Lehigh Presbytery Installs the Rev. Dr. John Haberer, Jr. as Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Allentown

The installation service, on October 23, 2016, capped a two-year national search headed by First Presbyterian’s 10-member Pastor Nominating Committee, whose decision to issue a formal call to Rev. Haberer was reviewed and approved by Lehigh Presbytery.haberer_installation102316-20

Rev. Haberer is well known in the Presbyterian Church (USA), having served on several denomination-wide committees and task forces, most notably the Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity and Purity of the Church from 2001-2006. He previously served PC(USA) pastorates in Houston, Texas, Satellite Beach, FL, and Naples, FL; two of them long-term positions as Lead Pastor. Rev. Haberer was Editor-Publisher of The Presbyterian Outlook for nine years and is the author of three books.

The installation service opened with bagpipes—a reflection of PC(USA)’s historical Scottish roots—and included clergy and leaders from throughout Lehigh Presbytery as well as numerous clergy from other local denominations. Many friends and former colleagues of Rev. Haberer also attended. Music was provided by the Covenant Brass and First Presbyterian’s 10:10 Alternative Band, Chancel Choir and Youth Choir.

After Rev. Keith Brown, Honorably Retired Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem, delivered a sermon titled “The Life-Saving Station,” Rev. Haberer was formally presented for installation through a series of statements from the Presbytery, questions to the candidate and questions to the congregation. Dozens of elders and teaching elders came forward to lay hands on Rev. Haberer during the prayer of installation. The service was followed by a reception in First Presbyterian’s Fellowship Hall.

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Rev. Haberer was drawn to First Presbyterian Church of Allentown because of its earnest pursuit of being disciples of Jesus Christ and its variety of worship styles. “I want members of this church to cherish their memories of the church they once were, and yet march into a vital new future,” he says. “I look forward to joining a community of people who promote traditional values and fight against traditional injustices. I am grateful for the opportunity to lead this congregation and engage in the surrounding communities.”

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New Cabins Dedicated at Kirkwood Camp

kirkwood-sign2015 was the first summer as a joint camping ministry between Lehigh and Philadelphia Presbyteries, and it was an incredible success. They are blessed to have this unique combination of traditions, with both Brainerd and Kirkwood’s respective histories blending into a new, and unique, living community.

As of January 2016, Kirkwood started operating with a new Board of Directors, as well as a new on-site Director, to grow their reach as a ministry. As a part of this, they have built two brand new cabins identical to Carr Cabin, and have updated a ton of key aspects to their facilities and property. Of course, all of this has been made possible by the generous support of the presbyteries they serve, individuals and families who identify with their mission, and a huge assistance from their volunteers.

Folks from Lehigh and Philadelphia Presbyteries were invited to the dedication of the two new cabins. The dedication took place on Saturday, October 29, 2016 at 3:00 p.m. Participants were given an opportunity to check out the camp and become acquainted with the facilities by being able to stay overnight for a nominal fee. Then wake up to enjoy a worship service on Sunday morning at the Gorman Roof Chapel.

A small dedication ceremony took place on Saturday, before the unveiling of the new names for the cabins.

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Tommy Campbell, Camp Director helps unveil the names of the two new cabins built this year at the camp.  In honor and memory of Camp Brainerd, the first cabin was named Brainerd Cabin and the second was named Lehigh.

Many folks from Lehigh and Philadelphia joined in to dedicate these two new cabins.  Afterwards they enjoyed a delicious dinner provided by Ben Hooper of the Catasauqua Presbyterian Church.

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Don’t forget the summer camping season is just around the corner.  It is a wonderful opportunity for youth to make new friends in a safe, non-judging environment and check out the new cabins and programs.  Watch for details after the first of the year.

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Lehigh Presbytery Installs the Rev. Laura Stone as Pastor of the United Presbyterian Church of Slating

stone_installation092516-12On March 13, 2016 the congregation of the United Presbyterian Church of Slatington voted to call their temporary supply pastor, the Rev. Laura Stone, as their part-time pastor. The Committee on Ministry, acting on behalf of Lehigh Presbytery, approved this call and petitioned the presbytery to appoint an Administrative Commission to install her.

