Sept. 17, 2012. High Country United Church celebrated its 10th anniversary Aug. 26 with worshipers filling all 160 chairs in the sanctuary. The church, located in Vilas, held two events in honor of the milestone. On an early August Saturday evening, it hosted a picnic at Valle Crucis Park which was open to the public. Local band The Dashboard Hula Boys performed. A church talent show featured the congregation’s most artistic and gifted members. Among the talents on display were poetry reading, Bible verse recitation, singing, juggling, banjo playing, belly dancing, and magic tricks. Congregation member and professional writer and editor Linda Coutant has compiled a church history book which commemorates the church’s first decade.
Rev. Dr. Shelley Wilson, the church’s founding and current pastor is a Watauga County native and Appalachian State University graduate. She holds degrees from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Duke University Divinity School, and Wesley Theological Seminary. “The first 10 years of our church’s life have been challenging and joyful. We wrestle with what it means to take seriously our spiritual and physical responsibility to live humbly, justly, and lovingly with God, Earth, and others. Being part of a faith community that is progressive, inclusive, and creative has been a supreme blessing for me,” said Wilson.
The church’s congregation first met on Aug, 25, 2002, at the Blowing Rock Assembly Grounds, a facility operated by the United Church of Christ (UCC) denomination. Thanks to a campaign that included a mass mailing and newspaper articles, 155 people attended the first Sunday.
The church’s mission reads: “We come together as High Country United Church to create a safe, loving environment, to discover and cultivate spiritual growth, and to establish community by reflecting and celebrating God’s love. Our mission is to inspire positive change in our world as we are led by Christ’s example of love, compassion, and acceptance of all people.” The church uses the UCC’s motto “God is still speaking,” which is based on the Gracie Allen quote “Never place a period where God has placed a comma.”
After moving to and then outgrowing buildings in Foscoe and on State Farm Road in Boone, the congregation moved to its present location in 2004.
The church’s website states: “We believe God challenges us is to be a community of faith that is inclusive; to offer unconditional safety and acceptance; to create an open and thoughtful atmosphere for welcome; and to be active in the world, working and advocating for justice and peace.”
In keeping with that vision, the church has made an impact in the High Country over the years.
The church initiated several social justice ministry efforts, such as founding and helping to launch F.A.R.M. Cafe in 2012. The community restaurant, which opened on May 1st to help relieve hunger, is located at the historic Boone Drug downtown fountain location. As its web site says, it provides “high-quality and delicious meals produced from local sources, served in a restaurant where everybody eats, regardless of means.”
In 2011, High Country United Church was recognized as an “Open and Affirming” church by the UCC Coalition for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns. “We love to spread the news that all God’s children are celebrated, not in spite of who they are, but because of whom the Creator made them to be,” Wilson said.
In early 2012, the church launched a campaign in opposition to Amendment One, the referendum that would amend the state constitution to make marriage between a man and a woman the only legally recognized union in NC. Church members participated in public meetings, wrote letters to newspapers, and funded and appeared in advertisements in an effort to stop the ballot measure. Although the state passed the amendment, it failed to garner a majority of votes in Watauga County.
Very active in community efforts, the church participates in Appalachian State’s annual “I Have Dream Week” in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King and the Tom Moore 5K Run/Walk for Huntington’s Disease. The congregation works with Habitat for Humanity, Hospitality House, the Hunger Coalition, the Community Care Clinic, OASIS, the Humane Society, and other area nonprofits. It also built a church garden and provides the harvested produce to FARM Cafe. Additional activities have included firewood delivery to those in need, lawn mowing for disabled home owners, work days at local schools, and helping families in Mountain City repair tornado damage. On the national level, the church made five mission trips to New Orleans to help with Katrina recovery and assembled dozens of hygiene kits for disaster relief.
“Caring for others and helping make the world a better place are primary motivations for our congregation,” said church council moderator Chris May. “Many needs exist in a community, and our church likes giving attention to the unpopular gaps that other organizations may not address. There are a lot of brave people in our church who are willing to boldly take a stand on important issues.”
The church is affiliated with the UCC, a mainline Protestant Christian denomination that formed in 1957 from a merger of the Evangelical and Reformed Church and the Congregational Christian Churches. The UCC includes about 5,000 congregations, comprising 1.08 million members.
High Country United Church is located at 8233 U.S. 421 North, about seven miles northwest of Boone. The church website is www.highcountryucc.org. For more information, contact the church at 828-297-1092.