My mother's ministry: Stories from the children who carry on

My mother's ministry: Stories from the children who carry on

"Her children arise and call her blessed." Proverbs 31:28

We asked Holston Conference members to share stories of their mothers' ministries which had an impact on them. To celebrate Mother's Day on May 14, here are four stories about moms from their proud children.


Joe Phillips, age 71, is trying to keep a ministry running that his mother started. It's not easy.

More than 20 years ago, Marian Dobbins began a weekly food pantry at Norwood United Methodist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. The church that now has 15 in average worship attendance had nearly 100 active members in those days. There were more people to fill the pews and fund the food pantry.
Marian Dobbins and son, Joe Phillips,
on May 10, 2023

“I didn’t consider it to be work,” Dobbins says of the ministry that supplied food-insecure neighbors with nonperishable nourishment. “I enjoyed it.”

Today, Dobbins’ son is running the food pantry in a challenging time. The pantry is now a monthly ministry serving as many as 20 families every 30 days with a box of food that costs dramatically more than it did before the pandemic. Volunteers and donations are harder to come by. Dobbins is now a resident in an assisted-living home. She learns about her son’s struggles to keep the food pantry afloat when he visits her.

But Phillips is not giving up on his mother’s mission or his church.

“We serve a majority of elderly, a few handicapped people, who depend on this food pantry,” Phillips says. “I’m proud of the legacy that my mom and dad had there at the church, and I want to carry on.”


The Rev. Dawn Chesser is pastor at St. Paul United Methodist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. Her mother was Mazie Chesser.
Mazie and roommate, Blondelle, in front
of the Allen dorm in 1958 

“My mom was a US-2 missionary for the Methodist Church and served as a teacher at Allen High School in Asheville, North Carolina, from 1958 to 1960,” Chesser says. “Allen was at the time the only school in North Carolina where a Black female could receive an education beyond 8th grade.”

The school was started as a mission of the Women’s Division of the Methodist Church, Chesser explains. “It was a boarding school, so my mom lived there for her two years in a room that she shared with another teacher. She was one of four White women on the campus. Her service reshaped her entire world view and made her a lifelong advocate for racial justice."
Mazie and daughter Dawn in 2015

Graduates of Allen High School include jazz pianist and singer Nina Simone, civil rights activist Dorothy Counts, and aerospace engineer Christine Darden (whose story was told in the 2016 film, “Hidden Figures”).

Mazie Chesser died in September 2018 in Fort Smith, Arkansas, where she was a member at First United Methodist Church and the wife of the Rev. Lewis V. Chesser. “I will always be so proud to be her daughter and for her witness during such a difficult time in our nation’s history,” Dawn says.


Ellen Shuck Lipe is a member at First United Methodist Church in Rogersville, Tennessee. Her mother, Georgia Shuck, is also a member there.
Georgia and daughter Ellen in 2018

“One of my favorite memories of my mom’s ministries and leadership roles is when she taught the 5th and 6th grade Sunday-night Bible study for my own age group at our church,” Lipe says. “We always had ‘homework’ for which we earned points for completing, and we earned points for getting questions correct in class.”

The creative teacher fed her students pizza each week and got prizes donated “from everywhere you can imagine” to motivate her students to learn scripture, her daughter says.

“She even called the University of Tennessee athletic department and talked them out of two autographed footballs signed by Phillip Fulmer,” Lipe said. “Since this was around the year 2000 and 2001 and we had just won the 1998 national championship, there was some pretty fierce Bible-learning competition in that class.

“I love this memory of having my mom as a teacher and how much effort she put in to motivate her students,” Lipe says.

Georgia Shuck is still active at First United Methodist in Rogersville, but she "mostly watches my three-year-old son right now so my husband and I can sing in the choir and have various other leadership roles," her daughter says.


Frank “Buzz” Trexler is a retired United Methodist pastor and retired newspaper editor, now living in Roan Mountain, Tennessee. His mother was Nora Thompson, a member at Roan Mountain United Methodist Church.

“My mom had a heart for the homeless,” says Trexler. “After Mom died, my sister told me Mom made sure there were dollar bills in the car console to hand out when she saw someone on the street corner. She also kept bags of hygiene items. That didn't surprise me.”
Buzz, age 13, and his mom "Butchie"
in 1969 or 1970

Trexler tells a story from his childhood, about a family fishing trip in Florida when his mother encountered a homeless man. She brought him home and helped him get back on his feet. The man’s name was Ray. Trexler’s mother was known by her nickname, “Butchie.”

Years later, when Butchie Thompson had moved to another state, her boss came in one day talking about a man he met in a bar in Chicago. The man in the bar was named Ray. 

“He told me about how a family helped him out when he was really down on his luck in Florida,” the boss said. “He said it changed his whole life. He said the woman’s name was ‘Butchie’ and I thought, ‘Surely there can’t be two Butchies in this world.’”

His mother's boss was right about that, Trexler says. "There were not too many women like 'Butchie.'"

Nora “Butchie” Thompson died in October 2020 in Richmond, Virginia.

Holston Conference includes member churches in East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and North Georgia, with main offices in Alcoa, Tennessee. Sign up for a free email subscription to The Call.


Annette Spence

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