Matt Wasson (Appalachian Voices), Fred Krueger and Allen Johnson (National Religious Campaign for Forest Conservation), met near Boone, North Carolina, in 2003, to deliberate the concept of a regional network and strategies to energize and motivate Christians and their churches and leadership to actively care for and advocate for God’s creation. A special focus was on the mining method known as Mountaintop Removal as an egregious assault upon the mountains and the communities in their shadow.
Cove Creek, NC
Cove Creek
A few months later Bob Marshall and Allen Johnson, both West Virginia residents, worked up a planning conference in Charleston, West Virginia, held May 13-14, 2005, to organize a strategy to protect and restore God’s creation in the Appalachian region. Deriving our stance from an array of scriptures including Psalm 24’s, “The Earth is the Lord’s, and all that it contains,” the conference called for efforts to mobilize Christians and their churches to combat grievous ravages against God’s Earth such as Mountaintop Removal coal extraction.
This initial meeting was first of all to see if there was interest in such an organization, and if so, to begin steps to set it up. A number of persons known to be Christians and active in creation care issues were invited, although this still represented only a fraction of active Christian conservationists in our region. About two dozen of us met at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Charleston, WV, over the weekend conference. We took a field trip to Kayford Mountain where Larry Gibson talked with us about Mountaintop Removal (MTR). A Letter of Declaration was written to disseminate among the Christian communities of our region. A Steering Commitee was set up for governance, comprised of Bob Marshall, Janet Keating, Mary Ellen O’Farrell, Carol Warren, and Allen Johnson. Two initial goals were set. One, to build a toolkit. Dave Cooper offered his slides from his “Traveling MTR Road Show for us to make a DVD. Second, we would invite church leaders to do flyovers. At the closing meeting Sunday, the name, “Christians For The Mountains” was nominated and acclaimed as the name of the organization. We had no money, but felt we could network with existing religious social justice organizations and existing environmental groups. World Stewardship Institute agreed to take on Christians For The Mountains (CFTM) as a project under its 501-c-3, a status that continues.
CFTM formation
Larry Gibson to CFTM
Two weeks later, May 31, several persons involved with the startup of CFTM participated in a rally at the Massey subsidary’s Goals Preparation Plant at Sundial, WV, where Marsh Fork Elementary School lies precariously in the shadow of coal preparation silos and a looming and enormous slurry impoundment. In the first action of civil disobedience in the movement against mountaintop removal, Steering Committee member Mary Ellen O’Farrell was arrested for trespassing with those seeking to deliver a letter to the plant’s management.
Marsh Fork school
Massey Protest
Larry Gibson arrested
In July Newsweek Magazine contacted CFTM looking to do an article on spirituality and grassroots environmental activism. The September 5, 2005 issue’s theme was focused on a wide range of spirituality. Tucked in this was about 3/4 page on Christians For The Mountains. This burst of national publicity was the first of many media spots that have come our way since then, generating considerable interest in Christian involvement with environmental issues as well as bringing mountaintop removal into national attention.
The public was invited to a conference the weekend of November 11-12 to build organizational vision, set goals, and develop the network to implement these goals. 40 people participated in the conference, coming from Kentucky, West Virginia, Ohio, Illinois, Virginia, Missouri, and Washington, DC. The conference included a keynote address by Denise Giardina, a viewing of a draft of the slide show being developed, a talk by coalfield resident Ed Wiley, an open session of sharing by all participants, a presentation on the biblical and theological mandate for earthkeeping by Howard Snyder and Greg Leffel, a goal setting session facilitated by Janet Keating, and a keynote address by Jack Spadaro. Kate Long led singing. Southwings provided flyovers for 12 participants, while other folks visited Kayford Mountain for a tour of a mountaintop removal site by Larry Gibson. For more details, go to this report.
Developing a toolkit was the priority that seemed to consume much of 2006. Dave Cooper had offered CFTM his MTR Road Show slides and script to develop our own DVD, and after some scouting around, BJ Gudmundsson of Lewisburg, WV, stepped up to work up the DVD. Gudmundsson was West Virginia filmmaker of the year for 2005. Allen Johnson had known her for decades and had encouraged her to work on an earlier film on the life of newspaper editor Cal Price. Cooper’s slideshow was duly “baptized” with further footage, music selections, and script adjustments, and christened “Mountain Mourning.” The film debuted at the Healing Mountains Conference in May, 2006. CFTM was one of many co-sponsors of this event. The DVD was well-received. With that encouragement, and with more space available for the DVD, two further features were eventually added during the summer, one on Maria Gunnoe and the other on Larry Gibson. A short selection of a piece on MTR by a high school group and a message by Bob Marshall rounded out the DVD. In September CFTM began self-publishing and distributing DVDs.
That fall Bill Moyers featured CFTM in a PBS special, “Is God Green?” The program was revised and shown as a stand-alone program a year later, generating a huge outpouring of letters expressing support for our work and outrage against MTR.
The West Virginia Wilderness Coalition invited CFTM to participate in its wilderness campaign, which eventually led to a color booklet, God’s Gift of a Wild and Wonderful Land and a DVD of the same name, produced by BJ Gudmundsson. The Wilderness project became a pilot project that appears to have promise for other areas. Importantly, CFTM encourages Christians and their churches to appreciate, protect, and softly use wild places.
In 2007 CFTM continued to garner publicity within Christian groups and people nationally with mounting advocacy. The DVDs went through further printings, up to about 2500 copies. A brochure was developed. Further partnerships materialized. In May CFTM participated in a Religous Leaders Tour of Mountaintop Removal in eastern Kentucky. This tour, led by Fr. John Rausch and facilitated by Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, resulted in considerable press and film coverage, generated new converts to oppose MTR, and further developed partnerships.
A lot of doors were opening up for CFTM, but as a volunteer networking organization it was struggling to enter those doors. With the help of a loan from Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, an intern was sought and procured. Beginning in August, 2007, Robert “Sage” Russo began traveling extensively meeting with churches, college students, at conferences, and collaborating with Dave Cooper and Larry Gibson on some of their travels. Having “Sage” as an intern enabled CFTM to have considerably more outreach capacity. Our first newsletter was sent out in December, 2007.