On September 25, 2016 the Lehigh Presbytery installed the Rev. Laura Stone as Pastor of the United Presbyterian Church of Slatington, PA.

Commissioners and clergy from the Presbytery were invited to attend this joyous occasion for the Slatington church and clergy were asked to wear red stoles.

stone_installation092516-11During the prayer of installation, elders and clergy came forward to lay hands on Rev. Stone. The service was followed by a reception in their Fellowship Hall with food provided by members of the church.

 

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Hope in Our Calling

FullSizeRender - program bookDay three has come to a close. The work of the 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) is commencing in earnest. The Commissioners and Young Adult Advisor Delegate (YAAD) from Lehigh Presbytery here in Portland, OR are Don Brown, Tim Dooner, Mary Lazar, Paul Lucia and Alicia Shussett.

In our short time here we have attended worship in local congregations, found ourselves in the midst of Pride celebrations, experienced a moving opening worship for our Plenary proceedings, learned more about the many ministries of the church, celebrated 300 years of the Board of Pensions, attended our first day of committee meetings, actually accomplished some business and snuck in some time to enjoy some of what Portlandia has to offer.

The biggest news of the deliberations thus far is the election on the first ballot of the co-moderators. Jan Edmiston and Denise Anderson were overwhelmingly elected to lead the church for the next two years. There is a palpable excitement about the vision and leadership these women will bring to the church. It was indeed timely that they were elected on the 60th anniversary of the ordination of women to the word and sacrament in the Presbyterian Church.

There is much hope for the church and God is still calling us. Please pray for our work and that we heed the call.

~ Alicia Shussett

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Moderator Heath Rada with newly elected Co-moderators Jan Edmiston and Denise Anderson

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February 2016 – Presbytery Meeting Highlights

The Stated Meeting of the Lehigh Presbytery took place on February 23, 2016 at The Presbyterian Church of East Stroudsburg, Pa. The meeting was opened with prayer by Teaching Elder Suzanne Brooks-Cope. Moderator Teaching Elder Susan Bennetch called the meeting to order and Teaching Elder Edmund Freeborn delivered greetings from The Presbyterian Church of East Stroudsburg congregation, shared some of the churches history, and the ministry the church serves students and faculty of East Stroudsburg University.   Rev. Freeborn presented details to help navigate the church building. Opening devotions were shared by Moderator Bennetch to prepare our hearts and minds for the business before us.

David LolengAn inspiring and motivational presentation by Rev. David Loleng from the General Assembly Office of Evangelism of the PCUSA speaking on the topic of “Engage” a program of evangelism and engagement that equips congregations to become relevant again in our communities. Rev. Loleng provided exciting ways for our churches to be equipped to face the challenges of being God’s Church in the 21st century. This program begins with training the session, who in turn train key leaders, and together they train a congregation to name the way God is at work in their lives, claim the gift of God’s work in their lives and share that in their community in a way that connects. You could feel the energy in the room as Rev. Loleng challenged the Commissioners to return to their congregations and be God’s Church.

A musical interlude provided by Honorably Retired Rev. George Taylor was enjoyed as the offering was collected for the Pastors Emergency Fund.

The new Camp Kirkwood Director, Tommy Campbell was introduced and given the opportunity to share his passion and enthusiasm for summer camp ministry which has led him to our Camp. Tommy’s background is well suited to the responsibilities of Camp Director at Kirkwood as he has been around Christian camping for much of his life. Tommy is looking forward to visiting with the youth and offering meet and greets at all the Lehigh Presbytery churches during the next few months. Please contact him to schedule this wonderful opportunity for your youth to meet him and learn more about Camp Kirkwood.

Ruling Elder Judy Steinberg presented on behalf of the Committee on Shared Gifts the 2016 Nominations for the Slate of Officers and committee members. These nominations filled vacancies open on the Committee on Ministry – Ruling Elder Rob Clark and Teaching Elder Susan Tindall; on the Permanent Judicial Commission – Ruling Elder Jane Davenport; and on the Camp Kirkwood Board of Trustees – Teaching Elder Kari Olson.

