by Rev. John Farmer
What do I like best about living here on the Northern Neck?
Let’s see, usually I mumble something about the water: the confluence of bay, rivers, lakes, ponds and beaches. Given a deeper moment of thought I might foist some tale about my veins being full of salt water.
Of course it doesn’t take much cajoling to draw from me tales about my love affairs with boats. I am blessed to claim all of the above as reasons enough for calling this area, “home.” It is not a far stretch to say that these things all contributed to my unquenchable desire to “come back here” in 1986.
Deeper than all that though, is my love for the churches here. Both St. Mary’s Episcopal and the Corrottoman Baptist Churches were faith-houses for the lads and lasses of my youth—into which they welcomed a freckled face, red-haired summer lad. I doubt the leadership of either church ever expected me to be a pastor here. Me neither!
Since the mid 1980s, opportunities for service have wound my feet ‘round many a country lane. How blessed am I that the Irvington Baptist Church extend me a call to serve—even if it is still on an interim basis… Though some differ. Oh how blessed to have found a missionary woman willing to partner an old widowed preacher.
I am indebted to the Coan Baptist Church for calling my eldest child here to serve and provide the joy of watching my granddaughter grow up, marry and have a child of her own. Then there’s the added blessing of Master B. Shane Farmer (Northumberland High senior) who’s thrown in with us to expand the clan.
Three major highways wanders our community. US 360 comes ashore in Reedville and winds its way across town and country until it splashes into the water, far off in Texas. Route 17 tucks us in and flows steady with many a northern pilgrim locating to our Mecca. Route 3 is known to be a patience testing major no-passing grid. Traffic flows from tidewater up and Fredericksburg down, to the shores of our three rivers. Route 200 slips across our midsection like a belt.
The roads that minister to me best, however, are the little lanes that run from church to church. Those little lanes knit together an army hopeful. I am eternally thankful to have exposure to so many mission points. The people who call our little country churches faith-homes give me inspiration. The prayer fabric of the faithful gives me courage and hope.
Major cities, foreign lands, all have their temples grand. Give me a foot-worn aisle, some finger soiled, tear-bent hymnals, random plank width pews and some patched stained glass here and there. I gain strength from the witness exemplified by the little struggling bands of parishioners, who so wholeheartedly believe in our Risen Lord, that they keep on keeping on, despite sometimes overwhelming odds.
I am forever proud of our small, even declining congregations, for great stewardship as we’ve grown off the boats, off the farms.
I have come to a keen appreciation for the pastors who have allowed the Lord to lead them here; and, most especially for those who had the good sense of propriety to plant their mailboxes in concrete. In particular I was so proud to welcome pastor H. Craig Smith to come east so many years ago to serve two Baptist churches here. No doubt several ministers could have pastored big city churches, advanced career and retirement, yet labored faithfully amongst us.
When our ancestors left the wharves, steamboat docks and ferry landings, they forged paths through the thickets, across the marsh grass, along the shore and from town to town. A network of roads sprung from the trails that once led ‘round the water’s edge. It was a necessity to have schools and churches nearby the homesteads of the scattered fellowship. With the advent of our automobile society and civic consolidation most communities have merged into a county base. Only the churches remain.
Culture and theology pulled away from colonialism, from spawning governments. Squabbles about the Good Book, carpet color, organs, pianos, preachers (and their families) all ensued to further divide the little pockets of Christianity. Issues of spiritual interpretation suggested that we should move down the road a bit from mother church of this and that persuasion.
Here and there new congregations have sprung up to meet the needs of disenchanted persons and to avoid the prejudices of those stalwart bastions of faith standing tall since the late 1700s. Our new flocks attract many who are disenfranchised with old mother-churches. That’s why God gives them life. God ever expands his menu of faith opportunities to those who seek his mercies, his grace and his love.
Gardens of stone surround many a place of worship, giving testimony to the power of God. They witness to those driving by, a sense of permanence, of hope, of propriety. They hold for the proof that we descend from a cadre Holy. It has been written that one may measure the wealth and health of a society by how they respect the dead. Our peninsula is a textbook in respect.
Well now, how about heading up or down the road this week to worship a forgiving God? He waits at some eighty-plus houses of worship. He may just be waiting there for you. Take a neighbor with you.
If you don’t find a place that teaches, stretches you, that displays God’s love, just go on down the road to another church. Invest yourself in God’s people.