Heading to the Mountains

Rock Castle Creek

I was not planning on making a change, but it’s happening. Maybe it was COVID. We’ve certainly have had more time to think and ponder about what is important. Could God be using this time to open me to listening? Whatever it was to bring this on, I have accepted a call to two small historic rock churches located eleven miles apart and right next to the Blue Ridge Parkway in Southern Virginia. These are two of six churches built by the Rev. Bob Childress in the first half of the 20th Century, at a time when this part of the county was remote and often violent. Ever hear of the Hatfields and McCoys? Childress story has been captured in Richard C. Davids’ biography, The Man Who Moved a Mountain. Once he was converted, he began to encourage the people of the mountains to help one another and not just look after their close family members. Sixty years after his death, five of his six “rock churches” are still going strong.

As I said, I wasn’t looking to move and thought I’d spend another year or two on Skidaway before trying to find more relaxed position. But back in March, I learned of an opening of a large camp and conference center in Texas that was looking for a new president and CEO. Their current one was retiring at the end of the year. They wanted a minister in this position and it was suggested that I had some of the skills of which they were looking. I have led churches through relocations and large building projects, along with having done fundraising and development work. I sent them a C.V. thinking they’d probably not be interested. They responded back and had me answer a bunch of questions. I wrote an extensive essay. Then they invited me to interview. While the position would have prestigious and I’d been well compensated, there was something (other than moving to Texas, which was another issue) that kept nagging at me. We discussed it as a family. I’d always thought that when I turned 65, I would try to find a small church to serve, knowing that my pension would be adequate to take care of the rest. Here I was, just two years away. There was a certain amount of trepidation about assuming, if offered the position, a job that would require a lot of travel, along with the headaches of managing a huge staff and raising a lot of money (mostly from Texas oil leaders, who weren’t able to give their oil away this Spring).  Was this something I really wanted?

Bluemont Church

While this was going on, I saw an advertisement for a pastor to serve two churches along the Blue Ridge Parkway. My thought was, “I wish this was two years from now.” But then, the more I got to think about it, I decided to check it out. I sent them an email. Less than a week after receiving my query email, I received a call from the chair of their Pastor Nominating Committee. Early in the conversation she said, “We want you as our pastor.” I responded, jokingly, “You don’t know me.” That’s when I learned that while they hadn’t met me, they knew a lot about me as they had watched sermons and read this blog. I agreed to visit and found everyone to be nice and the area to be wonderful. At the end of my visit, they made an official offer for me to become their pastor candidate (the congregation still had to vote).

I realized that I could live on what they were paying without having to tap into my retirement funds. As they say, the rest is history. I pulled out of the interview for the Texas position. However, I realize now that position served as the catalyst for me being led to this new call.  Last week, we signed the contract that made it all official. I will assume the position in October. I will be preaching twice a Sunday, leading Bible Studies, but mostly pastoring the folks living up on the mountain along with a lot of seasonal residents with cabins who attend the churches during the warmer months.

God’s ways of leading are mysterious until much later. Like Abraham, we head off on a journey, unsure of our destination, but sure of the one we follow.  I am going to miss the good people at Skidaway just as I am looking forward to meeting the good people on the mountain. I have been blessed. I have enjoyed my time here, just as I have always found something to enjoy everywhere I have lived. After all, it’s all God’s world. And God is going to see us all through this transition.

Mayberry Church

I have always loved the mountains and the Appalachians are my first love. Long before spending significant time out west, I hiked the Appalachian Trail. The southern mountains are beautiful in all seasons. While the colors are spectacular in the fall, the spring is full of life. In the winter, the mountains often rest under a thin blanket of snow, and in the summer, everything is green and lush. And the history in these ancient mountains runs deep.  While there is much I will miss by not living on the coast, especially sailing, I look forward to spending more time paddling rivers, hiking in the mountains, and bicycling along numerous “rails-to-trails” in the region.  It’s also a little closer to my parents and easier to get to Donna’s family (you don’t have to drive through Atlanta from there).

View of the “Buffalo” (from the house that’s under contract)

If you’re ever up this way, stop in.  Sunday worship at Mayberry begins at 9 AM, followed by a 10:30 AM service at Bluemont.  I think they keep the time close together, knowing the pastor has to travel 11 miles (with the Parkway’s 45 mph speed limit), as a way to make sure I won’t go into overtime! The Mayberry Church is located just a few miles south of Meadows of Dan (and US 58). The Bluemont Church is eight miles north of Fancy Gap (US 52), which is where the Blue Ridge Parkway crosses Interstate 77. As we’re going to be dealing with this pandemic for a while, one of my first tasks will be getting the services up on YouTube.  I’ll let you know through this blog when that happens and how to find it.

Life is always exciting, but now I have to go pack some more boxes.

Lunch rest while on a hike last week along the Blue Ridge



59 Replies to “Heading to the Mountains”

  1. Jeff, Our loss is their gain. I truly mean that — and you’re not even my pastor! But you have been my friend, my Christian friend, and my writer friend. You have given Savannah so much and you have blessed so many here. I love your stories so please keep writing and do stay in touch with me, the Flannery house and the Peacock Guild. I’m so excited for you.

