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Photo by:   Becky Portwood

A Unique Fellowship

Our Stories

In the Company of Fellow Seekers

Cheryl and Jim Crysel, members since 1991

In 1990 we purchased a "fixer-upper" about two miles from Nacoochee Presbyterian Church (NPC). Coming from Methodist and Baptist backgrounds, we embarked upon finding a new church home; the plan was to visit a number of local churches and denominations before deciding where to join. We went no further than NPC. It really felt like home then, as it does now.

NPC offers extraordinary opportunities to be involved with the church and community. Being involved has been challenging and rewarding, and we feel that we have grown in many ways by taking advantage of these opportunities. The worship services, highlighted by extraordinary preaching and music ministries, have been a constant blessing to us.

By physical measurements, NPC is a small church. At the same time it is big enough to accommodate and welcome those of us who might not be certain of all we believe. We feel honored to be in the company of fellow seekers.

Surrounded with Unconditional Love

Janice Lymburner, member since 1990

After joining the church in 1990, I was asked to serve as an Elder and eventually learned that a self-affirming lesbian or gay man is not allowed to be ordained in the PCUSA. I had a very difficult time confessing to the session that I needed to resign and why. However, to my surprise after a short while they decided not to fill my position and to study the issue. After another couple of hard years talking more publicly in the church and even in the Northeast Georgia Presbytery, as well as many other church events, I began to feel overwhelmingly supported by the NPC community.

NPC elected me to serve, and I believe a lesbian or gay person will now continue to be considered. This has been quite a journey for us all. The church stood up for me and my partner Priscilla many times and surrounded us with unconditional love. Now it does my heart good to see so many others coming to our church to be held in the loving arms of this wonderful community. I will always call NPC my home.

An Enlightened View of Religion

Joanne Steele, member since 1982

When I came to Nacoochee Presbyterian, it seemed familiar because it had the same feeling as the small community church I had attended as a child in central Florida. But I also liked the fact that Jerry Brinegar, the pastor at the time, encouraged the church's activism in civil rights, peacemaking and environmental issues, and asked for my support. Later I started helping in the nursery so parents could attend services.

When my own children grew older, I realized how the church offered them an enlightened view of religion. What I wanted for them was a community with an understanding that we're all part of the same family, even though we have differences. That spirit is what has kept me here. We have folks who are liberal and folks who are conservative and folks like me who don't want to be too defined. Nevertheless, we all believe that Jesus and his teachings are 'spot on' in terms of loving each other and not letting our differences get in the way.

NOTE: Joanne wrote, recorded and frequently performs a song called "Seeds of Love", which she believes captures the spirit of Nacoochee Presbyterian.

"Seeds of Love"

by Joanne Steele

There are times in our lives when it's hard to know where we are going
There are times full of joy, and times full of pain
But just ask the trees and the flowers who know to keep growing
Takes living a life with times of sunshine & rain

As long as one child goes hungry we need to keep prayin'
As long as one brother or sister feels sickness or pain
We need to remember that weapons cause pain and cause hunger
And loving brings healing, not weapons not hatred not blame

[Chorus]

And the seeds of love that each of us has planted
Will always grow and blossom in our hearts
To give us a bouquet of rainbows to help us remember
Our pathways may differ, but we're not apart

We need only look to the delicate balance of Nature
To see the need for balance in our own lives
In blind destruction we praise God but rarely remember
The teachings for peace on Earth 'til we open our eyes

[Chorus]

And the seeds of love that each of us has planted
Will always grow and blossom in our hearts
To give us a bouquet of rainbows to help us remember
Our pathways may differ, but we're not apart.

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Where I Belong

Rhev Tucker, member since 1983

My first experience with Nacoochee Presbyterian was in the 1980s, when the church hosted a meeting for the community on the issue of spraying weeds along the roadside with the herbicide Paraquat. The county had their helicopters here and were ready to go. The group was able to stop it. The church was packed when I came to that meeting. I could tell by the people who belonged to the church that it was probably where I belonged, too.

What interested me was that we were not afraid to voice our opinions on different issues, some of them controversial — peace and justice issues, civil rights. We also have a good mix of community and international programs. Just recently we helped a young pregnant woman move from the community to a housing development in Cleveland. We were able to line up furniture for her from a Guatemalan family who moved to Florida for employment and left all their furniture here. Our Outreach committee bought the furniture for the young woman. She was thrilled. We were able the help two families through that project. We're a church for all people, the way a church needs to be.

