Spotlight on the letter writer: Mary Theresa Webb works to bridge the partisan divide | Local voices

Every Tuesday, we highlight a letter to the editor author. Every writer is asked the same five questions. The aim is to add to the understanding of where we all come from and what we might have in common. Featured this week is Mary Theresa Webb of West Lampeter Township.

1. What Lancaster County issue concerns you most?

Bridging the political polarization here in Lancaster County is the issue that concerns me the most today. The effects of this have been seen in the refusal of some Lancastrians to be vaccinated and in those who do not accept the results of the 2020 election. Many of our local school boards are dealing with angry parents disrupting meetings. Some clergy report feeling burnt out from pastoring and preaching, with too much polarization in their congregations. As citizens, we lose the very basis of a civil society – the ability to respect each other even when we disagree and to reach consensus to solve problems for the common good.

2. What solutions to this problem would you suggest?

About a year and a half ago a few of us Lancastrians came together via Zoom to explore forming a Braver Angels Lancaster County Alliance. Our national organization, BraverAngels.org, seeks to bring Americans together to bridge partisan divides and strengthen our democratic republic. Last spring, we started with a Zoom debate on the issue of creating a public health department in Lancaster County, listening to both sides of this issue. This year in January, we conducted a workshop on Skills Building to Bridge the Gap for Gifted Students, held at the Lancaster-Lebanon Intermediate Unit. In May, we hosted a Zoom discussion on the subject of Critical Race Theory and our first watch party in Manheim. This summer, we will be hosting a depolarizing event on social media issues. And, in the fall, we are planning an event for clergy and another with the Braver Politics format in preparation for the November elections.

3. Why do you write letters to the editor?

My reason as a Christian and a writer has been to share my beliefs, expertise, or experiences on important issues that should concern us all. I wrote from my perspective as an addiction counselor for the homeless; from my expertise in the familial disease of addiction; and my activism as an environmentalist, peacemaker and mission team leader in Eastern Europe, East Africa and Central America. I am now a member of Lancaster Speaks Up. We share letter writing ideas, blog with our letters and articles, and encourage others to join us.

4. What if you surprised others?

I’m a Pennsylvania trailblazer setting the tone: the first Earth Day president in Allegheny County; co-founder of Group for Recycling in Pennsylvania; founder of an energy and environment organization; and Peace Links organizer for Teresa Heinz Kerry. I taught sailing and swimming.

5. What do you think sets Lancaster County apart from other places?

My husband and I were drawn to Lancaster County by its beautiful countryside and chose to live in Willow Valley Communities in 2005 due to its need for long term dementia care. I immediately became involved in the community through my church friends and the GOAL project, and joined local choirs and choirs. Our Rose Red city stands out not only for its history – the home of Thaddeus Stevens, our disturbing hero – but also for its hidden gems of world-class music and theater and its welcoming of refugees and immigrants with open arms.