United in Papertown

By Rev. Paul Brown | Apr 16, 2014

Last July, I moved to Canton, North Carolina - a town nestled between the mountains just west of Asheville and well known in the region for the paper mill that is the largest employer in the county. Numbering just over 4,000 souls, Canton is a small town.

Because of the paper mill, Canton doesn't attract the same number of seasonal tourists that flock to the quaint mountain towns of Waynesville, Black Mountain, or Brevard.

Instead, many of the people who call Canton home are folks who grew up here, who have family members who work at or have retired from the mill, who root for the high school football team and march in the Labor Day parade, who see their childhood teachers in the Ingles grocery store, and who run into their neighbors at Sid's on Main restaurant. Since everybody pretty much knows everybody else in Canton, news travels fast and prayer requests travel even faster.

As the Yankee-kid-pastor appointed to serve Central United Methodist Church, you could say that I am a guest in this town. Having grown up in New Jersey - the land of bumper to bumper traffic where your neighbors might wave at you (but it's a different kind of wave!) - I'm still learning a lot about small town Southern life.

But after spending almost a year sharing life with these deeply loyal and big hearted folks that I call my friends, I'm convinced that Canton has something to teach the rest of us.
Since I was raised a Baptist, went to school with the Presbyterians, and finally, was ordained by the Methodists, I have a passion for unity in the Church. We are constantly being told that our differences are bigger than the things that unite us, a lie from our national politics that has seeped into America's churches.

At a time when more of our neighbors are without a spiritual home than ever before, Christians have an opportunity to rally around a common mission to spread the good news of God's love in Jesus through our words and actions. Instead, the evangelical and progressive wings in the Church seem intent on demonizing each other, preferring a political agenda over the Gospel and a church where everyone agrees with them over Jesus's call for us to be one "so that the world will believe."

Not so in Canton. In a place where you know your neighbors, it's hard to demonize those who disagree with you. In a place where you know your neighbors, it's hard to argue about differences while there are school children waiting to be fed. Since moving here in July, I have seen God break down artificial barriers by uniting a loose coalition of churches in prayer and mission.

More than ever, I am convinced that this is how God will reconcile his quarreling children. Not with words at the top levels of denominational agencies, but with actions at the grassroots level of local communities. We are not all the same. We are evangelicals and progressives. We are United Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Southern Baptists, and Wesleyans.

But we pray together. We gather for worship on Thanksgiving and Good Friday. On Ash Wednesday, we carry ashes into the streets of the town, offering and receiving prayers for our neighbors. When the United States teetered on the brink of another war in Syria, we gathered to pray.
And we work together. We share turns at the Community Kitchen, serving the hungry in our town with a hot meal each day. We donate coats to keep our neighbors warm.

When we found out that there were over 15 homeless children at our middle school who go hungry over the weekends, we sprung into action, filling backpacks with food and toiletries for the most vulnerable members of our community.
In a place where you pray and work with your neighbors, it's hard to see them as enemies. This is the gift that the small town has to teach the rest of us. This is the "more excellent way." This is what unity looks like in Papertown, U.S.A.

"I encourage you to live as people worthy of the call you received from God. Conduct yourselves with all humility, gentleness, and patience. Accept each other with love, and make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together. You are one body and one spirit, just as God also called you in one hope. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, who is over all, through all, and in all."  Ephesians 4:1-6

The Rev. Paul Brown is the pastor at Canton Central United Methodist Church.

Comments (11)
Posted by: Scott Lilly | Apr 17, 2014 06:39

The more involvement a community has in churches, the stronger a community will be.  Wouldn't it be great if we could have taxpayer choice.  Rather than send our funds to the US government who will create federal social assistance programs we could opt to send funds to private social programs or churches.  Kind of like George Bush's faith-based initiative -- but rather than government taking taxpayer money and redistributing it, incentives are given to donate to charity/churches WHILE AT THE SAME TIME reducing the federal social programs as local charities pick up the slack. 


Imagine what Canton would be if we stopped sending perhaps 8% of all income taxes paid to Washington and instead sent 8% to the charity or church of your choice in Canton!  Those churches and charities that were effective would get more than those that weren't.  And Canton-based social services would do much better than a Washington-based program.  I'm just sayin!  I mean do I REALLY need Washington to send my taxes to Afghanistan for charitable causes there?



Posted by: Charles Zimmerman | Apr 17, 2014 11:06

               Charitable donations are tax deductible.

                Progressive people of many faiths or none fought and won OUR revolution so "All persons" may pay homage to the God(s) of their choosing or no God. The intent was to return the practice of religion back to before Constantine incorporated the trinity into the law. This intent was mentioned in several places, but James Madison in his Remonstrance and Remembrance Against Assessments in Favour of the Teachers of the Christian Religion, spells it out quite well:

Because experience witnesseth that eccelsiastical establishments, instead of maintaining the purity and efficacy of Religion, have had a contrary operation. During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution. Enquire of the Teachers of Christianity for the ages in which it appeared in its greatest lustre; those of every sect, point to the ages prior to its incorporation with Civil policy. Propose a restoration of this primitive State in which its Teachers depended on the voluntary rewards of their flocks, many of them predict its downfall. On which Side ought their testimony to have greatest weight, when for or when against their interest?


  • Because the establishment in question is not necessary for the support of Civil Government. If it be urged as necessary for the support of Civil Government only as it is a means of supporting Religion, and it be not necessary for the latter purpose, it cannot be necessary for the former. If Religion be not within the cognizance of Civil Government how can its legal establishment be necessary to Civil Government? What influence in fact have ecclesiastical establishments had on Civil Society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the Civil authority; in many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny: in no instance have they been seen the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wished to subvert the public liberty, may have found an established Clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just Government instituted to secure & perpetuate it needs them not. Such a Government will be best supported by protecting every Citizen in the enjoyment of his Religion with the same equal hand which protects his person and his property; by neither invading the equal rights of any Sect, nor suffering any Sect to invade those of another.


  • Because the proposed establishment is a departure from the generous policy, which, offering an Asylum to the persecuted and oppressed of every Nation and Religion, promised a lustre to our country, and an accession to the number of its citizens. What a melancholy mark is the Bill of sudden degeneracy? Instead of holding forth an Asylum to the persecuted, it is itself a signal of persecution. It degrades from the equal rank of Citizens all those whose opinions in Religion do not bend to those of the Legislative authority. Distant as it may be in its present form from the Inquisition, it differs from it only in degree. The one is the first step, the other the last in the career of intolerance. The maganimous sufferer under this cruel scourge in foreign Regions, must view the Bill as a Beacon on our Coast, warning him to seek some other haven, where liberty and philanthrophy in their due extent, may offer a more certain respose from his Troubles.


  • Because it will have a like tendency to banish our Citizens. The allurements presented by other situations are every day thinning their number. To superadd a fresh motive to emigration by revoking the liberty which they now enjoy, would be the same species of folly which has dishonoured and depopulated flourishing kingdoms


  • Because it will destroy that moderation and harmony which the forbearance of our laws to intermeddle with Religion has produced among its several sects. Torrents of blood have been split in the old world, by vain attempts of the secular arm, to extinguish Religious disscord, by proscribing all difference in Religious opinion. Time has at length revealed the true remedy. Every relaxation of narrow and rigorous policy, wherever it has been tried, has been found to assauge the disease. The American Theatre has exhibited proofs that equal and compleat liberty, if it does not wholly eradicate it, sufficiently destroys its malignant influence on the health and prosperity of the State. If with the salutary effects of this system under our own eyes, we begin to contract the bounds of Religious freedom, we know no name that will too severely reproach our folly. At least let warning be taken at the first fruits of the threatened innovation. The very appearance of the Bill has transformed "that Christian forbearance, love and chairty," which of late mutually prevailed, into animosities and jeolousies, which may not soon be appeased. What mischiefs may not be dreaded, should this enemy to the public quiet be armed with the force of a law?


  • Because the policy of the Bill is adverse to the diffusion of the light of Christianity. The first wish of those who enjoy this precious gift ought to be that it may be imparted to the whole race of mankind. Compare the number of those who have as yet received it with the number still remaining under the dominion of false Religions; and how small is the former! Does the policy of the Bill tend to lessen the disproportion? No; it at once discourages those who are strangers to the light of revelation from coming into the Region of it; and countenances by example the nations who continue in darkness, in shutting out those who might convey it to them. Instead of Levelling as far as possible, every obstacle to the victorious progress of Truth, the Bill with an ignoble and unchristian timidity would circumscribe it with a wall of defence against the encroachments of error.

              Thank you Mr. Madison.





    Posted by: Scott Lilly | Apr 17, 2014 12:04

    Tax-deductible charitable donations IN LIEU OF the money the Fed takes from taxpayers to redistribute as they like: to Afghanistan or elsewhere.  That's the wonderful concept.  Return the power to the people to choose where their "the least of us" contribution to society should go.  Most likely will choose locally and ensure accountability with their choice to put it where it does the most good.  Uncle Sam sure does a poor job redistributing wealth.  They actually motivate people to become dependent on government assistance.  That's no way to be American -- or religious in accordance to any religion I know of.

    Posted by: Charles Zimmerman | Apr 17, 2014 16:19

                  No one can become "dependent on government assistance" for very long. No one.


    Posted by: Scott Lilly | Apr 17, 2014 18:24

    And what is your proposal to those who exceed "very long"?  If you have as way to get people off government assistance before "very long", I likely would support it.  And who gets to decide what "very long" is?