Teaching Elder Matilda Chase provided the report of the Committee on Ministry (COM) with the recommendation that Presbytery concur with United Presbyterian Church of Slatington’s request to allow an exception to the normal call process in accordance with the Book of Order G-2.0504c which states in part: “A Presbytery may determine that its mission strategy permits a teaching elder currently employed in a temporary pastoral relationship to be eligible to serve as the next installed pastor.” The Presbytery approved this request to call Teaching Elder Laura Stone as their next installed pastor pending approval of the Terms of Call by the Committee on Ministry.

Teaching Elder David Duquette presented the first reading to change to By-Laws of Lehigh Presbytery by adding XI. Immunity from Liability and Indemnification of Certain Persons Policy. Teaching Elder Duquette also presented for a first reading a change to Lehigh Presbytery’s Standing Rules regarding how many Elder Commissioners churches are allowed at Presbytery. The new formula would be:

  • Members
  • Churches shall elect ruling elder commissioners as follows:
    100 or few members                            1 ruling elder
    101-350 members                                2 ruling elders
    351-1500 members                             3 ruling elders
    1501-2000 members                           4 ruling elders
    2001-3000 members                           5 ruling elders

These changes will be voted on at the April meeting of Lehigh Presbytery.

Ruling Elder Donald Brown provided an update on the PET (Presbytery Engagement Team) for First Presbyterian Church, Reading.

Teaching Elder David Duquette provided an update on the PET for First Presbyterian Church, Bethlehem.

The meeting was closed with prayer by Teaching Elder Edmund Freeborn, East Stroudsburg. The Lehigh Presbytery wishes to thank the members of the Presbyterian Church of East Stroudsburg for being such gracious hosts.

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A Congregation with the Heart of God

Presbytery 1 23 2010 110The congregation of the United Presbyterian Church of Pottsville recognizes that it is blessed with a large space and like many other congregations; they are looking forward to the day when the pews will once again be filled. In the meantime, they continue to set their hands and hearts about the work of God.

Their drive stems from the teachings as found in Micah 6:8, “what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

They have taken this passage to heart and discerned that for today, it is a call to relationships. Relationships that are among and between those already inside the church walls, but also and equally important, this is a call to foster and develop relationships with those located outside of the walls of the church. Rising to this challenge, they are not content to leave this missional thought as merely a thought, or simply as words scribed to paper, but in fact to take action.

The leadership team, the Session, has most recently voted in favor of opening the doors of the church as an emergency shelter for the homeless. They are partnering with My Father’s House, a mission of Servants for All located on Centre Street, Pottsville.

This is merely one more step in their journey to build relationships of care and value. This ministry builds upon some already tremendous mission work there; from hosting the home site for the Schuylkill Choral Society, a meeting site for the Local Housing Options Team, AA meetings- 3x times a week, as well as operating a weekly food pantry, cooking and serving monthly meals for the local soup kitchen, to now becoming host of an emergency housing shelter. Additional discussions and discernment are ongoing for reaching out to build friendships and mentorships among teenage and young moms by partnering with a program called Mothers of Preschoolers.

What tremendous glories of God are happening through the members of the Pottsville church.

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November 2015 – Presbytery Meeting Highlights

The Stated Meeting of the Lehigh Presbytery took place on November 17, 2015 at Pleasant Valley Presbyterian Church in Brodheadsville, PA. The meeting was opened with prayer by Teaching Elder F. Leon Morgan. Ann Campbell, Clerk of Session, delivered greetings from the Pleasant Valley congregation, shared some of the church’s history, recent changes in the layout of the church, and details to help navigate the church building. Ann also shared about their mission in the Dominican Republic.

