Hinton Celebrates 60th Anniversary
The celebration came Saturday when Bishop Kenneth Carter, resident bishop of the Western N.C. Conference of the United Methodist Church, told a special service at Hayesville First United Methodist, “I want to thank you for doing the work of God.”
The soul-searching began Friday evening when a panel of eight serious-minded clergy and community activists grappled with ways Hinton might increase its impact on rural communities, areas hit especially hard during the COVID-19 pandemic.
One of the more meaningful exchanges occurred between Ann Miller Woodford, black activist, artist and author of “When All God’s Children Get Together” and Nora Stanger, author of “Diamonds in the Dew.” Stanger is white. She grew up in poverty in the Appalachian foothills.
“We are mountain people, Appalachian people,” said Woodford. “African American people are here, too. This is a moment people are fearful of but they may also be more open to new directions.”
“There’s been so much stress that can break us down,” Stanger observed. “We need to reach out. We have so much more in common. We need to start by knowing each other’s story.”
The Friday evening panel, held at Hinton Rural Life Center with dinner and conversation for about 70, was moderated by Rev. Audrey Rogers. She is director of the Tuskegee Wesley Foundation and a Hinton Ambassador for the Alabama-West Florida Conference. She is also an ordained itinerant elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Panel participants included Rev. Allen Stanton, executive director of the Turner Center for Rural Vitality at the University of Tennessee Southern; Woodford, founder and executive director of One Dozen Who Care; Dr. Jacqueline Gottlieb, Hinton’s president celebrating her tenth year as the center’s CEO; and Dr. Jonathan LeMaster-Smith, adjunct professor for Garrett-Evangelical and Wesley Theological seminaries.
Also on the panel were Dr. Josh Yates, executive director of the Ormond Center at Duke Divinity School; Stanger, coordinator of Appalachian Outreach & College of Lifelong Learning at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio; Rachel Ahrens, Western Carolina University graduate student and youth director at Brevard United Methodist Church and Sarah Thompson, vice president of economic opportunity at Dogwood Health Trust.
At sunset Friday guests gathered at Hinton Center in a large outer room to view displays of its long and varied history.
Several participants enjoyed tables displaying their own creations, among them Woodford, whose African American-oriented art was available for viewing; Stanger, whose self-published book “Diamonds in the Dew: An Appalachian Experience” was offered for sale; fine art potter Michael A. Lalone and Linda Thompson of Mountain View Crafts.
The Pressley Girls, Katie and Corie, provided background music and opened the evening’s program with their rendition of “You Are My Sunshine.”
After a sit-down meal for guests, the panel began a discourse on what it means to live in a rural community and meet its residents in an impactful way so those residents can thrive.
Here is a sampling of the comments and observations:
“Profound change can bring a lot of great good.”
“Why did it take a crisis for attention to come to rural areas? How can we utilize this crisis?”
“Part of the boon of the crisis is that we have to band together.”
“Churches are permanent trusted institutions that represent a large part of the community. We can do a lot of high impact low-cost programs by working through the churches.”
“We’re at a critical point. Little rural churches are dying. Young people don’t see the value in them and the old people are burned out.”
“We need to see each other. Rural communities are increasingly not white.”
“A lot of pain and trauma needs to be addressed.”
“What can we do to get all people involved? Some people don’t feel invited to the table. You have to start by opening the door.”
“We need to cultivate hope. Maximize your assets. Tell other people about the assets in your church.”
“Once a year survey everyone in your congregation and see where they are volunteering and serving in the community.”
“Find your bridge-builders.”
“Rural churches overall are aging. The rural elderly feel they don’t matter anymore, but they are the core and the heart of the church now.”
Throughout the evening, Hinton Center staff was religious about observing safety protocols in the midst of a pandemic. All participants and panelists wore masks constantly except when dining. Summer staff members served meals on tables spaced well apart and in two separate rooms.
Saturday’s midday service of celebration took place at Hayesville United Methodist Church with the keynote address from Bishop Carter.
“The work of the rural church is love,” he told the congregation, many of whom watched from home as the service was live-streamed, “and the work of the Hinton Center is to love these rural churches.”’
Taking his texts from the gospels of John and Mark, the bishop said, “The kingdom of God is like scattering seeds on the ground. Even as we sleep the work continues, the seed sprouts and grows.
“Human needs just seem to multiply,” he continued. “Yet we continue in these fields and labor. We grasp handfuls of seeds and we scatter them.
“If we work and watch and wait, first the stalk, then the grain, then the full head appears,” he said. “When seeds are planted, there is growth. You and I pause today to reflect on that growth.”
Apart from working and scattering seeds, people come to Hinton Center to set work aside for personal growth and change and even transformation, he said.
When disasters come, he said they do harm but they also bring to the surface the goodness that was already there.
“Years ago some root systems were established,” the bishop said, “and they have endured. Sixty years ago there was a pioneering spirit of what might become the rural life center, and today we honor that spirit.”
During the program two videos were offered focusing on the formation of Hinton Center and its continuing work. Rev. Claude Young, who was involved in the founding of Hinton Center and pastored First Methodist Church Hayesville in the late 1950s, appeared in a video on the center’s history.
The video traced the center as it began from a small dream among a handful of people and grew into a thriving entity serving the community in a variety of ways: delivering firewood, repairing homes, offering summer mission programs, holding poverty awareness seminars and bringing clergy, community and ordinary people together.
Last year the center gave away 455 pickup truckloads of split firewood to needy residents.
Carolyn and Rivers Smith related how Hinton Center inspired them to begin a similar endeavor in Transylvania County called STEP Western North Carolina, which offers home repair and firewood ministries.
Music for the Saturday service was provided by Blaine and Christina Russell, directors of music and youth ministries respectively for Fletcher United Methodist Church. Both are former summer staffers at Hinton Center.
For 60 years Hinton Center has offered mission outreach initiatives from home repairs to firewood to garden ministries. At the same time it has held an open retreat ministry for individuals and groups needing a place to reflect and renew.
The center is visited by a variety of groups and individuals each year and is the oldest non-profit organization in Clay County.
Resources for Vital Congregations
GBHEM Leadership Resources
A Disciple’s Path; A Guide for United Methodist
RESOURCES TO CONNECT WITH THE COMMUNITY:
The Appalachian District Church Vitality Team has been prayerfully seeking ways to help support you and the ministries of your local congregation during this COVID-19 pandemic. Together they have diligently researched and connected with others throughout the conference and our denomination to identify resources and offer them to you. We hope they will be helpful to you and bless you greatly in leading your churches and communities through this unprecedented time. We are very grateful to the District Vitality Team and other contributors for their great work on this resource.
This faithful team has created three documents, two of which you are receiving today. They include:
- Family Home Worship – designed to help families establish a regular worship space within their homes as well as a time where they can worship together.
- Tech Strategies – to help guide you in selecting effective tools and resources within your budget to best communicate in the digital world.
We believe these resources will be of great benefit to you. Also know that the District Vitality Team is available to answer any questions you might have in regards to the documents attached. If you have questions, you may email Rev. Howard Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org.