Scottsville welcomes a creative minister

Contributed by Harvey J. Sorum

The Reverend Laura Stratton and her family arrived at their new home in Scottsville this July to minister at Scottsville United Methodist Church (SUMC) and Mount Zion UMC (MZU) in Esmont. As is the norm, everyone was a little on edge to see if the change would be a positive one.  But this was quickly answered after meeting her, talking with her about her goals, and listening to her enthusiastic sermon.  Ever since then, attendance has increased and potential new members have attended church.

She was interviewed for the Fluvanna Review.

Tell us a little about you and your family.

My husband, J.R., and I have been married for nine years, and we have two daughters. Our oldest is 7 and is going into second grade at Scottsville Elementary this year. Our youngest is 4, and she will be at the Scottsville UMC’s preschool. We all love music and reading, and the girls can often be found dancing and singing out loud to whatever is our favorite music of the week. We also spend as much time outside as we can.

Are you a native Virginian?

Yes. I born in Bedford and then grew up in Luray, graduating from Luray High School. I’ve also lived in Williamsburg and in Arlington and Alexandria.

What are your most memorable experiences as a minister?

One of my most memorable experiences was presiding over the Holy Communion table for the first time. In the United Methodist Church, we believe that Communion is a way by which God extends us grace, and we believe that we encounter the Lord whenever we partake of the bread and juice. Communion has been a holy moment for me since I was a child, and I loved being able to finally offer this gift of God to others.

Another memorable experience happened at my first church about six months after I arrived. I was given a role in the Christmas pageant as the innkeeper’s wife, and I had to sing a solo. I do not have a solo voice, and since I was still new to being a pastor and speaking in public, I struggled to loosen up and relax into the role. I ended up doing an okay job, but what was memorable was the love and grace that the congregation extended to me. It reminded me that I don’t have to be perfect as a preacher or minister, but rather, I just need to serve from the heart, with love, whatever I am called to do.

How do you plan on children taking an interest in formal religion?

I don’t think this is the right question. I want children, and people of all ages, to experience God’s love and to love God, others, and themselves in return. I hope this happens within the context of a local church, because faith communities offer us opportunities to grow in faithfulness and knowledge and love of God. They help us tap into centuries of Christian wisdom as we wrestle with issues of faith. They connect us to a larger communion of believers, and they remind us that our faith is at its best when it is in communion and conversation with others. We also are reminded that our faith is a global faith that transcends geography and time. The church ideally helps to form people of all ages into faithful disciples who then offer to the world a glimpse of the kingdom of God, where love, mercy, and justice are the hallmark features.

How does this happen with children? Our goal is to offer events and experiences where children will begin to experience the love of God, and from there, we can invite them and their families into a closer relationship with the church and with God.

Will you be meeting with area leaders such as other pastors, city officials, lay leaders, etc.?

Yes. I am meeting with as many community leaders as I can. Since I am new to the area, I want to learn as much about the communities of Scottsville and Esmont as I can. I want to hear the strengths and challenges of these communities, because we, at the churches, want to do ministry and programming that speaks not only to our gifts and interests, but also the needs and interests of those around us.

SUMC has a very large social hall for meetings and social events.  Can you use this to attract new members?

I don’t know if our social hall itself can attract new members. What the social hall enables us to do at Scottsville UMC is to host events that may be of benefit to the larger community and allow outside groups to use our facility for their work. I see this as a crucial part of being a servant church in the Scottsville community, and I know Scottsville UMC has done exactly this in the past. As COVID restrictions recede again, we plan to use our fellowship hall safely once more for all ages.

With so many interests and obligations of everyone today, church is now a low priority. How do you plan on getting your fair share of their time?

I think the challenge for those of us in the church is to create experiences – worship or small group or even committee meetings – so that people can find meaning and love and will want to be engaged. We don’t want to guilt people into attending. Instead, church experiences ideally are spiritually renewing for people and connect people to God and to one another. When we form true community, then I think people want to be engaged and will make it a priority.

You mentioned during your one sermon that we should all be creative and use the “tools” we already have.  Would you explain this?

Well, first I would say to check out our worship service on Aug. 1, 2021 on our YouTube channel (Southern Albemarle Charge of the UMC). But briefly, I want us to recognize that we have been gifted with an abundance of resources, even if they aren’t the traditional resources we may think about. Each person involved in our churches has gifts that they can offer, and the Bible is filled with stories of people serving God and others in a variety of ways no matter their age. So, how can we be creative in using our tools and gifts to serve God and love others? For example, perhaps an individual loves worship and God, but is really shy and doesn’t want to participate in leading worship in any way. But that individual also has a gift for design. So, one creative use of their talents could be to decorate the front of the church in a way that supports the theme of worship and elevates our hearts to God.

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