By David Rogers. March 9, 2017. BLOWING ROCK, NC — Rumple Memorial Presbyterian Church welcomes a new pastor, Rev. Kathy Beach, to the pulpit on Sunday (March 12). The historic church at the south end of the downtown central district on Main Street has been without an installed pastor for several months. Blowing Rock News sat down with Rev. Beach this week to talk about some of the life experiences she brings to Blowing Rock and the circumstances of her arrival. And we got a chance to meet Dr. Beach’s children: Ryan (8th grade), Caroline (6th grade) and Janie (3rd grade) — all new students at Blowing Rock School.
All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
Blowing Rock News: So Kathy, where were you before coming to Blowing Rock and Rumple?
KB: I just moved from Wilmington, NC, over on the coast. I was serving as associate pastor at the First Presbyterian Church there. My title was Associate Pastor for Education and Discipleship, but I did a number of different things for the church over the course of time.
BRN: This past Sunday, Rumple members learned that you already have some indirect ties to Rumple through your relationship with the Lyon family. Larry Lyon, of course, was a longtime pastor here.
KB (big smile): Yes, I was the campus minister at Davidson College when I started at the Davidson College Presbyterian Church, and Hannah Lyon was a student at Davidson. I already knew her father, Larry Lyon, from seminary. I got to know Hannah when she was in college. She was involved in our campus ministry and she was one of the early babysitters for my kids.
BRN: So you must be pretty excited that Hannah is now a minister and has her own church up in New Jersey, eh?
KB: Yes! She’s doing really well up there.
BRN: Now did you come to ministry directly out of school?
KB: Yes, I did – sort of.
In a few weeks I’ll be heading down to Charlotte to spend some time with a group of Charlotte businessmen who created a scholarship fund in 1987 to send unsuspecting Davidson College students to seminary, students who they thought might some promise in ministry and would consider working in ministry. So I accepted that scholarship in my senior year of college and went directly to seminary, but because I had not been planning on that and really didn’t at that time have a great sense of call to ministry, after two years in school I left seminary and went to work in churches. I did that for two years, full-time, first for a church in Charlotte and then for one in Atlanta.
I was already sensing a call for something new.
So after that two years working in churches, I went back to seminary – and that is when I met Larry Lyon. He wasn’t there during my first round.
BRN: What did that do for you, those two years of working between the first two years and those last two years of seminary?
KB: Well, it matured me tremendously. So when I re-entered a classroom environment, I had all kinds of different questions than when I entered seminary right out of Davidson College. And if I was sharing any kind of wisdom to young people today, the other thing that was great about it was to experience the world a little bit, and then go to seminary.
That’s what I would tell young people considering seminary, because it was great to work in the church and see the work and process of ministry first hand. Then when I went back to school, it wasn’t just learning theory. It was about putting ministry into practice. Really, it was a whole different way of learning than when I first went, because I had perspective.
BRN: Where did you grow up?
KB: Upstate New York, in the Adirondack Mountains, so this area in the Blue Ridge Mountains reminds me very much of home, which was in Plattsburg, NY, near Lake Champlain, in the Adirondack Mountains.
So I grew up there, then came down and went to college at Davidson College.
BRN: Why did you pick Davidson?
KB: I told my parents that I was cold in New York and that I wanted to go where it was warmer!
But I also wanted to go to a smaller school. I had read about Davidson in a magazine. I didn’t grow up with anybody that knew about it at all. But I went for a visit and fell in love with it immediately.
I had perspective.
BRN: Now as I recall, Davidson had Presbyterian beginnings, right?
KB: Yes, but I was not Presbyterian at the time.
BRN: Were you a member of any particular denomination?
KB: Well technically, I guess I was an Episcopalian. My mother was Catholic, my father was Episcopalian. I was baptized and confirmed into the Episcopal church, but really went back and forth between those two choices during my childhood.
So I didn’t pick Davidson because it was Presbyterian. I picked it because it was a great college and a wonderful place that I wanted to be.
BRN: What was your major at Davidson?
KB: I majored in history. I was thinking before the scholarship I mentioned earlier that I was going to be a teacher.
BRN: Well I guess we could be kindred spirits because I majored in American history with a focus on the Colonial period.
KB (smiling): I was mostly American history, too. It is a good major to do almost anything in life with. It prepares you for everything and nothing at all! Nothing specifically and everything in general.
BRN: We had a recent conversation with the new President of Lenoir-Rhyne University, Dr. Fred Whitt, and part of our discussion was about the importance of a liberal arts education.
KB: Oh yes, I am a big advocate of a liberal arts education. Critical thinking is very important, especially in today’s world.
I originally thought I was going to be a teacher.
BRN: So you went to Davidson, a couple of years at seminary, worked in a couple of churches, and then went back to seminary. Same school, I mean the same seminary?
KB: Yep. Same school. That’s where I finished up.
BRN: Where was your first call after seminary?
KB (chuckling): My first call was at the same church where I just left! I was ordained at the church in Wilmington in 1997. My first time, I was there two and a half years working with teenagers and their parents, which was a great fit because I had originally thought I was going to be a teacher. Then, of course, I went into ministry, but I got to work with high school and middle school kids, as well as their whole families. The interaction was in a very different way than a public school setting would have allowed me.
After those two and a half years in Wilmington, I went back to Davidson and served at the Davidson College church for nine and a half years.
