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The Great Smith Island
"Bomb Threat"

By Chris Parks

October 8, 2000

On Sunday, September 17 the pastor and members of the board of trustees tried to have me arrested. The Maryland State Police flew here to investigate a "threat." A letter had been sent through the mail. During the morning service two more letters were taped to the outside of the church. All of them said exactly the same thing:

DEVOTIONS UPON EMERGENT OCCASIONS

No man is an island, entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less,
as well as if a promontory were,
as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were:
any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind,
and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls;
it tolls for thee.

Everyone now knows that I was the person who mailed the letter and put the posters on the church. The poem was written by John Donne. Or perhaps I should correctly identify him as Reverend John Donne. He was born in London in 1572 and went on to become one of the greatest poets in the history of the English language. Donne also received a doctor of divinity from Cambridge University. He was considered one of the outstanding preachers of his time. During his career he served as Royal Chaplain to King James, chaplain to the British embassy in Germany, and finally as Dean of St. Paulís in London. He was in line for an appointment as bishop when he died in 1631.

It should be clear to everyone in this community that this poem is not a threat to the pastor, the board of trustees or the congregation. When I mailed it and put it on the church it never occurred to me that anyone could interpret it that way. What I wanted to do was make the people of this community think. I was certain that Pastor Rick would recognize the poem and take it for its proper meaning. Instead the state police were called. The only reason I wasnít arrested was because the investigating officer had enough education and sense to see the poem for what it really was.

So what does the poem mean?

ĎNo man is an island, entire of itself;" Even though we are individuals, we are each a part of something greater than ourselves, be it a community, church or humanity. "If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were:" When the larger community we all belong to becomes less, we all become less. It does not matter if the person lost is rich or poor, great or humble.

Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind." We cannot become so independent, so self-involved that we are unaffected by the loss of one of our own.. So many of us make sacrifices for the good of the community. Whether you are tithing for the church, volunteering for the fire company, baking a cake for the PTA, or traveling to Annapolis with the Watermanís association, you do so for the good of the community.

"And therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee." Reverend Donne was referring specifically to when the bells of a church ring before a funeral. Since my return to Smith Island almost ten years ago, I have heard the funeral bells of this church toll many times. Every time I hear the funeral bells I think of this poem. I know Smith Island has been diminished, and so have I because I have lost another friend, another neighbor or family member.

This poem is not a threat; it is a wakeup call. We are dying. Every day, little by little, this community is fading away. I had heard that Bev and Gene Guy were having financial problems on top of Geneís illness and couldnít afford to fix their furnace. Their situation had been brought to the attention of the church, and the church had done little or nothing. Since then I have learned that not everything was as I thought it was. The church apparently has money problems of its own. On average between 40 and 50 people regularly attend church. There are about 180 people who live in Ewell. Why do only 30% of the population attend church? What about the other 70 %? Why arenít they here? These questions get to the larger reason for my actions on September 17.

To put it bluntly, a lot of people just donít feel welcome at this church. I am one of them. Since I posted Reverend Donneís poem on the church a lot of people have been very, very angry with me. I expected that. Surprisingly, a lot people have told me they are glad I did it. Many people in this community feel that this has been long overdue. Some of them wish they had the nerve to say what they feel about this place. But they are afraid. Afraid that people will talk about them, shun them, or not do business with them. And they are right to be afraid because that is what happened to me.

This past April when Steve Eades tried to get his beer license, one member of the board of trustees sent a loud and clear message: "If you ainít against it you have got to be for it." One person in this congregation told me that they didnít really see the harm of Steve selling beer, but they werenít going to say anything because they were afraid to go against the church.

Terry Swann, who edits the Smith Island Times, told me she had considered putting Reverend Donneís poem in the paper, but she was afraid. "You donít take on the church in this town."

Several months ago one of the leaders of this church declared that the reason this person had a heart attack, that person had a stroke, or another person had an accident was because they defied the church and stood up for Steve. If you donít think this sends a clear message, look around you on a typical Sunday. People are staying away in large numbers. So now the church has no money for streetlights or to help people.

I canít help what the pastor and congregation of this church doesnít know. I canít help that words and ideas frighten so many of you. I canít help it when you close your minds and hearts to what others believe and think. This church and the people who make up that church have a right to their opinions. But people who think and feel differently have a right to theirs as well.

For almost 200 years the church has acted as the government of this island. For a long time it worked quite well. Smith Island was practically cut off from the rest of the world. Things have changed. Our young people are leaving, and most of them will not be coming back to take their place in the community. Most of our population is elderly, and we lose more of them every year. There are 157 people on Smith Island over the age of 50; only 142 under. You canít look at numbers like that and feel good about the future of our island.

