EMORY, Va. — A historic chapel-turned-community-center is hosting its first Christmas Open House as renovations to the building near completion.

Smyth Chapel, which played an important role in the Emory community a generation ago, will be used as a gathering spot for two holiday events hosted by the nonprofit organization Friends of Smyth Chapel.

The holiday events, open to the public on Saturday, Dec. 7, will include a book signing by the Rev. Charles Maynard, an Emory & Henry College alumnus who started his career in ministry as a student intern at the chapel more than 40 years ago.

The organization will also host “Christmas Tree for the Birds,” an opportunity for members of the community to make edible ornaments that will be used to decorate an outdoor tree in front of the chapel. Participants are invited to make pinecone bird feeders, string popcorn and other edible ornaments from 10 a.m. to noon.

“It will be a fun, social event for all ages,” said Ellen Moore, organizer of the event and board member of Friends of Smyth Chapel.

“Renovations to the chapel are a work in progress, but we hope people will come and see what an amazing place Smyth Chapel has to offer our community.”

Participants are asked to bring nonperishable food items to benefit the Glade Spring Food Pantry.

Like coming home

From 2 to 4:30 p.m., Maynard will tell Christmas stories from his new book, “Tidings of Comfort and Joy: New Stories of Advent and Christmas.”

Hammered dulcimer musician Tammy Martin, of Emory, will provide seasonal music for the event.

Maynard, a storyteller, hiker, author and ordained United Methodist minister, graduated from Emory & Henry College in 1977 before earning a degree from Candler School of Theology at Emory University.

“It’s like coming home to Southwest Virginia,” said Maynard in a phone interview from his home in Knoxville, where he serves on the pastoral staff of Cokesbury United Methodist Church.

“Emory is where my marriage to my wife started, and it’s where my ministry started. Even though my wife and I grew up in Chattanooga, Emory really is a very special place for us — especially Smyth Chapel.

As a pastor intern while attending Emory & Henry, Maynard was assigned to preach twice each month at the chapel.

“It was not uncommon for me to walk from the campus to the chapel on Sunday mornings. I did pastoral visits on my bike.”

Stories from the heart

During his program, the storyteller will capture his audience with stories from the heart.

The author related one of the stories that had an impact on him as a minister and Christian.

“While serving at a church near Knoxville years ago, I was helping to prepare for Christmas for our two girls when I received a call from a man needing help.”

Maynard confessed he may have felt a tinge of inconvenience from receiving a call during family time on Christmas Eve.

“The man on the phone said he wanted to get his pregnant wife home to Ohio,” told Maynard.

“A couple far from home — and the wife is pregnant. That sounded oddly familiar to me. We successfully got them on a bus with a basket of food and sent them on home.”

The minister encourages people to see Christmas with new eyes — to see Christmas anew, for what it can be.

“We always talk about it being the birthday of Jesus, but sometimes we focus only on the baby. Christmas is not just a sentimental experience about a baby. It’s about our lives and how we live. That’s what it’s like to be in Christ.”

Maynard developed his storytelling skills as a young pastor, and he continues to tell stories for a variety of audiences in schools, churches and festivals. A professional storyteller, Maynard served as director of advancement for the International Storytelling Center in Jonesborough, Tennessee, from 2002 to 2004.

He’s a big believer in using stories to preach or teach, pointing out that Jesus told stories much more than he gave sermons.

“Stories are a more effective way of communicating,” he said. “Another thing I like about stories is that they are multigenerational. Everybody gets something out of them.”

Maynard has spent most of his life hiking the Appalachian region and tending to the Great Smoky Mountains.

In the late 1990s, Maynard took a leave from pastoral work to concentrate on another passion in his life — caring for God’s creation. During this time, he helped to start a nonprofit organization for the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

Before returning to the ministry, he served as the first executive director of Friends of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and was named as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the history of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. He has also served on the boards of directors for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Discover Life in America and the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center.

His adventures as a hiker, minister and storyteller have opened up opportunities to write numerous books on a gamut of subjects.

In fact, he has authored or co-authored 32 books — 22 of them educational books for children.

Some of his writings focus on traditional Appalachian Mountains tales, American history and personal narratives of growing up near Chattanooga.

In addition, he has penned numerous magazine articles on the Great Smoky Mountains and Yellowstone national parks, as well as Tennessee history.

He received the Reed Environmental Writing Award from the Southern Environmental Law Center for his essays in “The Blue Ridge — Ancient and Majestic: A Celebration of the World’s Oldest Mountains.” He has written United Methodist Church Sunday School and devotional literature.

Maynard has been a member of the Holston Conference since 1978, serving in churches in Virginia, Tennessee and Georgia.

He was development director for Holston Conference Camp and Retreat Ministries for eight years before he was appointed a district superintendent of the Maryville District.

His wife, Janice Maynard, a romance novelist and also an Emory & Henry College graduate, will be on hand to greet visitors at Smyth Chapel.

Copies of “Tiding of Comfort and Joy” will be available for purchase at the event for $18. All proceeds from the sales that afternoon will be donated to the continued renovations of Smyth Chapel.

To learn more about Tammy Martin and her musical journey, visit www.tammymartin.org.

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Carolyn R. Wilson is a freelance writer in Glade Spring, Virginia. Contact her at news@washconews.com.

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