    Warm regards,


  2. Every congregation is blessed by your presence–enjoying the natural world and sharing the eternal world. Thanks for sharing your view of the world on your website. Life is fun with you! May you have and bring great joy to the congregations of the rock churches. Caroline

  3. I’m always amazed at the twists and turns life gives us. They always seem for the better in the long run. Looking forward to seeing your new location.

  4. Lovely piece,Jeff. We are excited to have you on the mountain and I look forward to following your blog.

  5. Jeff, our association the last several years has been a pleasure. I hope the new ministry is a blessing for you and your congregations. Good luck with the move.

  6. I know you will be missed by the Skidaway folks. What a wonderful opportunity, though. There’s something mystical about the Blue Ridge area. I watch a show called Mountain Men which spotlights one character who lives in that area. I get to see the beauty, freedom, naturalness of that area. I will I’d hiked the Appalachian Trail when I could!

    Enjoy the move. I’ll look forward to updates.

  7. Jeff, you are the FIRST pastor in my life that made me want to get to church every Sunday. Yes, our church is very friendly and inviting; however, I always loved your sermons. I learned more about the bible, it’s stories and it’s relevance to our lives from your personal antidotes, photos & maps relating to what you were preaching about. I will personally miss you greatly. However, knowing how much you LOVE to mountains, streams and tranquility that is the place you need to be. Chris and I will never forget our wedding you performed and be thankful.
    We love you Pal
    Bill Sickels

    1. Bill and Chris, I am going to miss the two of you. It was fun watching you begin life together and I am very happy for you both. We’re not that far up the parkway from your mountain condo, so you’ll have to set out early some Sunday morning and come see us!

    1. Thanks. I will have to see if I can entice Ewan and Hilary to visit over here again after we settle and the virus is at bay.

  8. We wish you well Jeff and will miss your wonderful service to our church. It is a gorgeous area and knowing how much you love the outdoors well suited for your next life! Going up 77 next week to VA TECH In Blacksburg, VA. Our granddaughter goes to college there. Will wave to your future surroundings. Love, Jane and Bob

  9. Looks beautiful, and it sure beats Texas. I’m very happy for you, with a new spiritual base. Seems like a great fit, and they are lucky to have you there. Enjoy the beginnings of this new chapter, Jeff.

    1. I was beginning to worry that I might end up in Texas just because I had spent a lifetime running down the big-headed state. And I have found myself in the past moving to places I said I’d never live–and enjoying them all (ie: NV, NY, UT).

  10. Wow, this is exciting. Congratulations on your new digs and relocation. It sounds beautiful! Certainly sounds like God’s work getting you to the right place at the right time.

    1. I am looking forward to the transition (even though there are things and people I’ll miss at my current location).

  11. Wow! Exciting news, esp. during this time. Congratulations and best wishes during the move,

  12. I am so proud of you Cousin, for following God’s call on your life! I know Skidaway will miss you but the new churches will be much blessed by your presence. Congratulations!

  13. Another beautiful place to explore…they are fortunate to land such an experienced and dedicated spiritual leader.. bon chance!

  14. I had hoped to make it to Savannah to visit my cousin sometime in the next year or so and drop in on you over at Skidaway. Now I’ll have to head for the mountains, which I much prefer anyway. And less than a day’s drive from here. Congrats on the new position. Godspeed.

    1. You’ll have to come by sometime. I’d like a chance to meet you and your wife. But come on to Savannah, for it’s a neat city.

  15. Wow!!! I had no idea such a thing was in the works! Is it close to Hwy 77? We’ve taken that route to SC a few times, but haven’t been able to do it this year due to Covid. Will Caroline stay in her job in GA? You’ve written and preached about itinerant preachers; now you’ll be one! Congratulations — where will your home be? Looking forward to hearing about your new adventures! Best wishes to you, Donna & Caroline!

    1. We will be living about 15 miles east of the Hillsville exit. The Mayberry Church is approximately 22 miles east of the Hillsville exit and 20 miles north of the Fancy Gap exit. The Bluemont 9 miles north of the Fancy Gap exit.

  16. Have had a similar situation twice in my career in the hills of Tennessee! Wonderful experience! Beautiful setting for Christmas Eve Services! So excited for you!

    1. Thanks, Proctor. I know you were mentored by Frank Harrington. He also played a role in this decision. I got to know him when out west and attending the Omaha School of Religion (funded by the endowment from the old Omaha seminary for pastors in the Midwest and mountain states). Frank was the preacher there several times and I knew he was getting ready to “retire” and go back to a small church where he had the heart attack that took his life. For some reason, that has kept coming back to me over the past few months.

    1. Yep, I’ll have more to write about beyond sailing and kayaking (although I don’t write as much about that here)

  17. I’m sure you find this both exciting and a little bittersweet. God’s blessings as you step out in faith! I look forward to reading about your new adventures in the mountains.

    1. It’s always bittersweet. There will be more people I’ll miss and things about this area that I will miss, but they’ll be new people and places to explore.

      1. somehow I can picture you in Mayberry!! I know Gods hand is in this and I look forward to your future adventures with Him.

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