Celebrating Appalachia: ¡Nuestros Ninos y Familias!


By The Reverend “Padre" Timothy Scott Holder

and Rebecca Adkins Fletcher


Children and families begin arriving on the West Lawn for celebration, hope and beautiful “Rainbow School Sachels!” | Photograph by Tim Holder

Some birds are born more colorful but they’re still made to fly

I guess that one could say the same for the likes of you and I

And as far as I can gather, for all that I can find

The abundance of creation don’t stop on the county line

The Abundance of Creation Don’t Stop on the County Line

©Thomm Jutz/Mike Compton


Heart of Appalachia: The Summer of ’21


In the summer of 2021, East Tennessee communities saw a reprieve from the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. In these few weeks of stillness, we heard the heart of Appalachia, still strong, beating in time to old and new tunes. Our story describes events at St. Thomas Episcopal Church and its home community in Elizabethton (Carter County), Tennessee. This story of community and outreach at St. Thomas is one of old and new traditions, welcoming and expanding opportunities for outreach that recognizes changing demographics and needs of this Appalachian community. The story of the summer of ’21 describes a new-old twist on the celebratory traditions of Evensong and two new celebrations of ¡Nuestros Ninos y Familias! to welcome and support the St. Thomas and surrounding Latino community.By summer’s end, two artists — an International Bluegrass Music Association Songwriter of the Year and a two-time Grammy-winning musician— had put the story to music.We are proud to introduce the song “The Abundance of Creation Don’t Stop on the County Line,” co-written by Thomm Jutz and Mike Compton, as it reflects our shared sentiment on the importance of creating community.


St. Thomas Jr. Warden, Micheal Scott and Father Timothy welcome a family at Unicoi Elementary, August 7, 2021 | Photograph by Carol Brodeur

Celebrating Appalachian Summer Evensong, June 6, 2021


In recent years, Father Timothy Holder has led St. Thomas in establishing new inclusive traditions within Episcopal worship.Evensong is a centuries-old service of evening prayer followed by hymn or song. At St. Thomas, Bluegrass music is now integral to this tradition. This includes the wealth and vibrancy of music spanning across traditional church hymns, popular and old ballads, rejoice and lament, and Bluegrass hymns during service. “Know the music and know the people” are Holder’s sentiments. Indeed, since his return to Elizabethton, this Carter County native is putting in action the lessons learned from his recent Doctor of Ministry dissertation, Celebrating the Music of Appalachia in the Episcopal Church and Anglican Tradition, from Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria,Virginia, and Graduate Certificate in Appalachian Studies from East Tennessee State University. Holder practices what he preaches.

St. Thomas, a 108-person capacity church built by enslaved persons during the Civil War, was packed on the evening of Sunday, June 6, for “Appalachian Summer Evensong.” Friends, neighbors, musicians, attendees on Zoom, and listeners from wmctradio.net AM-FM The Mountain Live “Worldwide Bluegrass” filled the historic church. The Liturgy included the Holy Word with each lesson followed by music led by the Doe River Ensemble. The group includes three students from the Bluegrass, Old-Time, and Roots Music Program in ETSU’s Department of Appalachian Studies, and Teresa Bowers, who recently returned home to Elizabethton from careers in ordained ministry and as a singer and dancer on New York’s Broadway. The Ensemble often begins with playing the Carter Family’s “Keep on the Sunny Side,” featuring mandolin, guitar, and banjo juxtaposed alongside the more formal Episcopal tradition.

Timothy F. Sedgwick (Professor Emeritus, Virginia Theological Seminary, Alexandria) said, “In music, matters of Christian faith become incarnate.” The music at St. Thomas enrichens Episcopal worship service, weaving the beauty of live music performed by local musicians into the liturgical repertoire. Organ and hymn music share space at the altar by what one parishioner described as “The spirit and beauty of Appalachian hymnody and song, fiddle, mandolin, guitar, banjo, and voice ring out in praise to God and in celebration and love for our Appalachian home.” It is in times of hardship —when we have been given much to face over the pandemic: the loss of our beloved, sickness and strife —that new ways to create and expand community seem most important. Thus, the lesson from Evensong, hearing from God’s Word, rejoicing in worship and in celebration of the many peoples in changing Appalachian communities, became a focused outreach to the local Latino community.


