Editor's note: This is the second in a regular series called "On the Porch," which will feature interesting people throughout the area.
Waking up in the Sunday darkness, the circuit preacher of the past would prepare for a long day of bringing light to the small mountain churches. Strong coffee and a strong horse would bring the pastor to each congregation in his circuit. Every Sunday, often traveling for hundreds of miles, the arrival was greatly anticipated by the dozen or so faithful, the highlight of another hard week.
Yes, times have changed. A gentle horse has been replaced by a spiffy silver Honda, but the details and dedication are the same. Year in and year out, every single Sunday, a local preacher is on the road sharing the Gospel.
The Inter-Mountain photo by Lauren D. Ragland
Keys and Bible in hand, the Rev. Ann Fretwell poses at the Oak Grove Methodist Church before heading home to Elkins.
For the past five years, the Rev. Ann Fretwell of Elkins travels 84 miles roundtrip to bring the Word to the three churches in the Methodist charge in southern Randolph County. She preaches the sermon in Mace at 9 a.m., Valley Head at 10 a.m. and Oak Grove at 11 a.m. Her husband, Richard, comes along and listens every Sunday at all three services!
Somewhat abandoned by her birth mother 64 years ago when she was just 2 weeks old, Charlotte Ann was wrapped in a blanket and left at her aunt's home. Another aunt and husband had just lost a baby that was stillborn, and their lives were changed forever as they opened their hearts and became forever parents of sweet little Charlotte Ann.
As a young girl, Fretwell thought that being a pastor's wife could be a great idea because of all the fun things you would do because of your husband's job. It was not until the fall of 2001 that Fretwell heard the calling to be a pastor herself.
She dreamt that she was in a sunny, grassy, very green field. She could feel the warmth of the sun on her face and she closed her eyes. Leaning against a fence, Fretwell could feel a gentle warm rain. It felt comforting and gentle. Slowly opening her eyes, she saw the rain was red. The rain was blood.
"It began running down my arm, and as I looked it was dripping off my fingers. It was blood, it was The Blood. I turned and I could see the feet of Jesus hanging behind me. I did not see His whole body, just His feet. I did not need to see more, I knew what it was," Fretwell said.
"That's when I knew that everything I had ever done was cleansed. I was covered by the blood of Jesus Christ and I could go do whatever He wanted me to do."
Fretwell was a bartender at the Moose and Eagles clubs in Elkins for 18 years. She also was a restaurant manager, waitress, cook, nurse's aid, orthodontist assistant, insurance agent and had eight special years as an administrative assistant for Williams Associates in Elkins. She now views those years as training.
"I believe that all my previous jobs prepared me for what I do now. I use all those experiences now as a pastor."
Fretwell is now eight classes from graduating from the Spring Heights Extension School for the Course of Study, which is affiliated with The Course of Study School of Ohio. It's a joint venture of the Methodist Theological School of Ohio and the United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio.
Fretwell welcomes everyone to her churches, and Easter services are coming up next week. The schedule includes a Maundy Thursday service at 7 p.m. at Valley Head, a Good Friday service at 7 p.m. at Mace, and a 6:30 a.m. Sunrise Easter Sunday service at Valley Head.
It was a delight meeting Ann and attending a service at Oak Grove. I always enjoy visiting churches and will most definitely visit there again.
I hope you join me next week and sit "On the Porch." I will continue to share interesting stories about interesting people - you might be next!