A new church in southwestern Virginia is looking to local culture to inspire its congregation. It celebrates the Appalachian spirit of community and practicality best demonstrated by potluck dinners and conversation, followed by music and dancing. The new church, called “Wild Goose,” opened earlier this year in a remote part of Floyd County. Robbie Harris prepared this report.
Edwin Lacey is part preacher, part musician. That gave him an idea for this abandoned church in the mountains of Southwest Virginia.
"The congregation had gotten so small they decided to close it. A lot of times what happens when these little churches in pretty remote areas get closed, is we just sell them- the Presbytery, the domination, will sell them. And being in Floyd County I knew that of anywhere around here it might be open to something different.”
“We took the pews out and put the rocking chairs in, we took the pulpit furniture out and built a fireplace and it’s all fiddle and banjo music and singing old time songs and very eclectic worship."
An eclectic circle of rocking chairs came from churches in the area-- a show of support for this five year project.
"One of the things I wanted to get away from with Wild Goose is the performance and audience relationship that I had seen in so many traditional church worship services. So we we have discussions, read scripture and everybody participates. I learned early on that just because I had a seminary education, does not mean that I knew as much about scripture or theology as a lot of people sitting in the pews."
Lacy and a partner did much of the restoration work on this church themselves. He smiles at the dark lines on the shining oak floor where wooden pews used to be; An enshrined remnant of the church’s past.
On a rainy Tuesday night around eighteen people arrive at this remote church, the majority not Presbyterian. They gather on Tuesdays to avoid competition with Sunday churches. Some drove over an hour to get here. Most are carrying large crocks of food. Long tables and chairs quickly fill the hall, utensils appear. Soon there’s a full potluck underway.
”It’s excessively different in a good way," says Susan Slate, who teaches pre-school in Blacksburg. "I just really love this service its very meditative and calming and relaxing and just sets the tone for my week in a positive way… just come and sit a spell, that sort of thing.”
Wild Goose takes it name from the ambitious quest to build a new congregation in an era of declining church attendance. Lacey says the name also evokes Celtic traditions at the root of Appalachian culture.
“In Celtic Christianity the symbol for the holy spirit is the wild goose rather than a dove. Because they feel it's more powerful and it's wilder and there's a little sense of humor with it, and a goose will come up and bite you right in the seat of the paints like the holy spirit will."