¡Nuestros Ninos y Familias! (Our Children and Families!)


There’s no talk of building fences in the book of old King James

And reaching out your hand won’t make the world go down in flames

And driving down the road I never came upon a sign

Saying “the abundance of creation stops here on the county line”

©Thomm Jutz/Mike Compton


Title: “Keep on the Sunny Side” St. Thomas Episcopal Church, Elizabethton, Tennessee Pete Holohan, woodcut, 2021

St. Thomas serves East Tennessee’s Carter, Johnson, Unicoi, and Washington counties and has been recognized by the Episcopal Diocese of East Tennessee and national Episcopal Church for its mission and service among Latino Appalachian people, who represent the fastest growing minority in the region according to the 2020 Census.St. Thomas first greeted Spanish-speaking members at Easter 2016, soon after Holder arrived as pastor. As Carol Brodeur, Senior Warden (chief officer) for the church described,“ many Latinx families and beautiful children have blessed us since that time.” (Latinx is a newly coined, gender-neutral American English term sometimes used to refer to people of Latin-American cultural or ethnic identity in the United States.) Sermons and singing at St. Thomas are now bilingual, in English and Spanish. Over 100 individuals and family members center their spiritual lives with St. Thomas, celebrating Holy Sacraments of Santo Bautismo, Santa Eucaristia, Matrimonio, and blessings of all kinds from church to restaurants, kitchens, homes, trailer parks, migrant farms, bodegas, work sites, hospitals, and jails.


“Families work very hard and pray faithfully to stay together and care for one another,” Holder said. “Their faith inspires. Their faith is not simply a Sunday-morning proposition.”


Two ¡Nuestros Ninos y Familias! events were held, the first in Carter County on July 24, and the second in Unicoi County on Aug. 7, 2021. Rebecca Adkins Fletcher, assistant director of ETSU’s Center for Appalachian Studies and Services, volunteered as host for the celebrations. She said the events demonstrated not only what is possible in University-Community partnerships, but they validated the importance of deep discussions and direct engagement with issues related to community in Appalachian Studies.


The idea behind ¡Nuestros Ninos y Familias! first sparked during class discussions in Rebecca Fletcher’s Appalachian Studies course at ETSU: Environment and Health in Appalachia (Spring 2020). Holder took the course as part of his Appalachian Studies certificate, and he was appalled by the paucity of information on Latino health in Appalachia. Given the higher rates of Covid-19 infection among Latino communities, the need to do something to address disparities was clear. Thus, knowledge and inspiration mixed with church support, volunteer work, grant and donation funding, and community business and University support set idea to action.

During the 45 days following Summer Evensong, together with ecumenical, educational, medical, and sports communities, St. Thomas celebrated ¡Nuestros Ninos y Familias! to support and join with its growing Latino communities in four East Tennessee counties. The festival also was made possible with the assistance of Bishop Brian Cole of the Diocese of East Tennessee, a $10,000 grant through the Episcopal Relief and Development fund, and $5,000 from local donors to St. Thomas mission.

About 150 children representing 100 mostly Latino families participated in the two-day festival. Children were given $100 Walmart gift cards for new school clothes, shoes, and supplies. The Carter County Health Department staff set up an on-site Covid-19 vaccination clinic for age-eligible children and adults wishing to receive a vaccine. Dr. David Wood, a professor of pediatrics at ETSU’s Quillen College of Medicine, and his wife, Julia Wood, a Public HealthNurse, organized and offered vaccine and health consultations to children and families. The Woods belong to Johnson City’s Covenant Presbyterian Church, which joined the Tri-Cities Latinx Partnership, formed at St. Thomas in 2017. Each child also received a backpack filled by church volunteers with goodies and school supplies. Felipé Fiuza, assistant professor of Spanish, and director of ETSU’s Language and Cultural Center, provided Spanish-language children’s books and community information. Second Harvest Food Bank of East Tennessee supplied 20-pound food bags to each family. Many of the children also enjoyed playing fútbol (soccer) on a small, on-site field and had the opportunity to sign up for the Tri-Cities’ first co-ed fútbol team. This event was made possible by 75 volunteers from St. Thomas, Covenant Presbyterian in Johnson City, ETSU, and the community. El Charolais Restaurants of Elizabethton and Johnson City served as hosts for the event. “This is an historic occasion for St. Thomas and our community,” said Bishop Cole, who met with families and children at St. Thomas during the first event on July 24. “The Church stands proudly and genuinely with all God’s children. This is a model for church and society. We are all blessed.”