Rebekah Epling came on board in fall 2008 as our VISTA volunteer to help with administrative duties, and continued with CFTM until summer 2010 when she enrolled in graduate school for Appalachian studies.

In 2008, CFTM began to partner with Restoring Eden, an organization that works with Christian colleges and their students to advocate for God’s creation. During spring break, Restoring Eden students visited Kayford Mountain and partook in a “Blessing of the Mountains” service near Ansted, WV, hosted by Fr. Roy Crist, that was broken up by coal mine agitators. This tour impacted the Restoring Eden students, who subsequently went to Washington, DC to help out with the citizen lobbying effort afterward. In the years following, Restoring Eden has brought numerous students into the mountains, transforming their lives, and leading them to advocacy for God’s creation.
In spring 2009, CFTM rented two adjacent buildings in Ansted, WV, as a field house and live-in quarters for students and others as a base to develop community and advocacy. The property, a former African-American museum, was rented from acclaimed African-American poet, Norman Jordan. The project goal was to have an ongoing presence of volunteers at the facility, supporting local and regional initiatives in community development and advocacy to fight against mountaintop removal. Fayette County was chosen in part because it has a booming tourism industry that is threatened by the recently developing mountaintop removal threat and the likely causality of recently degraded drinking water quality in some adjacent areas. The household went well until winter, when it became obvious that we would have difficulty having a sufficient number of volunteers to continue the household, and so we closed in order to conserve resources for more efficient use.

Christians For The Mountains was invited to participate in direct actions on mountaintop removal. One of these events was at the entrance to a Massey Coal plant in Raleigh County, WV. Allen Johnson gave a speech citing Jesus overturning the moneychanger tables in the Temple. Johnson and others were arrested. Johnson’s witness to the magistrate judge touched him deeply.

In February/March 2009, CFTM for the second year participated in Powershift in Washington, DC. CFTM’s Sage Russo held a workshop on Christian activism before an overflow audience. Restoring Eden tabled with CFTM. On Monday, CFTM participated in the Capitiol Climate action.
Summer 2009 a coalition of anti-MTR groups sponsored a large rally at Sundial, West Virginia, at the Marsh Fork Elementary School, to protest Massey’s adjacent polluting coal preparation plant, and to advocate for a new school. This large event was met by threatening pro-coal people.
CFTM provided logistical support for the Evangelical Environmental Network as its new Executive Director, Mitch Hescox, led a walk from Ansted, WV, to Washington, DC, in May, 2010. Several CFTM people walked part of the distance, helped set up the route and churches in which to speak and for overnight accommodations.
In September 2010, CFTM participated in the Appalachia Rising events in Washington, DC, including tabling, speaking, and marching. CFTM shared a table with Restoring Eden.
CFTM has received generous, unsolicited financial support from a number of individuals and organizations. Among these is Civil Society Institute (CSI). In 2011-2012, CFTM began to promote CSI’s initiative on clean, renewable energy, from commissioned studies by Synapse Energy Economics, on the theme of Beyond Business As Usual. CFTM supports this excellent alternative approach to the present, unsustainable and destructive energy course of our world. The One Foundation in more recent years provided financial support for our health studies (see next paragraph) and current is supporting our Larry Gibson Biography Project 2018-current.

