall
The New Food Pantry as part of East Stokes Outreach Ministry in Walnut Cove
Stokes County’s First Inclusive Playground in Germanton Park
The Make a Difference in King Playground in King coming in 2017
Last week’s Ribbon Cutting for the Walnut Tree Community Playground

There are so many other wonderful dreams and visions growing here in Stokes County. Thank you for giving the people the courage to start these projects. Help give them the courage to continue. And give the community the courage to support these projects with their time and money. God calls us to pray AND take action. For without the support of one another, it is impossible for these projects to grow. We know that this growth in our joy is also part of the healing and the solutions for this wonderful place. We lift Stokes County up in a time of renewal and resurgence of your glory. And we recognize your presence, Lord, through the absence of fear, our unification and the love shared among all people.


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