Professor Rebecca Fletcher hosted families throughout celebrations on July 24, 2021

Blessed by the Spirit of Appalachia

When we make our move up yonder we’ll see the grand design

That the abundance of creation don’t stop on the county line.

©Thomas Jutz/Mike Compton


St. Thomas made a powerful statement about faith and practice in 100 days of a beautiful Appalachian summer. It was a time of discontent, pandemic easing, surging, political and social upheaval, death, and yet enduring hope. We walked forward in sometimes unlikely, yet courageous, loving ways. “The gift is ours,” an elder said. “I don’t think that I have ever seen faith and reaching out do so much for a community and for the parish itself,” another participant said.

A priest, professor, two musicians, hundreds of children, family and faithful — whole communities — were blessed by the spirit of Appalachia. By the end of the summer of ’21, two celebrated writer-musicians had put it all in song, a high honor in the “Heart of Appalachia.”



The Abundance of Creation Don’t Stop on the County Line


Some birds are born more colorful but they’re still made to fly

I guess that one could say the same for the likes of you and I

And as far as I can gather, for all that I can find

The abundance of creation don’t stop on the county line

Did you have a choice at the moment of your birth

Or did you just come out that way for all that is was worth

It won’t cost a penny, for us all to change our mind

Cause the abundance of creation don’t stop on the county line

There’s no talk of building fences in the book of old King James

And reaching our your hand won’t make the world go down in flames

And driving down the road I never came upon a sign

Saying, “the abundance of creation stops here on the county line”

Can we forget our differences for just a little while

You don’t have to love your neighbor, but the savior said to try

And by the way it won’t even cost you one thin dime

The abundance of creation don’t stop on the county line”

There’s no talk of building fences in the book of old King James

And reaching our your hand won’t make the world go down in flames

And driving down the road I never came upon a sign

Saying, “the abundance of creation stops here on the county line”

When we make our move up yonder we’ll see the grand design

That the abundance of creation don’t stop on the county line

©2021 Thomas Jutz/Mike Compton





The Reverend “Padre” Timothy Scott Holder, D.Min., a tenth-generation Appalachian, serves as Priest and Pastor at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Elizabethton, Tennessee. Holder received his Doctor of Ministry from Virginia Theological Seminary with a Graduate Certificate in Appalachian Studies from East Tennessee State University, both in 2021. He received a Master of Divinity from Harvard University in 1997 and is a 1977 graduate of the University of the South at Sewanee.
Rebecca Adkins Fletcher, PhD, is Assistant Professor in the Department of Appalachian Studies at East Tennessee State University. She is co-editor of Appalachian Places.
Thomm Jutz is a musician, producer and guitar player living in Nashville, Tennessee. He is the winner of the International Bluegrass Music Association Songwriter of the Year award. His songs have been recorded by John Prine, Balsam Range, Mac Wiseman and many more.
Mike Compton is a Grammy-winning mandolin player, singer and songwriter. He is best known for his work with The Nashville Bluegrass Band, as well as his work on the soundtracks for the movies “Oh Brother Where Art Though” and “Cold Mountain." He is an ETSU Artist in Residence for the 2021-2022 academic year.
“The Abundance of Creation Don’t Stop on the County Line” will premier Wednesday, December 22, 2021, at 6 p.m. with Christmas Lessons and Carols at St. Thomas Episcopal Church, 815 East Second Street, Elizabethton, Tennessee 37643. Reservations available at stthomaselizabethton@gmail.com