In March, 2011, CFTM partnered with Coal River Mountain Watch and Restoring Eden to conduct a health survey in Boone County, WV, a mountaintop removal region, and Pocahontas County, WV, a non-mining area. This field survey was designed and operated under CDC protocol by Dr. Michael Hendryx, a professor in Community Health at West Virginia University. Restoring Eden provided students during the three weeks of the field surveys, who first were trained to conduct household health histories. The communities accepted the student surveyors well. The survey was incorporated into a published study. The students became highly motivated to the work of advocacy for health and justice in the mountains. Further studies followed, utilizing student surveyors from Restoring Eden during March spring breaks, in Martin County (MTR), and Rowen County, (control) in Kentucky in 2012; Wise County and Smythe County (control) Virginia in 2013; and Mingo County, Fayette County, and controls in Roane, Calhoun, and Jackson counties in West Virginia in 2014. Follow ups in 2014 in summer. In 2015 a smaller study using paid persons was conducted in Fayette County, WV getting blood samples. The entire program was called the Appalachian Community Research Project (ACHSP)

One of the persons participating in the field survey was Laura Dagley. Laura was highly motivated and somewhat experienced in Christian environmental activism. As a nursing student at Messiah College, Laura had led the student environmental organization. She has also attended Powershift and Appalachia Rising events. At the time, Laura was taking a year off from college to participate in an intentional Christian community in Harrisburg. By now, Sage Russo was back in school at Eastern Mennonite Theological Seminary, and was essentially unavailable to work with CFTM. Therefore, CFTM offered Laura Dagley to work part-time on a contract basis for CFTM in field work. Laura returned to school in January 2012 to finish her last semester of nursing school to receive her RN degree, but continued on a part-time capacity. Laura was especially helpful in developing contacts involving Marcellus Shale, and working with Larry Gibson on his thrice-yearly festivals on Kayford Mountain.
In August 2011, CFTM participated in a rally to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the Miner’s March and battle on Blair Mountain. Allen Johnson fashioned a “Cross of Coal” akin to William Jennings Bryan’s “Cross of Gold.” Hundreds attended a rally and march at Blair Mountain endangered by mountaintop removal. Also in 2011 CFTM participated in a major rally and circling of the White House in opposition of a proposed climate-endangering “Tar Sands” pipeline from Canada.
In February 2012, Allen Johnson, a co-founder and volunteer Coordinator of CFTM, retired from his position as head librarian at Pocahontas County Free Libraries (WV), to work full-time to build CFTM into the fullness of its mission. The work included developing and implementing the ACHSP, developing a twice-yearly free newspaper, The Mountain Vision, and co-founding and implementing the introduction and publicity of the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act (ACHE Act).

The ACHE Act was introduced in the House in 2012 with about 40 co-sponsors. The purpose of the ACHE Act is to place a moratorium on permitting for mountaintop removal coal mining until health studies are conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services, to be paid for by the coal industry. It is introduced every year. For purposes of getting support in Congress, Christians For The Mountains was able to procure a live-in office in the Methodist Building for a modest cost, since CFTM is a religious organization. The office on Maryland Street had free parking, and very close proximity to congressional offices. We held that office for over two years until our funds could not sustain it. Bo Webb and Bob Kincaid were and are the main drivers of the ACHE Act.

By about 2017 Civil Society Institute, our major funder, was discontinuing funding for its 90 funded organizations. So Allen Johnson went part-time and then fully volunteer by 2019. Our individual donors continued support.

During the period between 2015 and 2020, Johnson became active in the fight against the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) that would bring harm to land and water in rugged Appalachian terrain, as well as locking in more greenhouse gas infrastructure, and furthering the environmentally and health hazard of fracking. Johnson has continued to serve on the Steering Committee and as Board chair of Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance, a 50-member coalition in Virginia and West Virginia to fight the ACP. Johnson helped organize local resistance with letter writing, meetings, trainings on water and visual monitoring, and conducted drone photography of ongoing construction. In July 2020, the $8 billion ACP project was cancelled, a stunning victory!

In 2012, Larry Gibson approached several people including Owen Owens and Allen Johnson to ask about writing his biography. We agreed to help. This last request was at his Labor Day weekend retreat on Kayford Mountain, a week before he died. Over the next several years, Johnson garnered some interviews including 99 year old Ken Hechler before he died. Finding an author was difficult, with two backing out. In October 2018, Marybeth Lorbiecki agreed to research and write the biography, and is doing an outstanding job. The One Foundation has provided startup funding for the author.

CFTM worked with Catholic Committee of Appalachia to hold “Cross on the Mountain” events in Kentucky and West Virginia. These events incorporated the Stations of the Cross to highlight systemic injustice of mountaintop removal.
In spring 2015, CFTM was a sponsor and participant in the People’s Foot campaign to highlight the serious community health problems in people close to mountaintop removal. This included a big rally at the headquarters of the WVDEP. This got the attention and concern of government officials including the head of the WV Dept. of Health. Within a year, the National Academies of Science were conducting public meetings and a review of the published data on health in MTR communities. The study was quashed by the new Trump administration in 2017.
CFTM continues to collaborate closely with the National Religious Coalition on Creation Care (NRCCC). Except for the Covid pandemic, the NRCCC has held annual weeks in Washington, DC for two decades. These events include giving awards for God’s Steward of Creation. The NRCCC is comprised of Christian and Jewish participants. Issues include climate, forests, biodiversity, and more.