2016: A YEAR OF GREAT AND SMALL MEMORIES

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Column By Frances Stebbins

We will all remember 2016 as the year Donald Trump upset Hillary Clinton to become our president elect.

My family will remember 2016 as the year my son Harvey died and my great-grandson Brody Lester was born in Georgia.

But many other events will be remembered by people of faith living in the Roanoke Valley.

Clergy and lay leaders, aware of an increasing presence of groups other than Christian and the traditionally married living among us, tried to get together with them hoping to combat some of the ill will being spread too easily both by politicians and others using the pervasive technology.

Some evangelical and conservative believers, however, were alarmed by this possible watering down of the faith and contributed to the election surprise. They were unready to accept the new openness to such changes as same-sex marriages.

Pastors like Baptist Bob Moore, Disciples Bill Lee, Presbyterians Bob and Dusty Fiedler, musician Richard Cummins and mental health educator Diane Kelly concluded long years of service and entered retirement. Lutheran Bishop Jim Mauney is preparing to follow soon.

Death claimed others like Joan Dorsey, Salem church and civic leader, after the ecumenically supported Community Clothing Closet for the needy had been named in her honor.

Members of Churches of the Brethren celebrated their 150 years of presence in the valley with their locally-reared national moderator enjoying a summer day at their shrine, Camp Bethel.

With nondenominational Christian fellowships continually being started, two long-established Baptist congregations employed new ways to survive. In Salem, the newer CommUnity congregation moved into the East Main Street building long occupied by Tabernacle Baptist whose aging members united with the younger group.  In Southeast Roanoke, the big old Belmont Baptist building took in the younger Restoration Church, strengthening both.

Salem Area Ecumenical Ministries continued to expand its work in several areas to help lower-income residents. A temporary financial donation made possible the employment of a part-time coordinator of volunteers, Karen Karr, for its well-used clothing closet. Both the closet and the sister ministry of the food pantry, as well as a supplementary weekend program conducted through several elementary schools saw increased need as the immigrant population and tight budgets from fewer manufacturing jobs brought need close.

With death of Mrs. Dorsey and a move away of Kitty Tate, chair of SAEM, leadership of the group shifted from First United Methodist to College Lutheran Church.

As need increased so did giving through the spring postal employees food drive, help with school supplies and seasonal charities like the Christmas Store.

After 30 years of building and renovating houses for the working poor, volunteers from Habitat for Humanity were moving closer to East Salem where need exists.

In the on-going effort to get young adults involved in the institutional church, two Baptist congregations spent millions to erect community recreation centers in which non-members can come free or at nominal charge to play in a spiritual atmosphere. Bonsack in Botetourt and Bethel in Salem are the newest to start such ministries.

At the other end of life, a group of Roman Catholics continued their effort to open a co-housing retirement complex near the regional airport; it’s now nearing the place where enough households have committed to living in the compact and ecologically updated apartments for a tract to be bought and building begin. Tenants will all own a share of the property, and they agree to help each other as they age together as a large family and serve others.

Many active church members also supported The Salem Historical Society which has been able to promote the city’s heritage and save some old structures from demolition. The society runs The Salem Museum which was in transition the past year following the move of its long-time director, Dr. John Long, and an interim filled by retired professor Peggy Shifflett, folklorist and author. Soon Salem-bred Frances McClung Ferguson will become the permanent administrator. More plans are coming for one of Salem’s oldest buildings, a brick residence nearing 200 years, near the Wildwood Road junction with West Main Street; Updating it for use as a tea room offers promise of a show place for years to come.

United Methodists welcomed a new Virginia bishop, not only a woman but a vibrant African-American, Sharma Lewis, from Atlanta.