This past weekend Bill and I enjoyed a return trip to Linville, NC. I was honored to be asked once again to lead the chapel service at All Saints Episcopal Church, one of the most spiritually infused worship spaces I have ever been in. Although the physical sanctuary is rather small, the enormity of God’s spirit looms large and powerful. The visiting clergy are housed in a dear sweet rectory right next to the chapel and are welcome to arrive Wednesday stay until Tuesday. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains in western North Carolina, the landscape oozes God’s holy creation through every part of the tall hemlock trees, blooming rhododendrons, moss covered paths and running trout streams. Bill would add that a fabulous golf course within the community contributes to his appreciation for our visits!

To get to Linville is not always what I would call a ‘spiritual’ journey! We go to Frederick via 70, then head to I-81 getting on at Winchester. From there we head south for 4 ½ (long, long) hours before exiting at Damascus VA which is almost to Bristol. From Damascus to Linville, we wind our way up and down mountains, a scenic respite from the superhighway, before arriving in Linville. With several stops, total time for the trip is a bit over 8 hours. Normally the trip goes fairly quickly especially with some downloaded movies on my I-pad. But this time, returning on Memorial Day, I confess to becoming inpatient and annoyed. As we made our way north on I-81, the traffic got heavier and heavier, the rain storms more frequent, and the rolling backups (for no seeming reason) became more frequent. As we approached Stanton VA, out of aggravation I suggested to Bill that we find another way….that we get off the familiar route and take some backroads. He was just as grumpy so he agreed. We took the next exit and found ourselves on Rt. 340…wow!

Our trip immediately went from congestion and frustration to idyllic Virginia 2 lane country roads nestled at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. We passed beautiful green pastures with cows grazing peacefully or standing chest deep in country ponds; we encountered neatly cut lawns of modest houses as well as trailer homes whose random piles of abandoned  cars, rusted trucks and corroded tractors from another era signaled poverty and hard times. We came to appreciate the beautiful Shenandoah River as RT 340 crisscrosses it several times and with the recent rain, it was not a lazy river. We found ourselves going through small towns with unfamiliar names, like Grottes, Port Republic, Elkton and Boyce among others.

Three things struck us about these little communities. First, the vast majority of the houses had front porches complete with rocking chairs, many of which were occupied on Monday afternoon. There was such a sweet element of hospitality about that. People clearly felt it important to ‘sit and rock a spell’. Some seemed engaged in conversations, many had a dog in their lap or at their feet while others were quietly just watching us drive by, seemingly in contemplation about who knows what. I was drawn to their sense of rural serenity.

The second observation we made was the abundance of American Flags that predominated our route. Large ones hanging by the front doors, little ones stuck in the ground lining the fences of yards, red/white/blue bunting hanging from second floor balconies of old brick farmhouses…they seemed to be everywhere. It was a poignant reminder how ‘country folk’ display their love of country and respect for those in the military whose lives were lost.

The final unexpected surprise was the number of signs I saw for Episcopal Churches in these very small communities. Without really looking for them, I counted almost 10. That is a lot but I also have to say, some seemed in better shape than others which I assume reflected the health of the parishes.

We finally got home and while yes, it was long, Bill and I appreciated a whole new adventure. When the 3 wise men journeyed to find Jesus in the manager, they were advised not to return the way they came because of Herod’s threats.  In Matthew 2:1 it says ‘and so they went home another way.’ Indeed that is what we did….literally…..we chose to go home another way….and it was good!

I think I am going to try that more often….to deliberately take a new route from home to church occasionally or other destinations as well. Why not? Sort of fun…..

PS: If you want to know more about All Saints Church in Linville, click on the link: