By Frances Stebbins

Second of Two Parts: Botetourt Changes

(This is a chapter in a Memoir, “Give Light…” of the six decades the author has spent writing about faith communities in daily, weekly and monthly news publications covering the western third of Virginia.)

People driving along U.S. 220 in the Daleville area of Botetourt County may see on a hill a building with an eight-foot sign of a wild goose. That makes some wonder if it’s a hunting lodge.

That’s all right with Bob Fiedler, who coordinates the work of the Wild Goose Christian Community. The retirement-age Presbyterian minister told me recently that folk who would ignore a church with a cross or steeple have stopped by on a Thursday evening at 6:30 and enjoyed the food and fellowship so much that they came back.

The community with the goose name derived from the Celtic language for “Holy Spirit.” In Roman Britain the native Celts developed a spiritual belief system strongly connected to God’s natural world.  In an effort to bring persons with no formal religion in their lives into an awareness of a Higher Power, some church planners have developed gatherings without the formalities of Sunday worship, Fiedler explained.

The Wild Goose group has been getting together since November 2017. Anywhere from 20 to 40 folk of all ages may show up. They start with a potluck meal at a time convenient for those coming home from work. At 7:15 those attending move to the fellowship area in what was once Peace Presbyterian Church.

There the convenor welcomes volunteer singers and some who pray and share. Attire is informal and children are welcome.  In the rapidly growing suburban county, where history is still a major interest for some residents but others couldn’t care less, Wild Goose represents the church for a new age.

For Fiedler himself and his clergy wife, Dusty, being involved with Wild Goose represents an exciting adjustment to advancing years and the realities of today. I first met the couple, when they were recently wed and ordained, some 35 years ago when they came from Richmond to assist at a large Roanoke congregation.  It was still a novelty for both a husband and wife to serve as clergy.

Soon Bob and Dusty left Roanoke for their own parish in North Carolina but came back to serve the new Covenant Church in a prosperous Southwest Roanoke suburb as co-pastors. I wrote of their sharing of duties there.

A son’s serious accident, a daughter’s call to a church vocation and finally Dusty’s remarkable recovery from cancer were overlaid in the burgeoning growth of the congregation. Retirement was indicated three years ago.

But at 66, Bob Fiedler recalled, they could still try something new. Wild Goose was the answer. It represented a chance to touch a population unreached by traditional Sunday morning practices.

It also offered use for a building built on dreams that never quite materialized over the past 30 years. Why?

A local pastor, familiar with the many adjustments Presbyterians have faced in the 35 years since the former southern and northern branches of the denomination united, observed that “Peace Church just got lost between presbyteries.”

My clippings about the new mission, served by several ministers, reveal a string of unfortunate events: volunteer help with a building not finished as planned, problems with the site, even the minister getting sick on dedication day when I visited in 2006. Finally, the work was abandoned.

But, Bob Fiedler observed, everything is in place for a community gathering place –cooking and eating space, playroom, room for small meetings, a spectacular view.  The little group is feeling its way, and like the early Celts, relating to God’s world.

Recently, those who come regularly decided they could help their community in a small way by supplying supplemental food and toiletries for needy children in the rural area of Botetourt served by James River High School.

Over at St. Mark’s Episcopal, one of Fincastle’s historic parishes, a small outreach ministry to the community involves several members working weekly with pupils who need help with their homework. This church also offered meeting space several years ago to a Mennonite congregation seeking to become established in Botetourt.