Fellowship Church Forming in Crozet
He was not someone you might pick out as a potential minister, John Healy said, at least when he was younger. “The most annoying people I knew when I was a college student were those from the campus ministry who would come out of nowhere and ask, ‘If you died today, do you know where you’d spend eternity?’” he said. Although Healy was raised in a nominally Catholic household, “It never took. By the time I got to college I was somewhat of an agnostic.”
Besides the intrusion of well-meaning college missionaries, he saw other problems with Christianity. He had friends who were normal college students, just like him, living life without contemplating salvation. They were good people, just like he was. He also observed a lot of hypocrisy in the world around him by people who professed to be Christian. “We presently have a shortage of admirable Christian leaders,” he said, “so I understand why people are skeptical about giving church a try.”
The man who finally overcame Healy’s skepticism pointed out that his issues were about what people have said or done in the name of Christianity, and offered to help him learn what Jesus actually said. ‘It was a huge eye opener for me,” he said. He and his wife, Melissa, also a student at Miami University, embraced their new-found faith at about the same time.
Healy went on to work as an executive at several non-profits, had a busy life with twin sons, moved to Charlottesville in 2007 and then to Crozet in 2014. On the surface he was successful in every possible way, but he was becoming increasingly dissatisfied with his work. He realized he was at his happiest when heading up the men’s leadership team at Charlottesville Community Church, a position he held for five years. After a lot of soul-searching, he enrolled in seminary and graduated last year.
“I realized that the best fit for me was to plant a new church,” he said, and his associates at Charlottesville Community Church entrusted him with this mission. He’s careful to acknowledge the presence of wonderful churches in Crozet, and seeing the fledgling fellowship as another choice for the rapidly expanding community. “We recognize that God is already at work in Crozet through existing churches. Our desire is to join with them in the work of declaring and demonstrating God’s love to the Crozet community.
“We’re seeking people who aren’t comfortable with traditional churches,” he said. “We want people to come as they are and feel free to share their story as well as voice their concerns and questions without fear of condemnation or rejection.”
He noted that additional churches will be needed to keep up with Crozet’s rapid growth. Services at the new fellowship will be different from those at many of Crozet’s established churches in that they won’t be coordinated with the liturgical year, but based on understanding the needs of the congregation and emphasizing the importance of the lesson he learned as a young student.
That’s the point Healy tries to make: that Christianity is about a relationship with God made possible by the sacrifice of His son; as opposed to religion, which is man’s attempt to reach God, and involves rules and regulations.
Healy is working with associate pastor and co-planter Jake Stone, who’s presently earning a master of divinity degree.
Children’s Books Hold Clues for Their Parents
It was a difficult assignment, and he wasn’t exactly looking forward to it, but it changed Roger Hutchison’s life. The author, illustrator and director of Christian formation and parish life at Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston was asked to cross the country to Newtown, Connecticut, and paint with the young survivors of the Sandy Hook massacre.
Hutchison, the best-selling author of five children’s books, spoke at the “Books and Brunch in the Blue Ridge” event at Emmanuel Episcopal Church last month. He told the audience that he learned several lessons from the experience, including what religion sometimes gets wrong about grief. “Saying things like, ‘God needed them in heaven,’ or ‘It’s part of God’s plan,’ to children and parents who’ve survived an unspeakable tragedy is not helpful,” he said.
Something else that didn’t help in Newtown: “Our generous American hearts inspired us to fill warehouses with stuffed animals and toys for the children,” he said. “This is a very wealthy part of the state, and sending money and toys wasn’t the answer.”
What was the answer? “My best guess was to give the children a little space to express themselves without trying to manage their sadness,” he said. As he sat at the table with them, he saw their anguish slowly surface, in their brush strokes, fits of temper and violent images. He learned that some quiet creative time without an adult anxiously trying to intercept and “fix” any sign of pain allowed the children to find a little peace.
