Staying the course: New pastor Newton to continue with focus on servitude, love
By Melanie Tucker | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
When the Rev. Dr. Billy Newton stands before the congregation at Highland Presbyterian Sunday morning to deliver his first sermon as pastor there, he will definitely have familiarity on his side.
As the executive director of the Center for Strong Communities for four years at Maryville College, Newton has worked with many in the Highland congregation on projects within Blount County. He’s also a strong supporter of the Blount County Ecumenical Action Council, having cochaired the group for two years. That’s an organization Highland has also been associated with for decades.
In his role as part-time chaplain for Shannondale of Maryville for two years, Newton also came into contact with many Highland families.
This new pastor who will take on the role of pastor part-time, came to Maryville in 2006 from Memphis, where he served as chaplain at Rhodes College, his alma mater, for 16 years.
Making a connection
“I am familiar with Highland because I have been right across the street (at Maryville College),” Newton explained. “I connected with this church years ago through a project called Micah 6. I was working as a national consultant for Micah 6. Highland was one of the very first Micah 6 churches in the country.”
Micah 6 is a global project that has been embraced worldwide by members of the faith community who take Micah 6:8 to heart: “He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
Highland has a small congregation of about 100 members and decided a part-time pastor would be their best option. Newton was fine with that arrangement as he has another job as well, that of president of the New Opportunity School for Women Foundation, which has locations in Kentucky, North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia, with plans to expand into East Tennessee. The nonprofit is dedicated to improving the educational, financial and personal circumstances of low-income women living in rural Appalachia. He has worked with NOSW for about a year now.
Newton could have relocated to any of the NOSW locations after his time at Maryville College had been completed, but Newton stuck around and is glad he did. He has much respect for this historic Maryville church that has never let its small size get in the way of making a big difference.
“I have admired Highland Presbyterian Church because I knew its history,” the new pastor said. “They are unusually committed to outreach in the community even though they are a small congregation. I think it is remarkable what a small group of people can do in outreach ministries when they are deeply committed like Highland members are.”
The Maryville church has been involved with Good Neighbors, a program that helps Blount County’s less fortunate, for decades. It was instrumental in getting the nonprofit started. Members also strongly support the Community Food Connection that now serves more than 5,000 people who would otherwise go hungry. Family Promise has also been embraced by Highland. It’s mission is to help homeless families get back on track. Highland is one of its support churches. Then there’s Gateway to Independence, a day program for adults with disabilities.
The most visible outreach could be the bounty garden being grown in the front yard at Highland. The garden was started years ago by members Sherry and Russel Liles and others who wanted to extend even further into this community. Adults and children both tend to the garden and then donate the bounty from it to Community Food Connection.
“I worked for years and years with soup kitchens and food banks,” Newton said. “I know it can be very difficult to get fresh produce.”
Newton plans to preach his first sermon Sunday from Ephesians 3, on being rooted and grounded in love, and the bounty garden will be a nice tie in. Whenever someone drives by the garden, Newton said he hopes they remember this is a congregation that is rooted and grounded in love. “Even though we are a small congregation, there are deep roots,” he said.
Opportunities to serve
The church was established in 1952 and moved to its present location to be in the Burchfield House, which was constructed in 1888. It’s a landmark house on the way to the Smoky Mountains, Newton said. The church also wanted to be near the college.
“We are situated right across the street from the college, we are across the street from the jail and right across the street from the hospital,” the pastor said. “And we are in sight of the Great Smoky Mountains. We have these constant reminders all around us of people hurting and searching.”
Because he has spent 20 years on college campuses, Newton said he understands what a critical time in life that is. People often think of college days as happy-go-lucky, he said. It can also be the most difficult and most dangerous.
Now that he’s ready to begin his ministry at Highland, Newton plans to stay the course when it comes to being a strong presence and help within this community. “We are not planning to become the largest congregation in Blount County,” he said. “We are going to embrace what it means to be a small congregation that is open and bring people into the Christian faith and move them to serve beyond themselves. We are going to work on that theme of being rooted and grounded in love.”