A Miners' Religion: 'We're Praying All the Time'

"Glory Hallelujah!" one man yelled during the singing of the hymn "Amazing Grace."

"Praise his holy name!" another said.

"He's got a plan for all of us," said Jerry Ramsey, 63, who worked in the Upper Big Branch mine for eight years before retiring in 2003. "Those that were killed are covered by the blood [died in faith], and that's all you need to remember."

Clinging to Christian faith and community has been a hallmark of the Appalachian people for centuries, religious leaders say, and part of a unique, regional religious phenomenon that's been studied by scholars and theologians alike.

Appalachian Christianity is notably distinct from mainline Protestant denominations in its emotional, personal, experience-based professions of faith, according to Elder John Sparks in "The Roots of Appalachian Christianity."

Mixed Church Affiliation Common

Many houses of worship here were built at the turn of the 20th century as early settlers established their communities. "People didn't have cars then," Perdue said, explaining the number of churches in Raleigh County. "These churches used to have 'circuit preachers' who travelled around to them."

"For me, worship [growing up] alternated between the local United Methodist Church and my grandparents' Church of God," Connie Rice, who teaches Appalachian history at West Virginia University, said of her experience in Christian Appalachia.

The practice of mixed affiliation with churches might seem unusual in other parts of the country, particularly in communities where churches actively compete with each other for members.

"There's no competition here," Perdue said.

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