Lebanon congregation grieves loss of 30-year-old praise leader

Lebanon congregation grieves loss of 30-year-old praise leader

LEBANON, Va. -- Trevor Blankenship, age 30, worked all day on the highways for a paving company. On Thursday evenings, he jumped in his pickup truck and drove to Lebanon, where he played guitar and led a praise band for a recovery worship service.

“Sometimes he barely made it, but he said the recovery worship rejuvenated him,” said the Rev. Wil Cantrell, pastor at Lebanon Memorial United Methodist Church. “He said he had never been part of a service where people understood how badly they need God.”

On Oct. 2, Blankenship died after an 18-wheel tanker crashed into his truck and another truck, causing an explosion on I-81 in Smyth County, Va. Two other men died, including Blankenship’s co-worker and the driver of the tanker.

The accident happened about 3:30 p.m., 90 minutes after a church bus crashed into two other vehicles on I-40 near Jefferson City, Tenn., killing eight and injuring 14.

Blankenship coordinated and led music for Recovery at Lebanon, held at Lebanon Memorial United Methodist Church since its launch on Oct. 18, 2012, Cantrell said. The United Methodist congregation partnered with another church, Lebanon Community Fellowship, to offer the new ministry for people suffering from addictions, eating disorders, codependency, relationship issues, or grief.

Recovery at Lebanon is connected to the Recovery at Cokesbury Network based in Knoxville, Tenn.

Blankenship was a lifelong member of Lebanon Community Fellowship, also leading its praise band, according to his pastor, Rev. Jeff Williams.

“I’ve known him since he was five or six years old. He was a member of our family,” Williams said. “The loss for our church is personal and painful.”

In less than a year, worship attendance for Recovery at Lebanon has grown to 120, Cantrell said. At the Oct. 3 evening service, 140 came to worship God and remember their praise leader.

Representing Cokesbury United Methodist Church, Brent Ronald came to console the family and congregation and to let them know their Knoxville family is praying for them, Cantrell said.

Blankenship’s mother spoke to the grief-stricken group, saying her son was happy now and “God will see us through this.” Cantrell spoke about “responding to life’s tragedies without relapsing or self-destructive behavior.”

“They’ve had so many tragedies in their lives that this tragedy, although it may not be directly related, could trigger memories,” Cantrell said.

Blankenship will be remembered as a person who was “humble, genuine, and authentic,” Cantrell said.

“After almost every worship service, I would go up and thank the praise band and tell them how their music touched me,” Cantrell said.

“Trevor never seemed interested in the compliments. He always shifted the message to how something I said during the service had affected him. He was very focused on his relationship with Jesus Christ.”