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by Laura Lehman Amstutz
Most churches would not place hunting and mission outreach together, but one congregation in West Augusta, Va., has discovered a way to connect with the hunters who come into their area to pursue their favorite pastime.
West Augusta United Methodist church has been holding its annual “Hunters Service” each year since the early 1960s. This year, first-year Eastern Mennonite Seminary student Tommy Crosby presided over the event held Sunday evening, Nov. 19. The service included a hymn sing and a special blessing for the hunters.
This service has become a tradition for some persons who come to the area to hunt every year. One hunter said his father and grandfather came to this area from Pennsylvania to hunt each year and began attending the special Sunday evening service. Now he attends.
One group of men who hunt together even prepare special music every year for this service.
“The service is well-known among Methodist churches,” said Crosby . “When I told people I was taking this position at West Augusta they would say, ‘Oh that’s the church with the hunter service.’”
According to Crosby , about 65 people attended on Sunday evening. Of this group, between 15 and 20 were church members and the rest were visitors. A large group of hunters came from Pennsylvania and others came from the Tidewater area in Virginia . There were also a number of local people who weren’t church members.
The area around West Augusta United Methodist Church is a well-known hunting spot. Even before Crosby began to pastor the church he had been to the area to hunt and hike. “People have cabins and hunting camps here,” said Crosby . “They might only come in for a few weekends or a little while in the summer.”
Crosby, himself a hunter, planned a service that included a short meditation on the relationships hunters build with God and with each other as they are hunting. He encouraged the hunters to think about God as they are out in nature. He spent time praying for the hunters, both that they would be safe and also that they would notice God’s presence while in the woods.
Following the service, the church held a fellowship meal so the hunters, church members and local visitors could talk to each other. Church members have built relationships with the hunters. They hug the men and greet them warmly, almost like family, illustrating that members of a small, rural church have found a way to reach out to others – even those who only show up once or twice a year.