Ruling Elder Sally Heimbach, Chair of the Committee on Shared Gifts, presented the 2016 Nominations for the Slate of Officers, Committee Members and Commissioners for the 2016 General Assembly which were approved. Rev. Susan Bennetch was elected Moderator of Lehigh Presbytery and Ruling Elder Jack Felch, Vice Moderator. Commissioners to the 222nd General Assembly of the PC(USA) were elected. They were Rev. Tim Dooner, Rev. Sue Bennetch, Elder Alicia Shussett, Elder Ben Hooper, and YAAD Mary Lazar. Elder Heimbach announced that there are still vacancies open on the Committee of Shared Gifts, the Permanent Judicial Commission, Committee on Ministry, and the Camp Kirkwood Board of Trustees. Please contact her if interested.

Christy Potter KassTeaching Elder Tim Dooner introduced Christy Potter-Kass, member of the First Presbyterian Church of Easton, who was received as an Inquirer under care. Christy is a student at Moravian Theological Seminary. Christy shared her faith journey stating that her faith as grown and deepened as she has aged.

Ruling Elder Sally Heimbach presented on behalf of Treasurer Marianne Kitzmiller the report of the Mission Budget. Elder Heimbach reported that the Presbytery Lead Team has been listening to the congregations concerns. The 2016 Mission Budget is to support congregations and aid them in becoming more vital. A motion to accept the Mission Budget was moved and approved.

Teaching Elder Tim Dooner continued the mission conversation. The Mission Budget is to provide funding for churches to be inspired to create new ideas and possibilities to make a difference in their churches. Rev. Dooner explained that the hope is to provide matching funds so all small churches can have called and installed pastors by creating a relationship between two or three congregations.   Applications will be made available for these grants. Teaching Elder Lindsey Harren-Lewis expressed her excitement and joy for this proposed plan to reach out and support our smaller congregations.

Sue Bennetch-David Duquette-Jack FelchA Service of Worship was performed by Moderator David Duquette for the Installation of the 2016 Moderator Teaching Elder Sue Bennetch and Vice-Moderator Ruling Elder Jack Felch. The changing of the Stole took place and the Moderators cross was presented to Moderator Bennetch at the close of the ceremony.

Ruling Elder Marsha Heimann, Stated Clerk read the 2015 Necrology. May these 27 faithful Elders find peace in the companionship of God.

Ruling Elder Donald Brown provided an update on the PET (Presbytery Engagement Team) for First Presbyterian Church, Reading that has been working with the church as they go through the gracious dismissal process of the Lehigh Presbytery.

Teaching Elder David Duquette provided an update on the PET for First Presbyterian Church, Bethlehem.   The PET with First Bethlehem is in the early stages of the discernment process.

The meeting was closed with prayer by Teaching Elder Barbara Smith and as the custom of the Pleasant Valley Congregation “Blest Be the Tie that Binds”

Newly Installed Moderator Bennetch declared the meeting adjourned at 3:45pm.

Marsha Heimann, Stated Clerk

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September 2015 – Stated Meeting Highlights

The Stated Meeting of the Lehigh Presbytery was called to order by Moderator, Rev. Dave Duquette, on September 22, 2015 at First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem. The meeting was opened with prayer by the Rev. Kari Olson from the Hope of Christ Church in Summit Hill. Jackie Etter, head of staff of First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem, delivered greetings from their congregation and shared some of the church’s history, involvement with the New Bethany Ministries and details to help navigate the church building.

IMG_8232Rev. Ruth Ann Christopher reported on Camp Kirkwood’s success this summer with 302 Regular Campers, 107 of those from Lehigh Presbytery. An additional 48 Special campers attended made a total of 350 Overnight campers plus 110 Day Campers. A wonderful video of the campers and activities from the summer program was shown. There were many smiling faces both on the screen and in the audience. The campers thoroughly enjoyed their fun in the sun and are looking forward to returning next year.

Unfortunately, the camp did experience a deficit and Rev. Christopher made an appeal to the churches for donations. The Lehigh Presbytery has approved $5,000 be sent in order to help defray the deficit. A new Camp Board is being elected and will be made up of both Lehigh and Philadelphia Presbytery members. They will be seeking outside grants to help with the costs of sustaining the camp facilities in order to provide a fun and safe camping experience for our youth for years to come.

