Friday, April 29, 2016

Hope for the hills

Warrior Creek Development
McDowell County, West Virginia
"Are you a Redneck or a Hillbilly?" the little boy asked our friend, Beckie. It does seem like a rather limited range of choices, but choices have been limited for a while in McDowell County, West Virginia for a long time now. Widely known as coal country, the area declined as the industry declined in the middle of the last century.

There was some hope the area might flourish during the 1970's energy crises, but it didn't happen. In 1990, the poverty rate reached 37%, with half of all children in families below the poverty line. Since then, there have been other industries lost in the community, natural disasters such as floods, and human disasters such as drugs (OxyContin has been particularly destructive). With the reduced tax base, the educational system has obviously suffered. Most young people see few options when they look to the future.

Beckie and her husband, Craig Snow, have come to the area to offer a few more options to young people in the area. Last May, Craig incorporated the non-profit organization Warrior Creek Development ("Warrior Creek" was a town name from the early 1900's that was changed by the coal companies). One of the goals of the organization is to offer training and skills to young people.

Craig admits he took the outline of the program straight from a man named Brandon Dennison of the Coalfield Development Corporation. In a two year program, willing men or women will work 33 hours, attend six hours of classes at Southern West Virginia Community and TechnicalCollege, and three hours of life coaching. Those who complete the program will have an A.A in Applied Science, Construction, and Craig hopes the life coaching will lead to a balanced view of life.

When Craig presents the program, he makes something else clear: "I want you to know I'm a follower of Jesus, but you don't have to be a Christian or become a Christian to be a part of the program. I just think you should know my foundation for living, so this won't take you by surprise. I don't want that to be a Trojan Horse."

The projects built by Warrior Creek Development are chosen to benefit the community at large. One of the many challenges faced by the education system of McDowell is a lack of adequatehousing for teachers. Warrior Creek is currently building three structures that will have two apartments each, designed as a help in recruiting teachers to the area.

The program started last May, and in August, Craig started mentoring the two young men in the program this year. Both are married; one is 20 years old and the other 30 years old. Other young men and women have applied to the program, but didn't follow through. (Alcohol and drugs have been a factor for a couple of those dropouts.)  Applicants are required to be high school graduates, or at least in the process of completing their G.E.D.s. Some of the program applicants are presently high school seniors. (One of those high school seniors is 17 years old, married with one child.)

In answer to that question from the eight-year old, "Are you a Redneck or a Hillbilly?" Beckie answered Hillbilly. The Snows have made a commitment to the hill country of McDowell County in the hope that when that boy grows up, the world before him will be full of options.

(For more information about the project go to

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Kentucky Church Quiz

Same or different?
Sometimes we wonder, as we look through the church photos we take every week, if two particular shots are photos of the same church or different ones. This week was particularly difficult. Can you help? Are these pairs just two photos of the same church? Answers are at the bottom of the post.

1.) One church or two?
First Pentacostal Church in Corbin, KY
Is this church in Corbin, Kentucky the same
Central Baptist Church in Corbin, KY
As this church?

2.) One church or two?
white wooden church in Kentucky
Is this little white church the same

white wooden church in Kentucky
As this little white church?

3.) This is an extra tricky one: one church, two churches or three churches?
white church in Kentucky with pillars
Is this white church with pillars the same
white church in Kentucky with pillars
As this white church with pillars and

white church in Kentucky with pillars
this white church with pillars?

4.) This one's probably the easiest: One church or two?
First Christian Church, Corbin, KY
Is this big church in Corbin the same as

Corbin Presbyterian Church, Kentucky
this church in Corbin?

5.) One church or two?
Presbyterian church in Buckhorn, Kentucky
Is this unusual log church the same as
Buckhorn Kentucky Presbyterian Church
this log cathedral?

How did you do?
Answers: 1) two 2) two 3) three 4) two 5) one

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Morris Fork Presbyterian Church and Community Center, Kentucky

This Sunday, I had the privilege of meeting a church's oldest member -- a man who's been part of one church all his life, who remembered the first Sunday worship services were held in that church. His whole life, he's seen God at work through people faithfully working in one church.

It was fascinating to listen to Ed Stamper describe walking from the building where the church had met temporarily  to the brand new church building, built almost entirely by local people using local materials, for the first worship service in the new sanctuary. The land had been donated by a neighbor; the wood had been cut in the surrounding hills and hauled to the church by horses and mules, the stone had been taken from the creek that runs through the valley, and the entire structure had been built using hand tools (the community didn't have electricity until more than 20 years later). These days, Mr. Stamper comes in first thing on Sunday morning to make sure the heat's turned on, and he's the last to leave, making sure the lights are off and the building is securely closed.

When we arrived in Morris Fork, I wondered if I'd recognize the place. Twice before, I'd been in Morris Fork on youth group work camps, but my most recent visit had been more than thirty years earlier. We'd been told we were welcome to stay in the Manse, and that we could help paint the downstairs; I didn't remember a manse, let alone its downstairs. Still, I'd convinced Dean that we should visit this church, and I was happy it was still around to be visited.

Edie, who's on the chapel board and lives part time in the Manse (and who's a point person on the project of preparing the Manse to be available as a retreat center), welcomed us and showed us the house. She took us to the chapel, which is also in the process of renovation. And she loaned me a book that tells the story of the church through the memories of Aunt Nola Vander Meer, whose husband Sam was the founding pastor of the church.

I'd heard about the couple who'd founded the church, and I vaguely remembered hearing that electricity, paved roads, and telephones hadn't been around until the 1950s and 1960s, but I'd had no idea the great impact they'd had on that part of Kentucky. I hadn't known that Southport Presbyterian had been supporting Morris Fork in one way and another for over fifty years. I didn't know that church youth groups had been coming to the community for longer than that.

We arrived early enough on Wednesday to be part of two traditions of the church: Wednesday night worship and the daily ringing of the church bell at 5:00 pm. The bell calls the community to stop whatever they're doing and pray for a few minutes. The tradition began when the church first got a bell in their steeple. From what I've heard, even drivers would stop to pray when the evening bell rang. Every day while we were there, we were reminded by that bell to stop and pray.

On the other days, Dean painted from midmorning until suppertime. I primed during the afternoons, and on Saturday, two teens from the church painted as well. Edie, our hostess, scraped the stone walls, primed them and painted them, all the while answering our questions and making sure her daughter was content and occupied. To my surprise (since I worked on it fewer hours than anyone else), the painting was finished late Saturday afternoon. 

Meanwhile, workers at the Chapel were fixing the floor at the front of the sanctuary and rebuilding the front of the platform where termites had weakened the old wood. A wedding is scheduled there later in the spring, so there's a sense of urgency to the job. Outdoors, passing thunderstorms and the season covered the hills with beauty.

We woke to fog on Sunday morning, but shortly before Sunday School, it lifted above the hills, melting away to a warm, blue sky day. We went to the room where the Sunday School class meets (and, while the sanctuary is being repaired, Wednesday night and Sunday morning worship also gather there). After a lesson about the Prodigal Son from Luke 15, more people arrived for the worship service, including the teens who'd helped with the painting and a few other children and young people. Their greetings clearly showed that they know each other well, so I asked the woman next to me (who I knew came from a long-time Morris Fork family) how many people in the room were born and raised there. She glanced around, then said, "All of them, I guess."

Though the church isn't as remote as it once was, the grocery store is more than half an hour away along roads that twist among the creeks and hollers. Before the church was built here, the community had no real gathering place. Even though travel is easier now, the church still functions as a community center for those who live in the area. Over the years, it's functioned as a clinic for souls and bodies (medical and dental clinics were organized here when visiting doctors had to travel on horseback through creekbeds), as a training center to preserve traditional crafts, as a resource for agricultural innovation, and even as the kitchen where some of the first school lunches in the country were prepared.

The first time I was in Morris Fork, in 1975, we painted fences and pulled up an enormous tree stump. We played ball with local kids. I tried to learn to play the guitar and failed miserably (although I did learn to pick out the melody to "Ode to Joy"). The church itself has been through some rocky times (it was closed for a number of years, but reorganized around 2008). The inside of the church -- the building that was such a joy to the community when it was built in 1927 -- was a complete blank in my memory.

Now, having shared in a little of the life of the community (and finding out more about the congregation and the part my family church has played in its history), I understand a little better how Mr. Stamper and the whole congregation felt that day as they marched into their new building. The area is a community because of the Church. I'm so glad to have gotten to be a tiny part of it over the past 40 years. I'm eager to see how God will use it as a place of retreat and rest for the larger community in the future.

