Wayne’s Place and Outsiders

Twelve of us just returned from an amazing weekend working on a home in Lee County, VA with the great folks of Appalachia Service Project. There is so much good that I can say, but I will hold off on addressing the actual work we did. Instead, please come on Sunday, May 15 when our whole ASP Team will share our stories during worship in both services to celebrate the work of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.

I would like to share with you one scene from the weekend that was not directly related to the work we were doing. On Friday night, the two staff workers invited us to go to “Wayne’s Place.” All we knew was that music would be played. I was kind of expecting a bar atmosphere, like something out of Blues Brothers only more country and more bluegrass-y. So after we drove 15 minutes out of the already-very-small town of Jonesville, VA, deep into the mountains, I was surprised at where we ended up. There, under the shadow of the mountains that mark the border between Virginia and Kentucky, on a small chunk of land in the bend of a windy road, stood a small warehouse-type building. As we were greeted in the parking lot by the man in charge, we learned that Wayne had passed away three years ago, but that a decade ago it was his dream just to have a fun, family-friendly bluegrass picking for the locals every Friday night. And so they did. No cover charge, free refreshments, musicians coming and going, all sharing the stage. And it was a packed house last Friday night.

Before we entered however it occurred to me that we could be very out of place here. That this far in the mountains, this group of locals would know each other extremely well and be very wary of any outsiders. That we had no hope of blending in and that potentially some of the folks might be downright cold to us.

I was operating on assumptions that I think many of us hold. That when a group is different from you as a visitor, that their acceptance of you will be worse and worse the more different you are. It’s easy to love people who are more like us, and it’s also very easy to develop an “insiders-only” mentality.

But at Wayne’s Place, it was the complete opposite. The more we stood out, the more the people there went out of their way to make us feel welcome. The man-in-charge stopped the proceedings between two songs just to welcome us, give us a little tour of the one building, and explain how everything worked. Members of the crowd greeted us individually. When one man learned that the best singer among us was a woman named Tena, he started chanting her name and cheering for her loudly when Tena very bravely took the stage to sing “Down to the River,” a cappella no less.

The group at Wayne’s Place taught me a lesson that I now resolve to implement in my own life and I hope you will join me: the more likely someone is to feel like an outsider, the harder I will work to make them feel welcome. Because as these strangers made me feel like one of them, it felt a bit like the Kingdom of God.

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