Rev. Christopher also invited everyone to attend the Open House and camp dedication that will take place on Sunday, October 18th, 2015 at 3:00 p.m. Come check out this new ministry of Lehigh & Philadelphia presbytery and enjoy a day of fun and fellowship as you become familiar with the camp. The name Camp Kirkwood is now the official name, meaning Church in the Woods.

Teaching Elder Sue Bennetch presented the proposal from the Apostolic Refuge Temple to purchase the Olivet United Presbyterian Church of Easton’s building. This church is currently meeting in a store front in Easton. Lehigh Presbytery approved this proposal and is excited about this new ministry in a building that has meant so much, to so many.

Marianne Kitzmiller presented a balanced Administrative Budget for 2016. She explained the 2016 Per Capita breakdown as: General Assembly $7.12 ($7.07 in 2015) Synod $2.30 ($2.20 in 2015) Lehigh Presbytery $17.96 ($18.06 in 2015) Total $27.38. The Lehigh Presbytery decreased its per capita by 10 cents per person and encouraged all churches to contribute the extra funds to their Mission budget. The 2016 Administrative Budget was approved as presented.

A special recognition of the Helping Hands care team members and volunteers was made. This group is a telling presence in time of crisis and made a difference in so many Americans’ lives. A group of people headed by Dawn Noga came to the Presbytery 10 years ago in response to their desire to do something to help the people in the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina. Out of that desire, the Helping Hands Care Team was formed. They asked for startup money from the Presbytery who reached out to the 35 congregations and a grant was given. They have never asked for a penny more and have been self-sufficient ever since due to the generosity of the volunteers, individuals and churches.

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They have averaged two major trips every year to offer support where needed. This October will be their 29th trip including two at Camp Brainerd. This group is truly a blessing and a Certificate of Recognition from U.S. House of Representative Charles Dent was presented to them by Marsha Heimann. A gift card to Lowes for tools was given by the Lehigh Presbytery. Dawn Noga spoke about their first meeting to organize this group and their trip to the Gulf Cost to help re-build. The Helping Hands team then led the Presbytery in Worship while showing slides from their 10 years of service and emphasizing the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance motto, “Out of Chaos, Hope”.

A delicious dinner, cooked by Larry Rood, was provided to 120 commissioners and guests by the members of First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem. Thank you to the servers, kitchen staff and Larry for such a wonderful meal.

Dave Duquette - Jenny Schram - HR 9 22 2015 smallestA Service of Honorable Retirement was performed by Moderator David Duquette for the Rev. Jenny Schram. A letter written by her husband, the Rev. William Schram was read by Teaching Elder Carol Brown.

Ruling Elder Sally Heimbach, Chair of Committee on Shared Gifts, presented the list of nominees for the Board of Trustees for Camp Kirkwood. The Presbytery elected Rev. Ruth Ann Christopher, Rev. Joan Spangler, Bill Bryson, Diane Millick, Paul Lucia, Wendy Dietrich, Scott Dietrich, and Ben Hooper to this Board.

Rev. Tim Dooner, chair of the Committee on Preparation for Ministry, presented Noha Khoury as a Candidate under care. Noha shared her Faith Statement. After questions from the floor, Noha Khoury was unanimously moved to candidacy.

Rev. Tillie Chase, chair of the Committee on Ministry, presented Rev. John Lee who has received a call to serve as lead minister at the Korean Church of the Lehigh Valley (KCLV). Rev. Lee shared his Statement of Faith and answered questions from the commissioners. Lehigh Presbytery approved Rev. John Lee as Pastor of the Korean Church of the Lehigh Valley.

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Members of the Korean congregation came forward for prayer led by Moderator Duquette. Come celebrate with the congregation at the Installation of Rev. John Lee on Sunday, November 15, 2015 at the Korean Church of the Lehigh Valley.

Rev. Chase presented the 2016 Minimum Terms of Call approved by the Committee on Ministry. The Presbytery approved these new minimum which included a 2% salary increase.

