By Frances Stebbins
After six years, we at The Salem Times-Register and The New Castle Record are saying good-bye to Shawn Nowlin, who has served as editor of the two Mountain Media weekly newspapers for seven years, and for me has been a valued and somewhat unusual colleague.
That’s not only because Shawn has grown professionally since starting as editor but because he has filled a role as a young African-American man that has greatly enhanced the understanding and appreciation of this white senior-age woman who grew up in the racially segregated south and greatly values her Confederate heritage as a Virginian from Colonial times.
Moreover, Shawn Nowlin at 33 is three months younger than my South Carolina granddaughter. Working with him has permitted me to bridge three generations in age. He was born and grew up in Roanoke while I’ve lived in Salem for “only” 37 years.
Like many folk who start their careers on weekly newspapers, he’s moving on, but he’s said he’s not putting us entirely behind him. He’ll be working for a Charlotte, North Carolina, company doing promotional/marketing campaigns for many groups including some with sports connections, a plus for him since at 6’7” he’s a basketball fan. He said he may even have some assignments in Salem.
Soon I hope to learn also from our new editor, Alex Shedd, 25, a native of Richmond but with more recent familiarity with northern Virginia where he graduated from George Mason University. He’s been a writer and done freelance editing for the past several years.
In a different way, I pay homage this week to Ms. Helen Head, my friend since 1980, who turned 100 on April 15 at the retirement home of Kendal at Lexington. Possessed of a remarkably clear mind, Head has been internationally traveled as the daughter of an American soldier who took a Belgian bride after his service in World War I. Speaker of several languages, military wife and mother of three, writer of reflections and poetry, cat lover and active supporter of a Lexington church in her later years, she and I both enjoyed sharing religious education for adults in our respective parishes. As two folk of different ages, races and backgrounds, both have enriched my life!
Recently I received the newsletter of the Association of Roanoke Valley Baptists, probably the largest and best known of the several religious groups in these parts with “Baptist” in the name. To the several newcomers to the Valley that I know, it is deeply confusing that there are so many groups that follow “Believers’ Baptism” by immersion, put great importance on the Holy Bible and are governed solely by the membership rather than a central authority such as a bishop. Though there is limited racial joining, most congregations are still mainly white or African-American. I would not begin to write how many “Baptist” faith groups are established within 50 miles around.
As if that isn’t confusing enough, some groups are more conservative than others in cultural or Scriptural matters. To other Christian groups, it sometimes seems that Baptists always grow and prosper financially.
So it came as a surprise to this long-time observer of faith communities that apparently Baptists are suffering serious losses in support of their congregations just as all other God-centered groups are. The Rev. Rodger Hogan, the current moderator, writes in the quarterly comprehensive mail-out that the small office building in northeast Roanoke erected some 40 years ago for a paid coordinator of cooperative activities is being sold.
The Rev. Scott Hamilton currently is what is now called “interim mission strategist.” Moderator Hogan said only a part-time coordinator can be afforded in the future (it was that way prior to the mid-1970s when growth was expanding).
Not that helping people with various needs has vanished. In inner-city Roanoke, Keystone Community Center southeast and Friendship House serving the low-rent southwest are caring for refugees, setting up summer day camps, offering help with food pantries, clothing and after-school assistance. The Ward Haven Retreat Center on a wooded mountainside northwest of the city soon will welcome summer gatherings.
Over the decades I have written of these valuable ministries. Many could not imagine life without them. -30-