Listen: Mountain City relationship story has lesson for today

Listen: Mountain City relationship story has lesson for today

Rev. Ken Caraway stands outside the cabin that houses his library as well as memories of 38 years of ministry.

Part 2 of a series: Listen That You May Live

MOUNTAIN CITY, Tenn. (March 13, 2017) -- Rev. Ken Caraway was recommended as a good interview because he took steps to promote race relations in the 1960s -- but it’s not easy to get him to talk about it.

“I don’t want to come across like I did something nobody else did,” he says.

At age 83, Caraway has retired in the same town where he made an impression on a family and a child who would go on to become a United Methodist pastor as well. Rev. Kevin Blue currently serves at Vestal United Methodist Church in Knoxville, Tenn., but his home church is in Mountain City, Tenn.

The day of the interview is a sunny Sunday afternoon. Caraway lives off a country road in a beautiful house, but he wants to “go somewhere else” to talk. He drives a short distance to a cozy cabin that serves as his library.

Caraway starts by explaining he was pastor at First United Methodist of Mountain City from 1966 to 1972. The youth of Mountain City had "no place to hang out," so he and other church members got permission from the school board to transform an old vacant school into a community center. “It immediately became an intergenerational ministry.”

It also was an integrated ministry.

“The Bellamy family was 18 strong, with 13 kids, and all of them played basketball,” Caraway says. The pastor liked to play basketball, too, and became friends with the family. The Bellamys were members of Johnson’s Chapel United Methodist, an African-American church located two blocks from First United Methodist, an all-white church.

John Bellamy, the patriarch, was a community leader. When U.S. schools were desegregating and Mountain City residents weren’t sure they were ready for that, John Bellamy said, “We’re ready.” He got the school bus driver to stop by his home, and the Bellamy kids went off to school with the white kids.

When one of the grown Bellamy children had a baby that was stillborn, the family asked Pastor Caraway to speak at the funeral. Caraway was surprised to learn that Johnson’s Chapel didn’t have a regular pastor. They got by with a minister who came up from Johnson City, Tenn., once or twice each month.

Caraway "asked the district superintendent to tell Johnson's Chapel that if I can be helpful to them, I am available." Johnson's Chapel asked Caraway to be their pastor.   

He arranged the church’s worship times so he could preach at First United Methodist, then walk two blocks to preach at Johnson’s Chapel. But on the first Sunday of his joint appointment, the whole Bellamy family showed up to worship at First United Methodist.

“It was a shock. A couple of families were very bitter and very angry about it,” Caraway says. “But it wasn’t forced. They just came to church. They taught us how to work together.”

The two angry families left the church. The Bellamys stayed. Three years later, Johnson’s Chapel merged with First United Methodist.

“It was very natural. I really didn't do anything. I just played basketball with them.”

John Bellamy was Rev. Kevin Blue’s grandfather. The Bellamy family remains a big part of First United Methodist Church today.


See also:

Part 1 - "Listen: Addiction bears down on Kingsport and beyond"

Part 3 - "The way forward is through relationships"

Christmas memories: Kevin remembers the angels (The Call, 12.28.15)




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Annette Spence

Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newsletter.