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Originally published on https://religionlab.virginia.edu/podcast/a-church-an-ashram-and-a-pipeline/. Used with permission.




In 2014, Virginia’s Dominion Energy announced it would be building a new pipeline intended to carry fracked methane from West Virginia to a storage facility in North Carolina. The planned route brought the pipeline right through Virginia’s rural Buckingham County, with a compressor station proposed near a historic Black church and cemetery in the small community of Union Hill.

Despite Dominion’s assurances that the pipeline and compressor station would be safe, a group of locals grew concerned — and began to fight back. Opposition to the pipeline forged a new group called Friends of Buckingham, built on the backbone of two very different local faith communities: Union Grove Missionary Baptist church, a Black congregation with roots stretching back to Reconstruction, and the Satchidananda Ashram, an interfaith yoga community founded by the Hindu yoga teacher Swami Satchidananda Saraswati in 1986. Although they have fundamental doctrinal differences, the communities were united in their conviction that the pipeline would bring environmental harm to their county — harms that would be felt most acutely by its black residents. As John Laury, a member of Friends of Buckingham put it:

“There was no problem when we realized this project was harmful to humanity. There is one way to God. That’s through Jesus Christ. That’s stated in the Bible. This did not affect different faiths. This was strictly about survival and standing up for what is right. We even adopted the slogan ‘We are all Union Hill.’ If Union Hill hurts, that means the rest of us hurt.”

This piece was reported for us by Molly Born, a journalist and producer who’s reported extensively on the legacy of fossil fuels in Appalachia. She previously reported a piece for the show on a Hare Krishna community in West Virginia wrestling with their decision to allow fracking on their land (you can listen to that piece below).


Ruby and John Laury on their land in Union Hill, Virginia

Ruby and John Laury on their land in Union Hill, Virginia



Vogelsong, Sarah. “ What Sank the Atlantic Coast Pipeline? It Wasn’t Just Environmentalism.” https://Virginiamercury.Com/2020/07/08/What-Sank-the-Atlantic-Coast-Pipeline-It-Wasnt-Just-Environmentalism/, 8 July 2020, https://virginiamercury.com/2020/07/08/what-sank-the-atlantic-coast-pipeline-it-wasnt-just-environmentalism/. Accessed 29 Apr. 2024.

Dempsy, Joe. “Getting Schooled.” Washington City Paper, 11 Feb. 2005, https://washingtoncitypaper.com/article/245921/getting-schooled/. Accessed 29 Apr. 2024.


Molly Born

Molly Born

Molly Born is a journalist based in her home state of West Virginia. She spent 2018 as a roving radio reporter covering issues in the state’s southern coalfields for West Virginia Public Broadcasting. Before that, she spent six years at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette covering education, crime, and local government. She’s currently working with award-winning documentary filmmakers Elaine McMillion Sheldon and Curren Sheldon on several film projects.

Kurtis Schaeffer

Kurtis Schaeffer


An expert in the cultural history of Buddhism in Tibet and the author or editor of nine books, Schaeffer is interested more generally in the workings of religion in social life. He is especially interested in the ways religion moves people to action through art, literature, history, and ritual. He has directed multiple NEH summer institutes on the academic study of religion, and manages multiple collaborative digital projects. Schaeffer routinely conducts research in Tibet, Nepal, and Bhutan. He served as Department Chair of Religious Studies, the largest such department at a public university in the US, for eight years.

Martien A. Halvorson-Taylor

Martien A. Halvorson-Taylor


A scholar of the Hebrew Bible, Halvorson-Taylor focuses on the interpretation of the Babylonian exile, diaspora literature, the book of Job, and the reception of the Bible. An award-winning teacher, she offers large enrollment classes on the Hebrew Bible, as well as specialized courses on the books of Job, Genesis, and the Song of Songs. She currently serves as the Director of UVA’s Pavilion Seminars, which are focused on big topics with enduring relevance across disciplines and are aimed at advanced third- and fourth-years. Her recently published short course with Audible Books, called “Writing the Bible,” explores the question, “Who wrote the Bible?” Learn more here.

Emily Gadek

Emily Gadek


These days, Gadek spends her time producing Sacred & Profane, the Lab’s podcast exploring the many ways religion shapes our daily lives. Previously, she was a producer for Virginia Humanities’ popular American history show, BackStory, and worked on WBEZ Chicago’s morning news show Eight Forty-Eight. In other lives, she’s been an ESL teacher, a freelance audio producer and videographer, and ran a website for a midcentury modern house museum in the deep desert of Southern California.


This episode was made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Special thanks to Erin Burke, Rebecca Bultman, and Devin Zuckerman for their help on this episode.

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