Religion News

Share the Blessings volunteers at Crozet Baptist. Photo: Theresa Curry.

Crozet Baptists Share Blessings

It’s a massive Thanksgiving project that consumes much of November for its organizers, but really it starts weeks and months ahead. Years ahead, if you count the long experience of Tracey Pugh, Crozet Baptist’s minister for children, youth and community connections, who’s refined the operation (formerly, she ran the Crozet Arts and Crafts Festival) and mobilizes the yearly effort like a general mounting a campaign.

Armed with spreadsheets, shopping carts, high school kids needing community service, a willing congregation and a grateful community, Pugh paces her collection of the individual dishes for a bountiful, traditional Thanksgiving meal, starting in August when she asks the congregation for boxes of macaroni and cheese and cans of green beans. September’s the month when Crozet Baptist members strip the grocery shelves of instant mashed potatoes; followed by October (stuffing and gravy) and November, when mountains of turkeys, hams and frozen pies disappear into freezers all over the community.

A couple of food drives at the Crozet Market supplement the groceries hauled in by the parishioners. One has already taken place and the next is scheduled for Nov. 11. Near the end of the collection period, Pugh and her helpers will count the food accumulating in the church basement and place a giant order for anything missing.

When all is ready, there’s a massive packing party and finally, delivery to far-flung areas of the county on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. “We make this a county-wide service,” Pugh said. The families throughout Albemarle are identified through the schools, and bags are modified according to the size of the family, she said.

Besides the army of volunteers from the church and community, Pugh acknowledges the continued support of the Crozet Market for supplying turkeys at cost; and of the new Crozet Catholic Mission for partnering with the Baptists in this project.

The Church welcomes donations of any kind from the community, whether volunteers, food or money. She’s glad to answer any inquiries about what’s needed at [email protected]; or send donations to 5804 St. George Ave, Crozet, VA 22932 marked “Share the Blessings.”

Rev. Michael Payne. Submitted photo.

Payne Seeks Consistency, Visibility for Lebanon Evangelical Presbyterian Church

Michael Payne has been all over the world in his roles as teacher and pastor. Early in his profession––while still a theology student at Westminster––Rev. Payne believed he might be called to serve overseas in poor countries. “I’d spent a month in Africa in my junior year,” he said. “I felt really drawn to it.” His mentor at the time talked him out of making that decision immediately.

“It was wise,” he says, looking back. “When you’re just starting, you’re affected so deeply emotionally, and it’s easy to get that confused with what you are really meant to be doing.” For a few years after his schooling, he became an assistant pastor and also pursued another of his interests, the intersection of religion, medicine and the law.

He did end up serving in Kenya for more than a decade as a professor in the seminary there. Other foreign assignments have been in Budapest, Taiwan and Mexico City. In between, he taught theology at a seminary in Mississippi and military ethics for the Air Force in Alabama.

Payne didn’t find the transitions to be shocking, whether between Taipei and Greenwood or Kenya and Alabama, or Philadelphia and the Deep South, “There are no real surprises,” he said. “People are the same, with the same conflicts and pressures.”

He did find that people with few resources listen in a different way to the Gospels. “People can be miserable, no matter what their economic status,” he said. “But those with money and power can distract themselves, can clutter their lives with possessions and recreation. If you’re poor, you don’t have that clutter, so it’s pretty much you, alone with your misery. That creates a different kind of response to God’s words.”

He cautioned against stereotypes of poverty as either romantic or brutalizing: “There’s just as much diversity in the behavior of the poor as that of the wealthy,” he said. Long before he moved to Greenwood, he’d learned that “rural” does not mean “unsophisticated,” he said, and his congregation bears this out.

Since moving to Lebanon Evangelical Presbyterian Church in November 2015, Payne has put a lot of thought into making the church more visible in the community, both literally and figuratively. “We’re hidden back here by trees,” he said of the building whose original structure is several hundred years old. He wants to make the church visible in other ways, and there’s been an effort to make all of the print materials and website materials consistent with what the church is trying to do. He’s planning some conferences for the coming year: One will be on C.S. Lewis, and one will be on the intersection of science and faith. Meanwhile, he leads a weekly group, “Two Beer Theology Study” at Blue Mountain Brewery.

Payne said he’s been enjoying the beauty of the mountains and open spaces, especially since his wife, Karen, a long-time horsewoman, is now able to keep a horse and ride. “This is a great place for us near the end of our ministry,” he said.

Warner Bainbridge, 9, of Crozet, at Harmony Place. Photo: Theresa Curry.

Tabor Presbyterian Park Encourages Harmony

Several times a day, Rev. Susie Atkinson looks out the window at Tabor Presbyterian and sees children playing at the tidy little “Harmony Place” across from the Crozet Library adjacent to the church. “It’s really well-used,” she said. “I love to see that.” When time permits, she’ll walk over and talk to the children or their parents.

Harmony Place is a park with a personality all its own. Those who visit often can tell that it’s constantly changing, as equipment is updated and cleaned. Atkinson said the park reflects the loving work of many hands, but is mostly the creation of Bettye Walsh and Carol Davis.

It’s clear that there’s a musical theme to the place, reflected both by its name and the nature of some of the structures: you can beat the drums, sing through a microphone, play a suspended xylophone. The church has had to abandon the gongs for now, as several attempts have been made to steal the copper. There’s also a labyrinth, an age-old structure encouraging focus and contemplation: “I sometimes have to go out and explain what it is,” Atkinson said. “Sometimes I see children wanting to use the bricks for building a structure.”

Other features make it unique: there’s a bamboo forest with a secret path, many climbing challenges for both little and older children and suspended seats that twist and suddenly unwind. Large wooden structures are pirate ships, forts and castles.

Harmony Place never looks disheveled: the bamboo path is mowed, weeds are removed and seats replaced if they get torn or damaged. That’s because Bill Atkinson, Susie’s husband, has adopted it as his retirement volunteer project. “He loves it,” Susie Atkinson said.

Jayden Reynolds enjoying Harmony Place at Tabor Presbyterian Church. Photo: Theresa Curry.


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