His heart went out to the parents, too. The mothers and fathers at the event with their children knew they were the lucky ones, and they were filled with guilt. With tears in their eyes, they told him about their enormous relief when notified they could pick up their kids unharmed at the school, then heading home, and passing by multiple houses with police cars in the driveways of their friends and neighbors.
Hutchison read from his latest book, Come In, Come In, read key passages from many of his earlier five books and answered questions. Later, he talked about the efforts of members of his church to guide young mothers and fathers. “We met, and there was some talk about the church starting a program to teach new parents,” he said.
“I was thinking, ‘Good luck with that.’”
It gave him an idea, though. As a children’s author he was very much aware of the wisdom contained in some of his favorite children’s books. The church’s group of adults set out to study the literature aimed at the elementary school level but with an eye towards what they might teach parents. “We’d buy the books, circulate them among us, then add them to our library,” he said. He believes that good children’s books hold lessons, not just for children, but for the adults who love them, serving as eloquent parables in modern language illustrating life’s truths and asking the reader to look beyond superficial values.
He brought a few books to the event that portrayed parents as being wise, more concerned with their children’s moral and emotional development than their temporary success. One, I Talk Like a River, by poet Jordan Scott, himself a stutterer, is about a boy who stutters and is exhausted and disheartened by his painful attempts at speech throughout the school day. His father, seeing his distress, takes him to the river and points out how his son talks like the river, with stillness followed by fits and starts. Like the children in Newtown, the boy was grateful for the implicit message that he didn’t have to be fixed.
You can find Hutchison’s latest book, Come In, Come In, and his other books at Bluebird Books in Crozet, at his website www.rogerhutchison.com, or wherever books are sold.
New Leadership at Crozet Baptist
There are new people filling a couple of positions at Crozet Baptist Church, but it would be a mistake to say the roles are new to them. Both the youth ministry and the children’s ministry are now led by men who were formerly enthusiastic volunteers. They replace Tracy Pugh, who left last year to lead Sycamore Baptist Church in Franklin.
Chuck Miller, director of the children’s ministry, retired after 40 years teaching English and language arts at J.T. Henley Middle School. His colleagues teased him for managing to avoid learning how to structure a virtual classroom. “They thought I got a lucky break, and so did I,” he said. “Little did I know that I’d have to learn the same skills in order to engage the children of Crozet Baptist.” The online part took some research and study. Engaging with the children was the easy part; he’d been doing it for 30 years as a volunteer. He and his wife, Vicki, and others were filling in when the church’s personnel committee asked him to apply for the vacant position.
While continuing to plan how Crozet Baptist could responsibly manage the in-person return of its children while serving those unable to return, Miller is looking forward to vacation Bible school. He likes this year’s theme, “Rocky Railway,” because of its relevance to Crozet’s heritage and history as a railroad town. In stories, skits and art work, he’ll include local references to Claudius Crozet, the importance of the railroad and the story of the Irish workers. His young students will enter the classroom through a manmade “tunnel,” and he hopes to close the session with family day at the Blue Ridge Tunnel.
Jonathan Howard also has a background as a teacher of young people, most recently at Brownsville Elementary, and served in a number of positions in different churches before coming to Crozet. He finds young people more open than adults, despite their vague reputation for sarcasm and arrogance. “They’re not afraid to ask questions, real questions,” he said. “And they haven’t learned ‘Christian speak’ yet.”
Howard believes, especially with young adults, that questions are the beginning of a true and lasting faith. “Real faith is embracing the idea that there are questions we can’t answer,” he said. “If they struggle through at their age, they’ll come out at the other end feeling comfortable in not knowing all the answers.”
Howard said he wants to expand the concept of mission work. “Any time they step out of their comfort zone to follow the mandate to serve your neighbor, that’s a valuable mission.” Recently, the young people of Crozet Baptist have been delivering the free meals provided by LegaciEats every Saturday to those in the community who request them.