NASHVILLE, Tenn. (May 1, 2016) -- The woman at the water, wearing black long underwear beneath blue shorts and a blue quick dry T-shirt with a pink bandana wrapped around her brown, shoulder-length hair, blended in with the small group of hikers filtering water at the spring. Standard hiker wear, standard hiker activity.
As the group dispersed, she lingered, left alone with Chuck Jones, the 2016 Appalachian Trail chaplain commissioned by the Holston Conference, as they finished their chores.
"The long uphills and being hungry out here is not my biggest struggle," the woman at the water said in a deep, scratchy voice. "My biggest struggle each day is whether or not I am going to kill myself today."
The chaplaincy program grew out of hikers' need for a hot, home-cooked meal. For the past 14 years, breakfast has been served at New Hope Union United Methodist Church, located 1½ miles from where the trail crosses State Route 615 in Bastian, Virginia.
Members at the host church, as well as at Pine Grove United Methodist Church, provide transport for the hikers, and, when possible, rides into town to the bank or post office. The Rev. Alan Ashworth, the program's founder, is the pastor of both small churches.