Service Length: 1 hour 11 minutes
Sermon Length: 30 minutes
Visitor Treatment: We were introduced at the beginning of Sunday School and at the beginning of church, but even before that, people made a point to introduce themselves and to greet us.
Followup by Tuesday Morning: our hostess, a member of the church board, gave us a goodbye hug before we left, and we received a message from Pastor Mike a few days later.
Our Rough Exact Count: 25 (it took us three tries, so it should be exact)
Probable Ushers' Count: 25
Snacks: none
Musicians: electric piano (man)
Songs: "Because He Lives" (also used as prelude before steeple bell was rung)
"Come Thou Fount"
"I'd Rather Have Jesus" (also sung on Wednesday night, both times by request)
"Jesus Loves me" (all four you know them all?)
Distance to church: 100 yards, but we walked half a mile down the road and back before Sunday school
Miles from start: 12,082 (time for another oil change!)
Total 2016 Miles: 11,825
Church website: none, although they're on Facebook

Monday, April 25, 2016

6 surprising things we learned about Kentucky

Kentucky welcome center on I65
1. Like Tennessee, Kentucky falls within two time zones, the Eastern and Central. Unlike Tennessee, where the line is fairly straight and generally runs north/south, Kentucky's line follows county borders, wriggling and angling across the state. In one twenty-four hour period, as we traveled from Elizabethtown, south of Louisville to Mammoth Cave National Park, then east toward Daniel Boone National Forest, I think we crossed back and forth three times.

inside mammoth cave
2. Kentucky is home to the world's longest cave system, Mammoth Cave, which has connecting passages covering over 400 miles on three levels. Kentucky also has the second greatest length of navigable waterways in the US (Alaska has more), and the two largest manmade lakes east of the Mississippi River.

cumberland falls
3. Only Missouri and Tennessee border more states than Kentucky, and while the borders are based on river courses, time has played tricks. Several of the borders have remained the same since 1792, when they were first determinied, while the rivers have changed course (leaving a mile or two of Kentucky on the opposite side of a river from the rest of the state. In one case, a surveying error rather than changes in the river has left an area called Kentucky Bend completely surrounded by Missouri and Tennessee. Cumberland Falls, in the southeastern part of the state, is the only place in the western (and northern) hemisphere where a moonbow, formed by the light of a full moon shining through mist at the base of the falls, can predictably be seen.

5. Kentucky was officially neutral during the Civil War. Both Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln were born in Kentucky.

little red corvette
6. 95% of the world's bourbon is produced in Kentucky. In addition, Chevrolet Corvettes are only made in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Corvette is the state's official automobile, but the state's official beverage is milk. Not surprisingly, given the Kentucky Derby and all the horses raised in the bluegrass region, the thoroughbred is the official state horse.
mare and foal near Lexington

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Publishers in Nashville, Tennessee

While we were in Nashville, we thought it would be fun to see LifeWay Publishing because they published a number of my skits (like this one here). We found the building where that dramatic magic occured and found they also have a cool Billy Graham statue (because he's a Southern Baptist, as LifeWay is Southern Baptist).

We also happened to find another publisher's building, this one for the National Baptist Convention Sunday School. One of its founders was Booker T. Washington, so I wouldn't mind being published by them.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

6 Tennessee churches and their signs

Before going to Nashville, we spent a day in Oak Ridge (mostly because we listened to this book about a month ago). We knew you'd wonder about the churches there, so here are a few, along with others we saw along the way.

The variety of church signs is surprising, especially since we weren't even noticing that when we took the pictures.

Wallace Road Baptist Church, Knoxville, TN
Wallace Memorial Baptist Church, Knoxville

Tollet's Chapel and I'm leaving that right here
Tollett's Chapel, Crossville
Kern Memorial United Methodist Church, Oak Ridge
Kern Memorial United Methodist Church, Oak Ridge

First United Methodist Church, Oak Ridge
First United Methodist Church, Oak Ridge
First United Methodist Church, Oak Ridge sign
Upper Room Baptist Church, Powell, TN
Upper Room Baptist Church, Powell
Best church sign ever (at Upper Room Baptist)
The United Church, Oak Ridge
historical marker for the Chapel on the Hill, Oak Ridge, TN
Historical marker for The United Church,
called "The Chapel on the Hill" during
World War II when it served as a house of worship
for a number of faiths
Current sign for The United Church