Rev. Tillie Chase and Rev. Tim Dooner spoke about New Beginnings: Opportunities and Possibilities with regard to the Mission Budget and re-envisioning our structure with reference being made to the Book of Order G-3.0303.

The meeting was closed with prayer by Rev. John Lee and Moderator Duquette adjourned the meeting. The Presbytery is grateful to the staff and members of the First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem for being such gracious hosts. We all enjoyed the food, fellowship and facilities. Thank you!

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Letter from the Lehigh Presbytery Moderator re: First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem

To the saints called by God to be Lehigh Presbytery:

It is with deep regret that I write to inform you that on Monday evening, June 15, 2015, the Session of the First Presbyterian Church, Bethlehem, PA (FPC-B) voted to enter the gracious dismissal process.

I commend the Session for not having taken this step rashly. You may recall that a year ago, FPC-B hosted an event featuring speakers from both the PCUSA and from ECO. In addition, there have been town halls and round tables with a gracious invitation always offered for Lehigh Presbytery to be present. These events culminated in a survey of the congregation conducted by TAG Consulting.

Much study has been done, but questions remain; and Lehigh Presbytery is committed to being a partner with FPC-B in seeking answers to these further questions.

Our Gracious Dismissal Policy states the following Value of Lehigh Presbytery (2. B. d): The goal of Lehigh Presbytery will always be reconciliation and continued engagement in relationship with all congregations within the Presbytery without the threat of isolation, estrangement or blame. Lehigh Presbytery is called to be a servant to the churches God has entrusted to it, encouraging and supporting them toward becoming healthy, growing, congregations. In doing so, Lehigh Presbytery hopes to creatively engage the concerns of the congregation, and enable them to make decisions based on facts and not assumptions, so that both the congregation and Lehigh Presbytery can concur that they have discerned God’s will regarding continued denominational affiliation.

In the Providence of God, the lectionary points us this week to Mark 4:35-41 with Jesus asleep in the boat while the disciples confront the raging storm. Mark 4:39 (NRSV) [Jesus said] “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.

Let us pray for the peace of Christ to surround and sustain our brothers and sisters in Bethlehem. May the work we do together in the time to come bring glory to our Lord Jesus Christ and peace to those for whom life in the PCUSA is akin to a storm tossed sea.

In Christ,
Dave Duquette
Rev. David Duquette
Moderator

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Hikers turn to Church of the Mountain on Appalachian Trail

written by Michael Givler, Synod of the Trinity.  Taken from their “Church News” website http://www.syntrinity.org/news-events/church-news/4855-2/

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Its name pretty much says it all. The Presbyterian Church of the Mountain is just that – a congregation located in the Appalachian Mountains in Delaware Water Gap, PA. What the name doesn’t tell you is that the congregation opens its doors to complete strangers, providing shelter any time of the day, 365 days a year.

 

The Church of the Mountain is located in eastern Pennsylvania along the Delaware River, which makes up the state border with New Jersey. Hikers will know Delaware Water Gap as a town that sits on a trailhead, or entrance, to the Appalachian Trail. They will remember the Church of the Mountain as a place that offers necessities for the weary walkers who are on an excursion along the 2,200-mile path that stretches from Maine to Georgia.

“We’re opening up our church building to people who come and go,” the Rev. Sherry Blackman said explaining the church’s mission. “It’s all about hospitality.”

Located just one block away from the trailhead, the Church of the Mountain has been a place of support for hikers since 1976. The church’s basement was transformed into a hostel nearly 40 years ago and has since been a place for through-hikers (those walking the entire trail) and section hikers (those walking just an area of the trail) to stop for the night. It’s been well publicized in trail books and hikers’ blogs, resulting in an average of 1,300 walkers per year taking advantage of the Church of the Mountain’s resources.

“This outreach is great in the sense that here’s a church living out the mission of Jesus Christ,” Rev. Blackman said. “Hikers are basically homeless when they are on the trail. They lay their head wherever they end up for the night, often at shelters that are on the trail, often pitching their tent or sleeping under the stars. We’re inviting them into our sacred space and they don’t smell good, they don’t look good. They are all hungry, they’re dirty, they’re stinky.

