Tryon First Baptists new pastor served hospital chaplaincy, Virginia church

Published 8:29 pm Friday, December 11, 2009

The Rev. Jeff Harris began his new post as minister in Tryon on the Sunday after Thanksgiving.
Dr. Darryl Maxwell retired two years ago, after serving Tryon First Baptist for 27 years. For the past two years, Dr. Bill Henderson served as the interim minister while a search committee, led by Elizabeth Burrell, sought a permanent replacement.
The Rev. Harris, 36, is a native of North Wilkesboro and a 1996 graduate of Appalachian State University. After college he worked a year in a childrens home and then enrolled in Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, N.C. to study for his master of divinity degree.
After graduation from Campbell, the Rev. Harris served a one-year residency in the clinical pastoral education program at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center. He was one of 12 residents serving under the guidance of six chaplain supervisors for patients in the 900-bed hospital in Winston-Salem.
The chaplaincy at Wake Forest medical center was a lot of growing packed into one year, Harris said. He learned in a year what it would have taken years in a church parish to learn about death and suffering.
“I learned that when people suffer they want to try to make some sense out of it,” Harris said. “That is where faith can help, to know we are not alone.”
The Rev. Harris worked in the pediatric oncology center, and said while he saw a lot of death, he was also impressed with the resiliency of the children and he saw a lot of them get better.
He also learned during that time to be “intentional” about getting away from it all, remembering that every suffering was not his suffering, and that life also holds much beauty and hope.
The Rev. Harris left Wake Forest for his first pastorate at First Baptist Church of Independence, Va., a city of 1,200 people located in southwestern Virginia, near Galax in Grayson County, population 18,000.
While the mountains and the population numbers for Tryon are similar, Harris said Polk County is not nearly as isolated and economically depressed. Furniture manufacturing plants and jobs have left Grayson County over the years, he explained.
“There is a lot of music and art and culture there,” he said, “but much more distinctively Appalachian.” He enjoyed a lot of fly fishing on the New River, and the views of Mount Rogers, Virginias highest peak. Galax is home to the Old Time Fiddlers Convention every year.
The First Baptist Church in Independence had faced a significant conflict before he arrived, Harris said. “They needed someone to bring healing and unity. After two or three years of focusing inward, then we turned our focus outward,” he said, “ministering to the schools and community.”
The. Rev. Harris served in Independence for seven years before being called to Tryon First Baptist.
First Baptist Church in Tryon opened its doors in 1891. The church is a congregation in the “free and faithful” Baptist tradition, Harris said.
“We emphasize the priesthood of all believers, the autonomy of the local church, the right and responsibility of every individual to interpret the Bible and to follow Christ,” the Rev. Harris said.
“Here is one way FBC describes itself: We believe the church, as imperfect as it may be, is the best answer God gives for establishing and expressing our Christian faith.”
Harris and his wife, Jodi, who previously served as Minister of Education at FBC, North Wilkesboro, have a three-year-old daughter, Harper, and a one-month-old son, Simms.
The family is living with Jodis father, the Rev. Dean Baughn, the pastor of First Baptist Church in Rutherfordton, until they can move their belongings to a house they have purchased on Houston Road in Columbus.

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