A bivocational Episcopal priest in eastern Kentucky shares his joy at being part of a changing church.
It’s a clear morning in the Bluegrass Region of Kentucky. Mist is rising over the rolling hills and limestone fences. Horses graze on the dewy grass, briefly raising their heads as I drive down the narrow blacktop road.
No matter how long I live here, I give thanks each day for the stunning natural beauty that surrounds me.
Today I’m doubly blessed, because my destination lies two hours east. I’ll drive from the hills of the Bluegrass into the valleys and green mountains of Appalachia.
On the way, I’ll cross 500-million-year-old river gorges, swing around hairpin mountain turns, race down steep inclines and creep back up behind loaded logging trucks.
I’m a bivocational priest, and my work takes me all over the eastern half of Kentucky.
When my family and I came here in 2011, we had no idea what to expect. We were from the Midwest and were used to big skies, open landscapes and churches large enough to support full-time ministers.
What we found here was lush country, loving, welcoming people, and a network of small, vital but struggling congregations.
The church that called us -- St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Harrodsburg -- was typical. Yes, they could pay a small salary plus benefits, but only for two years. They had a little money in the bank, but the congregation was aging, membership was declining, and unless something radical happened, the situation was unsustainable.
Something radical did happen. In four years, we’ve gone from about 30 people on a Sunday to about 70. We’ve doubled the size of the congregation, and we’ve doubled the amount of energy, passion and tangible resources.
This took a lot of prayer, a generous measure of God’s grace (that indefinable working of the Spirit that makes the unimaginable into reality), a lot of community outreach (“Yes, we’re here and we genuinely care about you -- you should check us out!”) and a church that actually wants to grow.