“The other part of it is what it does for the congregation itself. You have a group of people who are extending themselves — it’s not just opening the building. The congregation itself is involved with the strangers from cleaning up after them to wiping down the toilets and bringing in fresh towels to engaging in conversations with them. It’s had an impact on the nature and the character of the congregation, too.”

 

Rev. Blackman has only been the pastor at Church of the Mountain, which averages between 80-90 on a given Sunday, since June 2014, so she isn’t familiar with the full history of how the church became such a vital part of the trailhead. She recalls hearing how hikers would regularly stop in town packing and unpacking gear and going to the post office. The church members began offering shelter and showers for the hikers in their homes, and eventually the church turned its basement into a hostel. It is currently the oldest hostel on the Appalachian Trail.

Hikers can stay in the hostel for a maximum of two nights, with some exceptions like if a hiker is injured. The hostel is not open to people with car support, scout groups, tour groups or short-distance hikers, and there is a strict no-alcohol, no-illegal-drugs policy.

The hostel has bunks for eight people, but the hikers can also pitch a tent in the church’s yard and sleep there. There’s a living area with couches and tables and a “hiker’s box” for items to be discarded for other hikers to rummage through and use if needed. The church also offers a shower and clean towels but does not have a kitchen. It falls on the church’s volunteers to clean the hostel daily and wash the towels. A lean-to called “Matt’s Place” is also available for the hikers to use, and from June to August the church has a Thursday night pot luck hiker’s dinner that attracts between 50-60 long-distance backpackers.

Rev. Blackman, a second-career pastor who was previously a journalist, has collected many of the stories she has heard from hikers. Many are inspirational, like the one of a 70-year-old man who was hiking the Appalachian Trail for the second time as a trail chaplain. The first time he hiked the trail was to help him grieve the loss of his 4-year-old grandson.

“He said it was the only way he could truly grieve his loss,” Rev. Blackman said, recalling the conversation. “He said by the time he finished the trail he could live again.”

Rev. Blackman also officiated a surprise wedding on the trail in April that involved a “Ridge Runner,” a person hired by the AT Conservancy who “runs” a 42-mile section of the trail to check on the condition of the trail as well as on the hikers and the shelters. With a formal wedding planned a month later, the groom made the comment to his fiancée that he “just wanted to get married in his hiking clothes,” so the fiancée arranged the ceremony on the trail.

 

It’s just part of the interaction between Rev. Blackman and those on the trail. While she is there to offer spiritual guidance when asked, somewhat surprisingly, that component is very nondescript by both her and the Church of the Mountain. She admits that spiritual thoughts are something that many are already in tune with while on the trail.

“The purpose of the hostel is hospitality and in this way we also serve the community,” she said. “There’s no agenda to evangelize in the sense that we often think about evangelism. It’s very evangelistic in the sense that we are open to the stranger, we will have any conversation, we have food. A hiker is typically quite open to some very big conversations because I think being on the trail lends itself to contemplative thinking, meditation, asking yourself the big questions… You don’t have the same distractions on the trail that you have in everyday life.

“Just being out on the trail, there’s nothing to separate you from your fellow hiker. There’s no status, there are no cars, there’s no job, it’s you. I think by the time they get here, they’re ready for those conversations, they’re ready for prayer. … This is not a forced ministry in the sense that we get ‘em here and now we ask them, ‘Do you know Jesus as your personal Lord and savior?’ Hospitality is very authentic and that in and of itself crosses hearts and minds. The only agenda is true hospitality in the name of Christ.”

Reaching out to those who are passing through. It sounds very scripture-based, and it’s exactly what the Church of the Mountain is supplying on a regular basis these days.

“We are doing exactly what Christ called us to do, and in this is great satisfaction,” Rev. Blackman said. “It keeps us constantly aware of the other. We have hikers that come from around the world. We offer ourselves, and this is the way we love God and love others as ourselves.”

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