I spent Thanksgiving with LaVonne. It was a nice several days, providing a respite I needed and the 10 hour drive down and back gave me ample time to think about the state of the world (and my life). The thinking is the subject of another blog. Today, I write about Burke’s Garden and LaVonne’s ministry there.
Arriving at Burke’s Garden takes tenacity and endurance. Once one has travelled about as far south in Virginia as possible, a right turn takes the car up over a winding gorgeous roadway, then down into a valley surrounded by the Garden Mountains. Mr Burke is long gone but his unexpected trip to this area lives on in his name. After climbing up several thousand feet - best done in daylight - then down the same number of feet, the forest gives way to a bowl called Burke’s Garden.
LaVonne had emailed me detailed directions, so I drove past the one and only store with gas station out front, past the volunteer fire department and the former school that now functions as community center till I came to the Pepsi sign. Took another right and crossed two cattle guards to arrive at the top of a hill that overlooks much of this valley. It was twilight as I arrived with still sufficient light to see the view she wakes to daily. Breathtaking is the best way to describe the sight.
During my time there, she drove me around the valley and out to see the second church in Blue Field (VA, not WV) where is is Vicar. Her house is the parsonage for Central Luther Church, though if your vision of parsonage conjures up well-worn and modest, put that aside. Her digs for this year are not dull and neglected, but light and bright. She lives in the home of a woman who rents to the church - a glass house, built just a few years ago. A glass house with radiant heated floors and instant hot water, skylights and windows offering the valley a way inside.
During my time, we spent time eating and talking and discussing theology for Sunday’s sermon. I hope hers turned out better than I think mine did. But it was good to have a person to test my thoughts as they formed and were discarded.
On Wednesday, LaVonne had organized a community interfaith service and supper. The other part of “interfaith” was the Methodist congregation. LaVonne’s pastor preached and the Methodist minister helped with prayer and singing. After, those gathered enjoyed a pie-fest, complete with turkey (good for me since I don’t eat gluten - not so good for LaVonne, since she eats gluten but no meat or dairy though she did enjoy the vegan pies). We ate Thanksgiving with a neighbor who fixed food for LaVonne (some dairy free and meatless options) and I had the meat and no stuffing.
What the food brings to mind - and the real purpose of this blog - is taking note of the similarity between how LaVonne is trying to create a community in this mountain town of 100 families and how I try to encourage community at Soul Link in Mansfield PA and how FCC in Colorado Springs creates church by creating opportunity for people to engage and interact. “Church” “God” “Jesus” scripture and the other theological concerns are often perceived as unimportant - it appears that what draws folk to our congregations in this text-messaging world is the congeniality, the mixing with others, laughing and working and pulling the load together.
LaVonne and I are bright, well-educated at a stellar seminary and we both end up hosting meals as a way to involve theology in the lives of those who eschew church. I hope the best minds can come up with another way to build a church. One that asks us to use our collective brains. Most church websites focus on the activities and events one can attend. At a conference a year ago, the presenter, Gil Rendle of The Alban Institute, talked about how churches are emptying but God is standing there, watching. He reminded us that God will be there as we all struggle to find the newest way to do church. And, according to Phyllis Tickle (and others) in 500 years or so the struggle to make church relevant begins again.