Issues and Community

This Work Is Important to Me

Anne Hall, member since 1982

Editor: In 1989, Anne Hall was honored by the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia with its Civil Libertarian Award for her work against the use of corporal punishment in Georgia schools. She went on to work against the death penalty, and leads NPC's outreach on that issue. Here, she discusses why the work is important to her.

In 1998, I became involved with the legal case of Arthur Lee Giles, an inmate on Death Row in the state of Alabama. I have continued working for justice in his case, and have developed a friendship with him, too. I visit Art in prison two or three times a year, accept collect phone calls, send him care packages and money, and write to him frequently. Our church also sends copies of Bob's sermons, which Art enjoys very much. In 2007, I drove an elderly couple from Kentucky to visit him. They had 'adopted' Art almost 30 years ago when they began writing him as pen pals from their church in Chicago. In their 70s and 80s, they had never met him in person. It was a wonderful experience for all. Art's own mother was 14 when he was born, and died in the early 1990s.

Why is working against the death penalty important to me? The number one reason for me is the moral issue — 'Thou shall not kill.' It is an irreversible punishment, must be applied fairly and never endanger the lives of innocent persons. Consider the fact that more than 120 people — six in Georgia — have been exonerated from the nation's death rows over the past three decades.

When an execution is scheduled in Georgia, I attend prayer vigils, contact state authorities and act in any way possible to save a person's life. For two years, I also served on the board of directors of the Georgians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (GFDAP).

Love of the Landscape and Its People

Sheri Kling, member since 2006

Editor: Sheri performed with other members of our church in the 2007 and 2008 production of Headwaters, a community play at Sautee Nacoochee Center. Here she writes about the experience in an essay that first appeared as one of her regular columns in The Northeast Georgian.

As witnessed about this same time last year, rivers of stories are flowing again out at the Sautee Nacoochee Center. My participation in the premiere production of "Headwaters: Stories from a Goodly Portion of Beautiful Northeast Georgia" was one of the highlights of 2007 for me, and so I didn't hesitate when it came time to sign up again. And just like last year, something like forty of us have signed over a goodly portion of our time and energy for the months of June and July in order to bring this community story play to life.

And live it does. This play isn't some collection of dusty history-book chapters that might make one sleepy eyed. No, the stories that have been collected from counties in this region — some historical, but mostly contemporary — are fully alive and kicking. Rather than snores, these stories evoke smiles, laughter and sometimes even tears. Yes, the waters are flowing again.

One of the stories in "Headwaters" that has always touched me the most is about a family with a handicapped child and the way the community poured out their love and labor in order to build a ramp, a bed and install a hot tub so that life for this family could be a bit easier. I play one of the characters in those scenes — a woman who helped to rally the neighbors to come together in this way.

The woman my character is based on was again part of the rallying team that surrounded a gifted and much beloved man in the community after he learned this spring that he was dying of cancer. I did not know Marlin well, but through Julianne's writings, I became a witness to his breathtakingly beautiful and amazing journey to his heavenly home.

Despite what we see on the evening "news at 11," and though flawed we may be, we humans have great love and altruism within us. And this is how we know we are human and how we know what is inside of us — we tell our stories.

"Headwaters" has so many wonderful stories; stories about rivers, fishing, bears, and also about the dismantling of segregated education and about what being marked as a "woods colt" (an illegitimate child) meant in the early 1900's in these parts.

In coming to know the stories of a place, one comes to know the place itself and its people. I've heard so many folks both in the cast and in the audience talk about their rediscovered love for this landscape and its people, and I know just what they mean. I fall in love with this place every night all over again in being part of these performances. And it feels to me that the audiences — whether from near or far — are always in agreement.

At his memorial service earlier this morning, I heard it said that Marlin had a bit of a restless spirit, but that he had finally found a home base in the Sautee community. It became his home; the place where he married and had children and where he touched many through the roles he played on stage — the Scarecrow in "The Wizard of Oz," Don Quixote in "Man of La Mancha." He seemed to be drawn toward characters with big hearts and impossible dreams.

The current lack of rain has left us thirsty and dry, but the rivers of stories keep flowing. What would we rather know about ourselves and our neighbors — the television tales meant for shock value or the stories that reflect who we are and who we can be in community? I know which ones feel more satisfying and they're playing out right now in the historic gymnasium in Sautee.

© 2008 Sheri Kling

"The folks who come to Nacoochee Presbyterian to worship are from many different places — physical locales and faith journeys — but each offers his or her unique gifts to the well-being of the whole."
— Pastor Bob Prim