I guess you could say I was criss-crossing North Carolina because then I went to a small church in Duplin County, which is a couple of counties north of Wilmington and a couple of counties south of Wilson. This was very rural, surrounded by a lot of farmland.
I stayed there for almost four years, and then went back to Wilmington. And now I am here, in Blowing Rock!
BRN: In Duplin County, were you an associate pastor or lead or what?
KB: I was co-pastor. It was a tiny church, with a little more than 100 members.
Really, in all of the churches where I have served the people are struggling with these issues.
BRN: How about sharing something with us a little bit about your kids?
KB: Ryan is the oldest. He is 13 and likes to play baseball and video games. Caroline recently turned 12, and she loves to sing, whether in the church choir, in school, and sometimes in the shower! Janie is 9 and she loves to play outside with her friends, as well as do math.
BRN: What drew you to this call to Rumple in Blowing Rock?
KB: I think that I had a sense for a while that being a full pastor with a church of my own, rather than an associate pastor, was something that I felt really called to do. It is a challenge, though, to be a pastor as well as a single parent, so I had thought for a long time that I could only continue to be in a kind of ministry where I was an associate, as part of a large pastoral team.
Then last April I attended this wonderful conference that the Presbyterian denomination puts on for pastors who are in their mid-careers last. And at that conference they do both spiritual and vocational kinds of work with us. It really is a great thing and our pension board puts it on. This one was actually in Arkansas, and there were Presbyterian pastors from all over the country.
In one of my conversations at the conference, one of the people said, “You know, what about going to a smaller, mid-size church where people will know you and your family.”
I was already sensing a call for something new, so that thought resonated with me. It piqued my interest. I thought, “Maybe you’re right!”
Really, Rumple is the kind of church family that I think works well for me.
I knew about this church because of my friendship with Larry and Hannah Lyon, but it wasn’t even from them that I heard about this job being open. I have a really good mutual friend, a former colleague, who is a close friend of Davis and Stephanie Hankins. And she is the person who said, “Well, Rumple is looking for a new pastor. You should check that out.”
The issues are complicated.
So I read about Rumple and Blowing Rock and thought that this would be the kind of faith community in which I would be really happy and could contribute in serving. I knew the members cared about mission and that there was great music here, that they cared about the worship and their young people and really cared about the community. Those were all things that really resonated with me.
BRN: You are obviously aware of some of the turmoil in the church. Have you had some experience with that in Wilmington and elsewhere?
KB: Oh yeah. I wish that it was not true, but I think in the Presbyterian church today…really in all of the churches in which I have served the people are struggling with some of these (issues).
In Wilmington, we went through some long conversations to make sure people could hear each other. I talked about that extensively with the Rumple PNC (Pastor Nominating Committee). For some people in Wilmington, the PCUSA stance on Israel, the divesting of companies doing business with the Israeli military, that was even bigger for them than the PCUSA position on same sex relationships and marriage.
The issues are so complicated. There was a fellow I met in Nicaragua who was really speaking about that country, but I think it applies to the Middle East, too. He said, “If you come here and spend a week, you think you can write a book about it. If you stay a month, you think well maybe you could write an article. But if you stay here as long as I have, you can’t even write a sentence.”
It is that complicated and we only know part of the story when we read our news media here. We don’t live there on the ground. We don’t really know how complicated it is. He was talking about that one little country in Central America, but I think that applies all over the world. We hear little snippets in the news and we only know a teeny little bit of what is going on.
In the Christian community, one of the bigger calls we have is to love one another…It is really important to provide space for us to know one another and each other’s story.
BRN: So what is your impression of Rumple and Blowing Rock, now that you are here?
KB: Oh I am just so new. I have barely gotten here and unpacked! The people have been wonderful. So many have helped to fix up the manse (house). It’s amazing! All of the treats and treasures that were there when we arrived, from snacks to flowers. We feel very, very welcome.
BRN: Well I understand there is going to be a big reception after worship service on Sunday, so do you have any plans for a lot of exercise next week to burn off some of those calories?
KB (laughing): Sunday will be a good day of celebration for all of us. The church has been without an installed pastor for a long time and I have been through some very difficult struggles of my own. So I am looking at this as a very exciting time for everyone. My sermon for Sunday is called, “Beginning Again.”
BRN: What can you do as a pastor to help reconcile some of these differing viewpoints?
KB: I don’t have a magic answer, BUT I have some deeply held beliefs. One of those is that in the Christian community one of the biggest calls we have is to love one another. I think that sometimes it is hard for us to do that when we don’t know or understand the story of the other (side).
So I don’t have a magic “fix”, BUT I think it is really, really important that we hear each other’s stories and try to understand them. My experience in life has been that if I understand your story and where you have been, then I am going to be able to better understand where you are coming from when we don’t agree on something.
I think we can demonize people when we don’t really know them. When we don’t know where they’ve come from and who they are.
So I think that is a really important thing for us to do in the Christian community, to provide space for us to know one another.
That’s what we are really invited to do in Christianity. God knows us and wants to know us, deeply. Of course we want to know God and Jesus, but who are the hands of God and Jesus in the world today? It is the body of Christ, those of us who make up the church. We have to work hard to hear each other and to know each other. That is a huge piece of the Christian community today: telling our stories and hearing others’ stories.