By Sarah Lowther Hensley
In the summer of 2000, the MonValley District Superintendent asked Zinn to help at the Walnut Grove Charge. One month after a new pastor had arrived, her cancer had returned and she was too ill to preach. Within less than a year she passed away. Zinn, a lay speaker and member of another congregation, filled in for the remainder of the year. At the next annual conference he was appointed assigned supply and the following year he was appointed as a Licensed Local Pastor. He’s been there ever since.
“We have fun,” laughs Zinn. “Even in the midst of all the hardships of ministry, it’s still fun to minister to the people.”
The Holy Spirit is moving at Walnut Grove, Levels and Colfax churches and Jim Zinn is thrilled to be along for the journey. His authentic down-to-earth personality has resonated with members of these congregations and people in the surrounding communities.
The churches are growing.
If you ask Zinn why, he will point to (among other things) bells, breakfast and baptism.
Zinn says new ideas from the congregation can spark excitement and participation.
One day a member of the congregation approached Zinn and remarked that her mother’s church had handbells. She wondered if maybe this church could, too.
“So we bought handbells,” says Zinn.
Children from the church and those who came for Vacation Bible School all look forward to playing the multi-colored bells.
“They’d tell their parents, ‘It’s bell Sunday! We have to go,’” says Zinn. “Last Sunday they played and I think there were 22 of them across the front of the church. That’s why we have the young people coming. It’s just exciting.”
For about five years, Walnut Grove has hosted a once-a-month Saturday morning men’s breakfast. On average about 60 men attend each month, and Zinn says about half of those who come don’t attend church anywhere.
“When a man’s come to breakfast, he’s accomplished two things,” says Zinn. “He walked into a church and the roof didn’t fall in. And he sat at a table with a group and was accepted and a part of. Right there’s two big hurdles.”
Zinn says the breakfast is successful because the men own it.
“They gather the food. They call people to remind them. They get speakers. They cook the food,” says Zinn. “There are only two requirements. Be male. Be hungry.”
In addition to filling their stomachs and enjoying each other’s company, the men collect money to help the boys at Stepping Stones, a nearby Level I residential treatment center for troubled boys. They buy them what they need to get started each school year and they provide for them at Christmas.
Zinn believes building relationship and getting to know people is a powerful way to witness for Christ.
“Table time is what’s missing,” states Zinn. “If you want to get to know people in your church [or your community], you sit down at a covered dish dinner or a picnic and share a meal and you really get to know the people. One hour on Sunday morning – that’s not enough to learn how to be the church.”
And “being the church” involves translating relationships with one another into relationships with Christ.
On August 30, 2015, Zinn baptized 17 people in one day with water from the Tygart River.
“On that particular day, we used all three forms of baptism,” recalls Zinn.
Most waded into the river to be immersed. A few could not enter the water for health reasons and Zinn poured river water over them along the bank. One infant was carried out into the river and water was sprinkled on her.
An additional person was baptized at the church a few weeks later.
“It’s been a truly blessed year,” Zinn smiles. “Anywhere from this two-month-old to one of these ladies about 82 years old and everywhere in between. Teenagers, moms, dads, sons, and daughters as a family unit.”
Zinn plans to retire in 2017. He will be 72, the mandatory retirement age for United Methodist pastors. He is already working with the congregations to prepare them for moving forward when a new pastor is appointed to serve the charge. He has faith that the momentum and passion for serving the community and building up the Body of Christ will continue.
“God’s done all this,” he says. “‘Cause it’s not me.”
*Baptism photos courtesy of the Walnut Grove Charge.
*This post first appeared in the Winter 2015 (December) edition of The Mountain Circuit, a publication of the West Virginia Annual Conference.