02 May Jack Dynasty
“Can these bones live?” ~ Rural church Emerges From The Ash Heap
Jack and Caroline Weaver are second career pastors who were called to shepherd a faltering church on the edge of extinction with 7-10 senior citizen members just two years ago. Recovery in such situations is rare. Having an ample reserve of funds can prolong the inevitable, but actually pulling out of the death spiral for churches takes a sovereign move of God. Rock Full Gospel Church has since grown to over 20 in size (yes, I said 20), and are learning to tap into the existing culture to present Jesus in a remote corner of Pennsylvania farm country.
Rock Full Gospel Church can be found tucked in a small hollow in the midst of ruggedly hilled dairy farming country somewhere between Nook, McCoysville and Doyle’s Mills in central Pennsylvania. Major events here near the lazy Juniata River include tractor pulls, livestock auctions, turkey shoots and pot luck dinners. Church life in these parts would not be considered cutting edge anywhere else. But this is not anywhere else. This is a context all its own.
Squirrel pot pie and hymn sings are relevant…really, it just depends where you are.
About the last thing I was looking for was some squirrel pot pie. But recently I ate some at this obscure country church so I could experience this great little congregation first hand. Pastor Jack shot the squirrels himself, and Caroline skinned and cleaned them and made the pot pie. I arrived to find a bustle of activity in the Rock Church fellowship hall. I was a bit apprehensive about the squirrel pot pie, but the desserts looked unbelievable, made from scratch by grandmas! As I went through the dinner line I was struck by the large size of the bowl I was given and hoped they would not fill it up with squirrel pot pie. I was ready for a spoonful just to say I tried it. It was surprisingly good and I ate a medium sized bowl. I have since checked that one off my bucket list.
I had been getting to know Jack and Caroline at our sectional home missions committee meeting where we oversee new and recovering churches. I was impressed with their integrity, warmth and energy for this Gospel work. It is a tiny flock, in a remote location in rural Pennsylvania. They have been meeting since 1953 in the community’s former one room schoolhouse (a few of the elderly members actually attended the school as children!). They have been through many ups and downs in their 60 year history, but are experiencing renewal as they address the unique needs and hopes of their community.
In 2012 the church was told that their sanctuary was uninhabitable due to structural damage in the floor. The initial estimate to correct the problem was $50,000, which was a death sentence to the remaining members of the already struggling church. After prayer and some diligent searching a second estimate was obtained and came in at the remarkable price of $1,500! It was like a resurrection. Hope was reborn, and the church went on to make additional improvements in the building and parsonage (single wide trailer) and fellowship hall next door.
Their pastor, Jack Weaver, served as a game warden in several districts in Pennsylvania for 33 years. He has written three books and is remarkably warm, adaptable, resourceful and unflappable. Caroline is a quick-witted firebrand who tells it like it is. They are just what the doctor ordered as the folks at Rock Church took to them quickly, and they took to the people.
Initially the Weavers agreed only to pulpit supply on Sundays. But the ride from their home is 90 minutes, and they knew that a greater investment was needed if this church was going to make it. So they took the initiative and decided to stay in the church parsonage three days a week and invest time reaching the community and ministering to the people. The church folks were thrilled and helped prepare the small single trailer for the Weavers and their dog. It was a win-win and Jack and Caroline began to consider more ways to reach out.
The monthly hymn sings at Rock Church have become a popular event for the entire community, drawing as many as 50. They sing hymns and a few old-time country songs, and they have a hoot. These events have shown the openness and love the church has for their neighbors and it is making a difference. Jack will tell you that he “sounds like a sick old bullfrog” when he sings, but says the Lord has recently healed his voice and he is being told by others that he sounds pretty good!
Besides hymn sings, some of their “progressive” but relevant ministry includes squirrel potpie dinners, door to door ministry (mostly trailers and farmhouses), reading the Bible aloud and loving folks where they are at. Jack writes articles for the tiny local paper, and they are the talk of the town. (That is one advantage of ministry in obscure places, you can be an influencer rather quickly). He was even approached by elders from another local church who said they thought he should switch churches and be their pastor!
An immediate goal remains to have children in Sunday School. Most of the members are frail and unable to handle children. Jack received a call from a young mom who wants to bring her kids, but they have no one with the strength or skill to teach them. Having watched Jack and Caroline overcome similar challenges over the past 18 months, I have no doubt that they will find a way to provide transportation and ministry for this young family.
Jack and Caroline have also inspired their flock to think outside of their own congregation. The adult Sunday School class takes offerings for home missions churches in our section and they are sending about $50 per month. Our sectional home missions committee meets every month, and we especially look forward to our time with Jack and Caroline Weaver. God is clearly at work as they have been sensitive to their people, their community and the gentle voice of the Holy Spirit. As Matthew Henry says in his commentary on the Book of Acts: “A little company, united in love, exemplary in their conduct, fervent in prayer and wisely zealous to promote the cause of Christ are likely to increase rapidly.”