    Posted by: Charles Zimmerman | Apr 18, 2014 08:38

               We the people thru OUR duly elected representatives have put certain and particular requirements as to who and why anyone can obtain government assistance. Those that qualify are then subject to the limitations by law as to how much money can be obtained, and how long they can obtain any assistance. Anyone violating any requirements/restrictions can be held accountable.

                     The various requirements and accompanying restrictions can be found on the program site.

                      Workman's comp. only lasts so long and by mccrory's action only pays about $250.00 a week regardless of what a worker was receiving before even though they paid in based on income. Puts a real hardship on those previously used to making substantially more, especially as they paid into the insurance fund to insure their lifestyle was for the most part protected while they seek further employment.

                   If you've ever followed someone inline at a grocery store using food stamps you would be well aware that the checkout clerk checks and verifies every item to insure it qualifies as a proper food stamp purchase. I have not seen any food stamp user buying premium steaks nor lobster contrary to the claims of "rayguns" and mitt.

                     Wellfare and or govt. housing must be applied for and restrictions abided by.

                       Non-contributers cannot get SSD(Social Security Disability) and payments are pro-rated on paid in funds available, if the person qualifies.

                       SSI(Social Security Income) is for those like my sister in law who have not paid into SS, have not worked outside the home, nor are capable to, nor are old enough to get SS on their own or their spouses.

                       SSD can be rescinded and all funds repaid with interest and fines if fraud has occurred. A man in Kentucky fell off his truck and broke several vertebraes. He was near SS retirement and was diagnosed not able to work and qualified for SSD. He had been a volunteer for local police when they needed someone to direct traffic, clean-up, etc. They asked him to drive an escort car for a funeral. Funeral home paid him $50.00. Some ingrate and hateful  person(mother in law)  found out and called SS and lodged a complain. Without any on site investigation he lost SSD, had to pay repay all funds received plus interest plus fines. Wife lost bank job. House went into foreclosure. Many people were very upset. The culprit that turned him in is not known by any except family. A family member helped this unfortunate man get his house back. His wife obtained employment and he is doing odds and end jobs with great pain. "Culpret" hits local food banks with great passion while carrying very large amount of cash on her person.

                        While government assistance to the needy has been heavily restricted/regulated, We the people have been subsidizing the well-off by not requiring them pay their fair share of the pot. We the people have been subsidizing OUR own demise by paying for outsourcing by means of OUR tax-codes. The greatest shift in wealth/power has occurred thru "trickle-down" and the failure of US to hold the well-off accountable.



    Posted by: Charles Zimmerman | Apr 18, 2014 09:07

    "In a place where you pray and work with your neighbors, it's hard to see them as enemies. This is the gift that the small town has to teach the rest of us. This is the "more excellent way." This is what unity looks like in Papertown, U.S.A."


                      This is outrageous! Is it no wonder the oppression of bigotry as experienced by those victimized by bullies is all too prevelant in OUR public schools? OUR Founders certainly did not unite in religion. They united under a Constitution that equally protects all opinions. "Epluribusunum" quite well defines and describes their unifying action. Out of many one.



    Posted by: Scott Lilly | Apr 18, 2014 15:51

    Hey, ya'll, I got this.


    Mr. Zimmerman, I will pray for you this Easter and Passover.  As liberal as you are, you are my fellow man and neighbor and I wish you blessings.

    Posted by: Charles Zimmerman | Apr 19, 2014 09:23

                    Yes Mr. Scott, We are all in this together and as such have an obligation to each other by means of the "Social Contract". Regardless of religious opinion. But it cannot be forgotten that it was "Free Will" Baptist that aligned in support of such things as Madison's Remonstrance and Remembrance while evangelicals primarily supported Patrick Henry's Assessment bill in Favour of the Teachers of the Christian Religion. The fallout not only lifted Madison's reputation, and resulted in Henry not being re-elected, it solidified support for the Revolution and religious Liberty, as Jefferson's Act was then passed and We the people have bennefited ever since.  

                          As was common in that day Henry's Assessment bill and Madison's Remonstrance which George Mason  now an officer in Washington's army asked Madison to write, were posted in public places, nailed to trees, buildings, etc for a year. By not re-electing Henry, the people themselves spoke. Too bad this does not still take place.




    Posted by: Allen Alsbrooks | Apr 19, 2014 13:59

    We speak, but then people like Commissioner Ensley label us as "uneducated" for standing up to confront them.

    Posted by: Charles Zimmerman | Apr 20, 2014 10:23

               I know Mr. Ensley. To a small degree. He is very professional, curteous, etc. Uses common sense. "Educate" him to the common sense issue of the problem We are facing, Mr. Alsbrooks.

                Speech dun't require proper speling. 



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