Inside Appalachia: A Look at Religion with StoryCorps

Dec 28, 2018

To wrap up 2018, we're re-airing stories about faith and religion and their influence in Appalachia. We’ve teamed up with StoryCorps and Georgetown University’s American Pilgrimage Project for this episode. Each segment includes a StoryCorps-style interview where the participants are talking about life, faith and what it all means to them. 

Credit StoryCorps

We'll hear from a woman finds out how important her faith was to her after her father was injured in a mining accident. Adelina Lancianese is a West Virginia native and a producer at NPR Story Lab. She interviewed her 84-year-old grandfather.

“It’s hard to keep the faith in situations like that. But you kind of have no other choice. It’s like you have your faith or you have nothing. And I’d rather have my faith than have nothing,” she said.

We'll hear from a rabbi, who remembers the first time he visited West Virginia 30 years ago. Victor Urecki, the rabbi at B’nai Jacob Synagogue in Charleston, W.Va., was originally born in Argentina, but he found his home in Appalachia.

“We’re walking down the Kanawha Boulevard, and Christians were coming up to us. They saw my head covering, my yarmulke, and they were saying, ‘Shalom.’ Some were even saying, ‘Shabbat Shalom,’ he recalled.

These days, Urecki has been inspired to welcome Muslims and Christians into his synagogue. And over the past few years, he’s become good friends with Ibtesam Barazi, a Syrian immigrant who also goes by Sue. Barazi is also the vice president of the Islamic Association of West Virginia.

James Patterson and Ronald English, ministers in Charleston
Credit StoryCorps

We'll also hear from Ronald English and James Patterson, two ministers in Charleston. While thousands of people feel called to preach, not everyone can say they learned from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. himself. Ronald English served as King's assitstant at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.

And finally, we'll listen as Rev. Kay Albright, pastor and founding member of the Bridges of Grace United Church of Christ, talks with Nancy Michael and Essie Gilbert. Both women are gay, and they wanted to continue practicing their faith at church but struggled to find a place they felt welcome. Bridges of Grace helped them find a new church home.

We had help producing Inside Appalachia this week from StoryCorps. All of these interviews were recorded as part of the American Pilgrimage Project, a partnership of the national nonprofit, StoryCorps, West Virginia Public Broadcasting, and Georgetown University's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs. The interviews were recorded in Charleston, West Virginia. Dan Collison, Beth Vorhees, Jessica Lilly and Roxy Todd produced the stories.

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Original music for this episode was composed by Matt Jackfert. Other music was by Dinosaur Burps, Lucinda Williams and Hurray for the Riff Raff, as heard on Mountain Stage.

Our producer is Roxy Todd. Our editor is Jesse Wright. Our audio mixer is Zander Aloi.

We’d love to hear from you. You can e-mail us at feedback@wvpublic.org. Find us on Twitter @InAppalachia.