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Faith And Tradition In A Time Of Pandemic

Amy Knicely
Amy Knicely's seedlings she started for her garden this year. She has not had a full garden in several years, but social distancing has inspired her to do so this year.

From religious services to a renewed love of gardening, quarantine gives and takes.

The global pandemic has taken things from all of us. Some more than others. Thousands have died, many of them alone, and separated from their families. At least 26 million Americans have lost their jobs. 

Most rituals and traditions have also been disrupted, especially those that normally include people gathered in large groups. At the same time, with so many staying at home to curb the spread of COVID-19, the pandemic also is reinvigorating some people to reclaim pieces of our heritage. Many of us are exploring activities that helped our great-grandparents survive the Great Depression and two world wars. 

Some traditions also have evolved, like the way faith leaders have turned to online services, even during major religious holidays that occur in the spring: Easter, Passover and Ramadan.And we’ll explore a springtime tradition for some people in Appalachia: gathering wild ramps, which grow in the mountainous forests across our region. 

We’ll also hear a review from English professor Doug Van Gundy on a book that’s set in Appalachia: “The Third Rainbow Girl.” The book is part true crime and part memoir, and although it’s received good reviews from several literary critics, we’ve heard from some of our listeners who have mixed feelings about the book. It touches on themes and stereotypes about outsiders who come to Appalachia, a topic that we covered in an award-winning episode in 2015. There’s a long history of pop culture mischaracterizing and stereotyping Appalachians — from the “Beverly Hillbillies” to “Hillbilly Elegy.”

Our associate producer Eric Douglas recently interviewed the author, Emma Copley Eisenberg, and asked her to comment on the criticisms some people here have of her book. 

Faith In A Pandemic

During other times of national turmoil, people have sought comfort in their churches or synagogues or mosques, but those places are inaccessible to us now, as because of social distancing requirements. Zack Harold, a member of our Inside Appalachia Folkways Reporting Corps and this week’s guest host, spoke with two faith leaders to get their thoughts on the changes. 

For Pastor David Johnston of Concord United Methodist Church in Athens, W.Va., taking his services online has presented his church with an opportunity. 

“This turn to digital has opened windows into what we do, where people who are curious can look in without that sense of risk of having to step through the door. I hope we can keep the windows open so that people can stay curious about these stories that we tell,” he said. 

Rabbi Victor Urecki, of the B’nai Jacob synagogue in Charleston, W.Va., echoed that idea. “I think, post the coronavirus pandemic, we're going to look at the pieces here and say ‘Wow, there were some really neat things that happened during this time. How do we incorporate that into the religious life of our community?’ And as a result, we will be, I think, a stronger community,” he said. 

Back To Baking

We asked for your stories about traditions you’ve returned to and a lot of you came through. One mother in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia says she’s found herself homeschooling her daughters and incorporating baking traditions into their day. Folkways reporter Caitlin Tan brings us this story.

In The Garden

Gardening is a great way to get outside and get some exercise. This pandemic has also increased the appetite for food from local farmers.

A story from Brittany Patterson, West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s energy and environment reporter, multiplied the WVU Extension Service’s  “Grow This” program almost overnight. After she aired a story about the program, more than 25,000 West Virginians signed up to receive seeds.

Folkways reporter Caitlin Tan also talked with some Appalachians who are gardening as a way to pass the time, but also in preparation for what may or may not come during the pandemic.

wvpublicnews · Faith And Tradition In A Time Of Pandemic

Ramp Hunts

Credit Zack Harold / For WVPB
Recently dug ramps from West Virginia.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused cancellations of everything from proms and graduations to birthday parties and baseball games. But not every springtime ritual has been canceled. This is still ramp season.

Many “Inside Appalachia” listeners know ramps are a type of wild onion  — closely related to leeks. They’re native to the eastern U.S. and Canada, and are found in abundance in much of the Appalachian Mountains. 

Photographer and filmmaker Michael Snyder tagged along with Maryland park ranger Caroline Blizzard to record her teaching others about ramp harvesting. Leah Scarpelli produced the story as part of “The Mountain Traditions Project.”

The Rainbow Girl Murders

Credit Courtesy photo

“The Third Rainbow Girl: The Long Life of a Double Murder in Appalachia,” seems like a true crime read about the 1980 murders of two women on their way to the Rainbow Gathering in Pocahontas County. It is, but it also turns out to be a memoir of author Emma Copley Eisenberg’s experiences in the region. 

Eisenberg learned of the murders around 2009 when she was working in the area as a Vista Volunteer. The book received good reviews from literary critics across the country but has received some negative responses from the people of Pocahontas County. 

Doug Van Gundy, a writer, professor of English, and the director of Wesleyan College’s MFA program, in Buckhannon, W.Va., reviewed the book. He lived in Pocahontas County when the case of the murder trial happened in the 1990s. Eric Douglas interviewed Eisenberg about her book and asked her to comment on some of the criticisms people in Pocahontas County have of it. 

Your Thoughts?

Do you think this book continues the negative stereotypes about Appalachia? Do you think it covers our region with sincerity? What do you take away from the strong reactions to the book? Send an email to InsideAppalachia@wvpublic.org or tweet us at @InAppalachia. 


We had help producing “Inside Appalachia” this week from The Mountain Traditions Project.

Our theme music is by Matt Jackfert. Other music this week was provided by Dinosaur Burps, Pergola and Mike Vass, and Spencer Elliot. 

Roxy Todd is our producer. Eric Douglas is our associate producer.  Our executive producer is Glynis Board. Brittany Patterson edited our show this week. We also had help this week from Helen Barrington, from PMJA’s Editor Corps. Our audio mixer is Patrick Stephens. 

You can find us on Twitter @InAppalachia. Zach Harold’s twitter handle is @ZackHarold.

“Inside Appalachia” is a production of West Virginia Public Broadcasting.


Roxy Todd joined West Virginia Public Broadcasting in 2014 and works as the producer for Inside Appalachia. She's the recipient of a National Edward R. Murrow Award for "Excellence in Video," for a story about the demands small farmers face in West Virginia. She also won a National PMJA Award For "Best Feature" for her story about the history of John Denver's song "Country Roads." You can reach her at rtodd@wvpublic.org.
Eric is a native of Kanawha County who graduated from Marshall University with a degree in journalism. He has written for newspapers and magazines throughout his career. He is also an author, writing both nonfiction and fiction, including a series of thriller novels set in locations around the world. You can reach Eric at edouglas@wvpublic.org