Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Dry Bones

While visiting mountain churches, rural outreach organizations and ministry outposts of all kinds, I can not help but think of the leaders who are driven by a sense of vocation.  The Rev. Steve Peake stands out among them. 

He is Pastor of Corinth Baptist Church in Fleming-Neon, KY.  It is a predominately African-American community in a coal mining town.

In his own words: 

This church building is a historical building for the community of Fleming-Neon. The building was built in the early 1900's by the Elkhorn coal company as the original "colored school" for the children of the black coal miners and their families [operated by Catholic nuns from Jenkins, KY]. At this time there was not a church for the miners and their families, Rev.Henry Hinton began having church meetings in the homes of the miners. The coal company heard of this and they allowed Rev Hinton to use the school house to hold church services on Sundays. In 1947 the coal company deeded the building to Letcher County School Board,they continued to allow the church to continue meeting in the school. In 1956 the School Board deeded the building over to the trustees of the church . . .  In 1994 Corinth closed its doors until December of 2001 when Rev Steve Peake of Fleming-Neon returned to his home church to open it up and he remains as pastor of the church to this date.

He rebuilt the crumbling church building in beautiful woodwork with both his own hands and the help of friends.  A new construction perhaps would have been easier, but there is something special about being in that place where so much history has happened.  Church members can remember important life events happening right there.  Peake pointed to the railing where he came forward to be saved many years ago.  The community has been nurtured there.

From a logical standpoint, he could easily make the case to leave the area.  His wife would appreciate that.  The boom-and-bust cycle of the coal industry, coupled with changing demographics, have left few African-Americans still living in that part of rural Kentucky.  The community he shepherds is continually getting smaller—would not his time be better spent elsewhere, helping more people?  Yet, something in his spiritual intuition and life experience has led him to believe that his “work is not yet done here.”  He just can not leave the few sheep in favor of the many.

Rev. Peake feels called to preach to these "dry bones," a reference to Ezekiel 37:1-14.  God can bring new life to even the most parched, desolate circumstances.  How God may stir those dry bones remains to be seen.  Perhaps Peake will simply be the last person out of town. 

Peake has worked periodically with Glenmary's Fr. John Rausch on ecumenical efforts.  One was a Stations of the Cross service at a mountaintop removal site.  Another was a flower planting effort in the aftermath of a devastating flash flood.  Irresponsibleand sometimes illegalmining practices have left the land vulnerable to flash flooding and mudslides.  As Fr. Rausch writes:

In 2003 the Rev. Steve Peake, a Baptist minister, and I organized a prayer service soon after a flood in McRoberts. I bought a flat of begonias from a nursery. Then 30 of us, including mothers with small children, walked through the town stopping at residences, churches and public buildings. At each place someone described the destruction caused by the flood. We said a prayer, then planted a begonia. The idea was to replace ugliness with beauty, and despair with Resurrection.

Indeed, the ministry of Rev. Peake is a strong witness to that very faith.  He knows that God can be found anywhere, even where it seems the least likely.  Case in point, after finishing the hand-hewn cross that now stands in the front of Corinth Baptist Church, Peake and his parishioners were amazed to discover the face of Jesus right in the wood:

Perhaps it takes the eyes of faith to see itand that is exactly the guiding vision for the ministry of Rev. Steve Peake.

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