Rev. Alan Follett’s early career was as a political consultant, a high stakes turf, but faith has lead him to Mt. Moriah United Methodist in White Hall, where he became pastor in July. He replaces Rev. John Ward, who returned to his home state of West Virginia to pastor a church there. Follett was barely on the job before a health crisis struck as he was about to give a homily and temporarily laid him out.
“God willing, this is my last assignment,” said Follett, 65, who spent the last nine years as pastor for what’s called the Rapidan Charge, a three-church circuit in Madison County. “Mandatory retirement is 72, so I hope to be here until then.”
Meanwhile Follett’s agenda is to stir up outreach at Mt. Moriah and to connect with local churches for joint causes.
Follett came to the ministry from the Machiavellian world of political campaigning. “I spent 15 years as a consultant in Richmond for Republicans on state and federal campaigns. It was a job. I was grateful to work with people I liked,” he said. But after one bare-knuckled campaign, work dried up. “Blackballed,” after which hetook any menial job he could find.”
He had a degree from Mary Washington University. An old friend from the Marines and the CIA suggested the clergy, an old aspiration. So he went to Duke Divinity School and the Wesleyan Theological Seminary in D.C. “I loved the rigorousness of it,” he said.
“I got a political gig, finally, and my wife said to me, ‘Hey! I thought you wanted to be a pastor?’ I have wanted to be a minister since I was eight. I used to take notes on my ministers.”
Follett said he grew up “in a violent alcoholic household.” His minister kept supplying his mother with food for the family in ways his father did not know about.
“He is my model for a pastor,” said Follett. “I liked the fact he went the extra mile and it was not about him. It got so bad at our house, we had a social worker call. She would not sit in our stained old chair. But the minister did, as if it were a throne.”
Follett’s first appointment was to a church in Bassett, for four years, and then at Lyndhurst Methodist, over the mountain from Crozet, and then at Rapidan. “Our clergy superintendent called and said, ‘I need you to come here [to Mt. Moriah]. It was nice to be asked.
“I have a background in building community. I’m all about this. In Madison I was administrator of a benevolence fund that was putting out $4,000 a month. You see that connection with my childhood? The Mathew 25 Fund. All checks were hand delivered. They [the recipients] get there after one bad choice after another.”
“Any church needs its pastor to lead. This church is forthright, generous and agenda-less. They just need a leader. They want a grown-up. I’m thoroughly unruffled. I don’t push. My boss knows these are good people who are hungry for leadership.
“I have a strong ecclesiality. I want people to love church as much as I do. I have to get over that and work with what I have. Churches don’t have the influence they used to. But this church is going to be better.”
He prepares his own sermons and one from August 10, Be Not Afraid, was circulated among other Charlottesville-area churches. It was when he was about to deliver a sermon in July that he collapsed from congestive heart failure caused by sepsis from an infection in his foot. In August he had recovered and is now trying to improve his heart strength.
“Mt. Moriah has been very accommodating to me. They carried me out of here on the 16th and got me to the Emergency Room. I was away four weeks. I’ve never seen more done in that time. They want to work, to do things. They’re ready to make a difference. So far, so good. I want to work with every church in Crozet.” He’s doing the sermon for the Crozet community Thanksgiving service and Mt. Moriah intends to host more events, too, he said.
His office includes a “No Whining” sign above his desk and a picture of Sam and Dave, the early Rock and Roll stars—“Because they would not talk to each other, but they still made beautiful music,” Follett explained. There’s also a portrait of Mark Twain, the great American wit and moralist, as well as, of course, a cross.
“I want to be a non-anxious presence that can be trusted. It’s a count-your-blessings moment at Mt. Moriah.”