'Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity': Atchley connects Tazewell churches in new position

'Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity': Atchley connects Tazewell churches in new position


Brooke Atchley is the new United Methodist “Church and Community Worker” for seven counties surrounding Tazewell, Va.  But on this hot August day, Brooke Atchley is not in Virginia.

She’s in Kentucky.

“OK, does everybody have a seat? Is everybody ready?” Atchley asks, as church members pile into vans.

Atchley and 30 other volunteers from eight different churches have come to Henderson Settlement in Frakes, Ky., for a week-long mission trip. It’s fitting, in a way, that this is one of her first projects in her new role.

In the United Methodist Church, "Church and Community Worker" (CCW) is a special category of missionary service under the General Board of Global Ministries. Workers with this title might serve as nurses, builders, immigration lawyers, or economic developers.

Atchley’s job is to facilitate ministry among the 83 churches comprising the Tazewell District of Holston Conference. Her ultimate goal is to address poverty and drug abuse in the region, according to her boss. She will be Holston Conference's fourth CCW.

“There is such a huge crime issue here because of drugs, and the poverty rate is high,” says the Rev. David Tabor, Tazewell District superintendent. “Our district includes seven counties and two states, so any coordination between the agencies is nonexistent.”

While driving to help her mission team from Tazewell District repair the home of a sick 82-year-old grandmother in Kentucky, Atchley shares some of the statistics she compiled in researching her new position:

  • Southwest Virginia accounts for 40 percent of drug-related overdoses while representing 20 percent of the state’s population.
  • 42 to 64 percent of students in Tazewell District counties were approved for free or reduced-price lunches in 2011.
  • In Russell County, Va., 77 percent of grandparents are raising their grandchildren. The percentages range from 60 to 65 percent in the six other counties: Tazewell, Giles, Buchanan, Bland, Pulaski  (all in Virginia) and Mercer (West Virginia).


“I have a huge heart for the people of Appalachia. I grew up here,” says Atchley. “I want to know where the people’s hearts are breaking and what they’re breaking for, and I want to help the church stand behind that.”

See Facebook photo album of Giles Cluster mission trip.

‘PERFECT FIT’

Atchley, age 37, has lived in Tazewell District since her husband was appointed to pastor two churches there in June 2012. The Rev. Aaron Atchley, age 39, is pastor of Hales Chapel United Methodist Church and Kathleen Memorial UMC, both in Narrows, Va.

Tabor saw a need for a new CCW in his district in 2011, with responsibilities similar to those of Koni Purscell in neighboring Big Stone Gap District. The Rev. Purscell tackles poverty in a three-county region (Lee, Wise, Scott) of southwest Virginia through the Big Stone Gap District’s 61 churches.

As an upcoming United Methodist deacon with experience and passion for the ministry needed in Tazewell District, Brooke Atchley quickly “came on the radar” as the person who could succeed at the job, Tabor said.

“This is a perfect fit for what I believe is my call,” says Atchley. “Bringing people outside the church, inside the church – and taking those who are inside, out.”

The mission trip to Henderson Settlement in early August was one of her first activities since she officially began her CCW duties on July 1. The Rev. Amy Bartee, Staffordsville Circuit pastor, organized the trip for 31 volunteers ranging from ages 10 to 70, two-thirds of whom had never been on a mission trip before.

Atchley was key to connecting members from eight different churches and helping to frame their roles as God’s servants among the poor, Bartee said.

“One of her blessings is to be able to do the devotionals and then to do the talking and hashing out and debriefing that needs to happen,” Bartee said.

PAST & PRESENT

“For me, the connectionalism was missing,” said Atchley, referring to her new district.

Brooke Tittle grew up at Emory United Methodist Church in Kingsport, Tenn.; her husband-to-be grew up at Cokesbury UMC in Knoxville, Tenn. They met on mission trip to Mountain T.O.P. (Tennessee Outreach Project) – organized by the Wesley Foundation at East Tennessee State University -- and married in 1997. (See photo.)

While Aaron Atchley served as youth director at First Sevierville (Tenn.) UMC and Wesley Memorial (Johnson City, Tenn.) UMC for several years, Brooke Atchley worked with children and youth at camp, churches, and agencies along the way. She also served as executive director at Neighborhood Reconciliation Services in Johnson City for three years.

In 2008, the couple took their two daughters to Kentucky to complete their education at Asbury Theological Seminary: a master’s in divinity for Aaron, a master’s in servant theology for Brooke.

Aaron was appointed to Tazewell District in June 2012 and Brooke was still finishing her degree, but they immediately went to work on connecting the district. Noting that First Rich Creek UMC was the only church with a full-fledged youth ministry, they organized a study of “Purpose-Driven Youth Ministry” for parents of three churches (First Narrows, Hales Chapel, Kathleen Memorial) in fall 2012. 


“Our churches are small. The largest is First Bluefield with 212 in worship attendance,” says Tabor. “Brooke’s goal will be to bring people to knowledge about what’s already happening and directing them to those places.”


By spring 2013, they were ready to launch “Connexion.” Fifty to 60 children and youth, divided into two groups, now come for supper and activities on Sunday night, according to Brooke.

This summer, the new CCW helped organize an ecumenical vacation bible school in Narrows with seven churches and 70 children. She’s applying for grants and providing support for a new children’s ministry in Giles and addiction-recovery ministries at Main Street UMC and First Richlands UMC.

On Aug. 24, leaders of Tazewell-area churches will attend a district charge conference with multi-faceted training and a mission project organized by Atchley. She will also be involved in supporting a cancer-care ministry run by Richlands-area churches and connecting United Methodists with nine food banks in the region, according to Tabor.

“Our churches are small. The largest is First Bluefield with 212 in worship attendance,” says Tabor. “Brooke’s goal will be to bring people to knowledge about what’s already happening and directing them to those places.”

Brooke Atchley couldn’t agree more:

“One of our challenges is to offer something to get people to do for themselves," she said. "For this to be successful, it has to be an organically evolving ministry, not a cookie-cutter approach, and not just with laity or clergy involved. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be integral in something new, but where God is already working.”


See also:

  • "150 churches from Wytheville, Tazewell Districts search for ministries to share" (The Call, 8/16/11)
  • "New poverty worker in Big Stone Gap: Koni Purscell arrives from Nebraska" (The Call, 5/18/11)
  • "Linda and Mark Stransky: They're missionaries, but not the kind that serve overseas" (The Call, 8/6/08)  


Facebook photos: Giles Cluster mission trip (The Call, 8/2/13)