I recently took a trip to West Virginia with my Grandfather, Rev. Billy C Turner, and it caused me to think about going back to our roots.
My grandpa was born in Hinton, WV on June 8th, 1937. They say, “you can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy.” In the case of my grandfather this is true. I have never known a time where he was not proud of being from West Virginia. Some may find this different or peculiar while others will understand, but I find it honorable.
Grandpa was raised very poor. Living in a single parent home in the 40’s had challenges that people do not understand in this generation. They grew up on what we would call “welfare” but it was nothing like it is now. Grandpa always says, “we were so poor, the poor called us poor.” They had to fight and scrap to survive in mountains of Southeastern West Virginia. While the nation was coming out of the depression this area of the State was still experiencing the effects of the economic fall.
Grandpa had to take on responsibility at an early age. They heated and cooked with wood, so even at a young age he had to go out every day to chop wood for fire. He has often said he hated wash day because not only did he have to chop up extra firewood to heat the water, but he also had to carry in water from the local stream. Life was not easy back then. Not having any funds and no father in the house Grandpa had to go to work very early in life. Around the age of 12 he started cutting timber to earn money for his family. The responsibility of work caused him to be unable to attend school, and so according to the world’s standards he did not have much of an education. I say it like that because anyone that knows my grandfather understands that he is an intelligent man. As he continued to grow up, work was scarce in West Virginia and did not pay well. He had family that had moved to Ohio and found good jobs. They invited Grandpa to move up there with them and so he did.
As a young teenage man, around 17 years old, Grandpa left West Virginia never to reside there again. Although he has now lived longer in Ohio the impact that the Mountains had on him is so great that he still calls Hinton home. I stated earlier that I find this honorable and the reason I do is because he has never forgotten where he came from. At the time I am writing this he is soon to turn 83 years old. I took the trip with him because he said, “I want to go home one last time.” Those were probably not easy words for him to say nor are they easy words for me to write, we both understand that he is getting older and they are likely to be true. Still, after all these years away Hinton is home for him and he felt he needed to take the journey back one last time.
Back to what? Hinton is almost a ghost town now. The streets that used to flood with people on Saturdays are now as empty as they used to be on Sundays. Grandpa says, “Hinton was booming on Saturday because everyone came to town on Saturday back then but come Sunday it was like they rolled up the sidewalks.” It was a different time in America, a different era. Most people went to church on Sunday. Sunday was the sabbath and people did not work. There were even laws called “blue laws” that did not allow businesses to be open and certain activities to take place on Sunday. These ideas and customs have dwindled like the population in Hinton, almost down to nothing. Those ideas seem to be left to the memory of times past.
As I observed my grandfather reminisce of the time he lived there, I realized it was more about a day and age than it was a town. These were the days and times that shaped his life. It was his generation that he was sharing with me. I was standing smack dab on the very soil where his roots broke out from the seed he was and took hold of the dirt around him and began to grow. The town represents him because it was as much a part of him as he had once been a member of the town. The two are inseparable, not only the town itself but also the era in which he lived there.
It was almost a paradox. The town had not changed much, but that seemed to disturb him. Although he was remembering a found time in his life, it troubled him that there were traces left of the past and nothing there to fill it now. It suddenly dawned on me. The roots are important, but they cannot stay in the root form. There must be growth. Just as much as Grandpa loved what used to be, he wanted it to progress, grow, have life, and still exist. Life does not stop for anyone. Just like the rushing current of the Greenbrier and New rivers that flow through Hinton, it is always moving and if we come to a stand still it will pass us by.
My thoughts quickly shifted from the current situation of Hinton to the current situation of the Church in the United States of America. Just like any town, a church must grow. People come and join themselves to it; they live and die. The time that they were there will influence the church just like it will the community in which they lived, but I would argue that the effect on the church will be greater. Each generation should add to the church. In a town that continues to grow changes will be made to accommodate that growth. In the short time since my father’s passing, the town of Carey in which he raised me has changed significantly. We now have businesses and industry that were not here seven and a half years ago. Houses have been built, and a new school has been established in a new location. Changes have come, but I would argue that I live in the same town I always have because it has not forgotten its roots.
We are a farming community, blue collared people, who work hard to make a living. That has not changed. Our church has also changed. We built a new worship facility that will hold more people. We have different faces that have joined us and some of the faces of the past are no longer with us. But we are still the Lighthouse. We still preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified on the cross for our sin, raised to life the third day so that He could give us life, and empowered with His Holy Spirit so we could continue to preach the same gospel He did. Change is necessary because change happens with growth. The important part is to never forget where we come from.
The church of today is not the same as my grandfather’s church. It is different, in some ways better and in some ways worse, but it is proof that it is still alive and moving. Just as time and events change a town so do the coming and going of the people. Everyone has influence and ideas that they bring. Churches are no different. With the passing of time comes the changing of the various people who join themselves to the church and that is why every church has its own culture. People bring their thoughts and ideas to the table along with their influence. These things in themselves are not wrong. The key is maintaining the pure gospel of Jesus Christ that functions within the changes people bring. Although the church we have today is not the same as my grandfather’s it is still influenced by the church that he knew, or at least it should be. His generation has left their mark on society and it is our time to do the same, but that doesn’t mean we throw everything they did out the window. We need to build upon what they have already established. It is vital that as we look to the future of the church we never forget where we came from.
“That ye, being rooted and grounded in love” is what Apostle Paul told the church at Ephesus (Eph. 3z;17). Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples: if ye love one another” (John 13:35). Love is the root of every Christian believer and it has been planted in the soil of God Himself. We can never leave this root system. If we do, we forget where we came from. Oh sure, there are changes made that not everyone will like, but if we hold to the love of Jesus Christ it will never fail us and though changes come we will always be who God has called us to be.