Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

October 16, 2012

Mining community finds strength in prayer

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

RICHLANDS, Va. — Heads were bowed and prayers were raised during a cool Monday evening to ask God for strength and guidance during a new round of coal miner layoffs impacting Southwest Virginia and southern West Virginia.

A prayer vigil hosted outside Richlands Town Hall brought together miners, their families and their supporters for words of comfort and support near the local Coal Miners Memorial. Pastors from local churches offered words of comfort as people removed their hats and bowed their heads in prayer.

Alpha Natural Resources announced on Sept. 18 that it was cutting production by 16 million tons and eliminating 1,200 jobs company wide, laying off 400 workers immediately by closing mines in Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

One Richlands, Va., resident wondered if her daughter, whose husband is a coal miner, is going to be able to stay in the community. He had not been laid off, but the recent layoff by Alpha Natural Resources made her wonder if other coal companies are considering a similar move.

“I have two daughters, and they both might have to leave the area,” said Terri Wrightson, 54, of Richlands, Va.

 One retired coal miner, 63-year-old Thomas Lowe of Richlands, Va., came out that evening to offer his support to miners who still depend on a regular paycheck. He had endured more than one layoff during his career.

“I know what it’s like to be without work,” Lowe said.

Dr. J. Mark Estepp, president of the Richlands Area Chamber of Commerce, said that prayers are designed to go vertically, but they go horizontally, too.

“Brothers and sisters, we are drained and we are in pain, and we want people to hear God,” he said of prayer’s horizontal impact. “Then the prayers go vertically. If people humble themselves and pray, God will hear their prayers.”

“Take off your hats off and put your hands over your hearts,” Ginger Branton, executive director of the Richlands chamber, urged the attendees. “Because this is a time to be in prayer, even with the Pledge of Allegiance.”

Most everyone at the prayer vigil had friends and loved ones working in the coal mining industry.

“Well, I believe in prayer,” Barbara McMillan, 63, of Richlands, Va., said later. “I believe this area is facing a devastating time, and I believe we need to ask God to intercede on our behalf. I believe He will. My mother’s father was killed in a coal mine. In 1951, she received $500 in compensation.”

Coal miner Scott Boyd, 34, of Claypool Hill, Va., worked at “Buck 1” in neighboring Buchanan County, Va., until he was laid off. He hopes to return to work in early November, but he does not know if this will happen.

“It’s not only miners, it’s miners and their families,” he said of the layoff’s impact, adding that America’s entire economy depends on the coal industry. Coal provides the majority of the nation’s energy, and alternative power sources such as wind power and nuclear power simply cannot replace it. The steel used to make the trucks and locomotives that deliver goods all over the country is made with coal, he said.

Boyd had one hope on his mind.

“I really want to go back to work so my kids can have a nice Christmas and I mean that for sure,” he concluded.

— Contact Greg Jordan at