Earlier this summer a film crew was here doing a story about Smith Island. I heard somebody down at the store complain that all they wanted to take pictures of were the run down houses and crumbling shanties. What you donít see is how much these things really stand out to visitors.

The church is not at fault for all of these problems. But whatever the church used to do to keep this island going doesnít seem to be working any more. To be a leader you have to look at the larger picture. What if we lose the last general store serving Ewell and Rhodes Point? Some of you have boats and cars on the mainland and freezers where groceries can be stored. But what about those who donít? Are you willing to make your friends and neighbors suffer over the issue of a license to sell beer and wine? It isnít enough to talk about what you are against. If you want to be a leader you have to talk about what you are for.

The church claims to be the government of this island. Last spring a petition against the beer license was circulated and signed by over 170 people. Part of the petition stated, "we have never seen the need to separate church and state." Yet the same petition says a government should be "of, by and for the people." So in this town you donít get a vote unless you belong to the church. What about the 70% of the people who donít come to church? Donít we get a vote?

Several years ago Reverend Maxwell tried to start a small town council to address some of the problems we are facing. An announcement was made in church and a notice was placed in the church bulletin. No posters were placed at the store or post office. It was as though this little group of church people wanted to keep it all to themselves. That sent a message to me, and a lot of other people. If you donít go to church you arenít wanted at this meeting. I actually had one person in this church tell me that I shouldnít be allowed to serve on the council because I didnít belong to the church. And partly because of attitudes like that the council met six or seven times, then died because of a lack of interest. Nothing was accomplished, and things have gotten worse.

I believe the church has an important role to play in the community. The same is true for the Fire Company, PTA, watermanís association, oil dock, Rukeís and the Driftwood. These are the main institutions that support this island.

Churches make poor governments. They are not democratic institutions open to all regardless of religion, race or sex. The Founding Fathers of this country were deeply religious. Yet they understood that a government of, by and for all the people had to be separate from all religion. This is what Thomas Jefferson wrote regarding separation of church and state: "proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him incapacity of being called to offices of trust or emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injudiciously of those privileges and advantages to which, in common with his fellow-citizens, he has a natural rightÖ" In other words, one need not be a member of the church in order to serve on the town council.

What is needed is a body outside of all the existing institutions that currently exist in Ewell. A town council should be created to fulfill the mission Reverend Maxwell envisioned. The council should be comprised of permanent residents. An effort should be made to include youth and teenagers because they are the future. One of its most important functions will be to provide information to the residents of the island. Meetings should be held on a regular basis and be open to all, regardless of their religious or political beliefs. An executive council of qualified individuals should be appointed. The council should provide a contact point for news media and county, state and federal officials. If enough people are interested, I will organize a meeting. I do not intend to let what was started on September 17 die from a lack of effort.

Information is necessary for the function of a free and democratic society. Toward that end Shelly and I have created The Halcyon, an online newsletter that will cover important events on the island. The Halcyon welcomes responsible articles and opinions from all, regardless of their political or religious persuasion. Regrettably, The Halcyon will be available only to those who have Internet hookups. It is our hope that one day we will be able to afford a print version of The Halcyon.

Anyone wishing to contact me about either the town council or The Halcyon may do so either in person, by phone at 410-425-5700, or by e-mail at Onelhitch@aol.com.

 
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Controlled Burn an Opportunity
for EVFD to Train 

By Chris Parks

 
January 18, 2001
 
On Sunday January 14 the Ewell Volunteer Fire Company mustered at the fire station. After a breakfast of eggs and scrapple, engines 108 and the newly acquired engine 109 with full crews headed for Rhodes Point. The Fire Company had two objectives this day. First was to burn down the old Cindal Evans residence, the second was to use the occasion as a training session. Engine 109
 
Ewell Volunteer Firemen After arriving at Rhodes Point pumper and drivers reviewed their rolls, then hose was laid connecting engine109 to 108. A small smoke fire was started in the house, and firemen practiced entering the house using Scott air packs.
 
A fire was then started in an upstairs bedroom and allowed to burn. Was the upper story was involved, Deputy Chief Mark Kitching started another fire downstairs. The weather cooperated, providing a warm sunny day with practically no wind. The great column of smoke generated by the fire went straight into the air. Beginning to burn
 
Controlling the fire The firemen kept a close watch on the fire to prevent any property damage to neighboring houses. Two hours after the fire was started the job was finished. There still remained the task of rolling up hoses and stowing equipment before firemen could call it a day.
 
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