This Week’s Issue: So that the reader can become more familiar with the characters appearing in Homer’s Point of View, I sometimes ask our key characters for their individual outlooks. These viewpoints may, or may not, coincide accurately with Homer’s. The Rev. Calvin Payne has been part of Homer’s human family almost since the beginning, but I am sure that Homer has no idea how barren his relationship with Rev. Payne really is.
My name is Calvin Payne
I was born and raised here in Fannin County, GA., and I am the pastor of the Wilscot Creek Baptist church which is located near Isabel and Ray Whitlow’s bed and breakfast just outside of Morganton, GA. Ray and Isabel Whitlow have been members of our church since my daddy was the pastor back in the early 1940s. Ray and I grew up just a few miles from each other and knew each other as kids. After I graduated from the Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC, in 1955, I was assistant pastor at this church until my daddy passed, and then I moved up to the position of pastor.
It isn’t an easy job maintaining my flock here in north Georgia. Our core members go all the way back to the beginning of this church, and we have members in their 80s and 90s who have attended here since they were children. Folks around here don’t like to talk about it, but in this area, only fifty-five percent of the population live above the nation’s poverty line. Good, high-paying jobs are scarce, and many of our young people end up leaving the area to find work. There are lots more opportunities for high-paying jobs 100 miles away in Atlanta and only 60 miles away in Chattanooga, so we lose a lot of our young folks to the cities.
The economy is slowly growing in this region, and our tourism industry is expanding steadily since the development of our new Route 515 four-lane from Atlanta has begun. Folks around here view the new highway as a curse and a blessing combined as people pour into the area from the city to sample our spectacular views, clean TVA lakes, and our peaceful way of life. As a pastor, I see this influx as a good thing because our offering plates benefit as out-of-town Baptists visit our church, and we get to meet interesting folks from the more urban areas of the southeast.
When Ray Whitlow died suddenly in 1982, I was proud to be there for Isabel as she dealt with her loss and then continued on to complete their ‘vision’ at the Faded Glory Farm. Ray and Isabel had spent years restoring the property, and it was good to see the project come to fruition. Today, their Bed and Breakfast has become a popular local tourist attraction, and it has helped to put our little town on the map up here in the mountains.
I understand that your author has asked me to make a few comments about Isabel’s dog, Homer, but this is a bit problematic for me. I really don’t think that Homer likes me very much. On the other hand, Homer is not one of my ‘favorites’ either. Homer takes advantage of every opportunity to harass me when I visit Faded Glory. When my twin brother, Sheriff Kenny, visits the Inn, Homer never raises a hackle, but he seems to single me out for hostile treatment whenever I arrive there. I could understand this if I wore my robes, but when we’re out and about, Kenny and I usually dress pretty much alike. I’ve always considered myself to be a good person . . . I don’t take Homer’s aggression personally, of course, but I guess the chemistry just isn’t there. I’m sorry I can’t say more about Homer.
Although she was originally brought up a Methodist, Isabel Whitlow has always seemed comfortable at our church; but based upon his body language and attendance, I always suspected that even though Ray Whitlow maintained his membership, he really didn’t feel comfortable being here. Over the years, Ray and I have talked often about various subjects, some serious, some not, but I could never get him to address any discomfort with me or his faith. Now that he is gone, I must assume that his issues were probably personal, but I will never know. Each of us comes with his or her own demons, I guess. I am very happy to count Isabel as a happy and active member of our flock. She is truly loved and appreciated here at Wilscot Creek Baptist Church.
I am no longer a young man, but I have witnessed a tremendous amount of change in this small county. People come in from Atlanta like our zealous missionaries of the ‘olden days,’ hoping to bring the civilized ways of the city to the ‘unwashed’ population of these small mountain communities. As more affluent out-of-town church-goers visit, buy land, and build summer homes in this area, our offering plate, as well as the county’s tax rolls, are beginning to grow by leaps and bounds. But, the very people who come here longing for the peace, quiet, simplicity and nostalgia of the “good old days” soon want to change this paradise into the very environment that they have abandoned to come here. This seems to me to be a classic case of “the grass is always greener . . .” We are what we are, and lots of our older folks are finding it difficult to change with the times.
My business is religion. Our bottom line is the same, and the ‘bill of fare’ at my church is the same at other churches of our denomination throughout the world. I was put here to serve, and to keep the light of our faith burning brightly as our world changes all around us. If you ever have occasion to visit our small mountain community, you are always welcome at our church. You will also get to see a quiet and peaceful part of Appalachia that is still relatively untainted by the world-at-large, where people still love and watch out for each other, and are, for the most part, trusting of all. I am very proud to live here! God bless!