In my hometown of Philippi I was baptized and confirmed and ordained — all in the Philippi Presbyterian Church. This church took its baptism vows seriously and helped to nurture my faith that has led me to be an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) for the past 9 years. But ministry looks a lot different now in West Virginia.
What is West Virginia (and Appalachia) for me? A photo essay.
The part-time ministry I have carved out since returning is providing pulpit supply to small churches without pastors and for pastors on vacation. There are still churches that won’t accept women pastors, while others have welcomed me with open arms because I was raised here and know the culture.
Yes, I am a product of the southern West Virginia coal fields. No, I am not barefooted. Yes, I can read… Having been asked, I offer five personal opinions on southern mountain cultural identity.
It’s odd to me that Appalachia, and West Virginia specifically, has such a tug on my life. My parents moved there when I was in college, but when people ask me where I’m from I say — without hesitation — West Virginia. (I even sing the WVU fight song to my kids every night at bedtime.) I love that place so much that I get emotional just thinking about it.
For the second time in ministry, I’ve heard the call to serve a congregation in West Virgina. The first time it was an accident – I was called to a church that happened to be in West Virginia. I moved there single. Newly ordained. Ready to light the world on fire. This time, my husband and I prayed that West Virginia might reveal a church to which I would be called. We moved here by choice, with intention, and hope to stay a while.
If we are in a desert, it truly is a desert in bloom. So much good is happening out there! Almighty God is still Sovereign. Jesus Christ will never stop calling forth a church to worship, grow in faith, support one another, and serve the ones he called “the least of these.”
As I noticed and explored these treasures of the wilderness, giving my curiosity free reign, I felt my fear and anxiety melt away, becoming humble, open, learning. I wonder if the church is starting to do this too.
I’m so busy trying to be right that I don’t notice that I have veered off the “Holy Way.” I miss seeing the humanity in the people I put down. But even here, God comes to my rescue.
This year, I came to the National Gathering with my boss — the one I met at a National Gathering two years ago. We dreamed together as we heard presentations and asked each other, “Why aren’t we doing this at our church?”