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Ellen Bowen Austin

How long have you been a member?

I have been attending Raleigh Court Presbyterian for 58 years.  I was confirmed at the age of 12 so I have been a member for 53 years.  (Oh my, I must be very old!)


Were your family members a member of RCPC?

 I moved here from Tazewell, Virginia with my mother and sister when I was seven years old and we all started attending together.


What first attracted you to RCPC?

I came where my mother took me, but I think she was first attracted to RCPC because we lived very close to the church and could walk to church, which was important to my mother.  She had grown up Presbyterian and had attended a Presbyterian Church in Tazewell.  When we arrived in Roanoke an aunt living here encouraged her to attend First Presbyterian where she had been a member for years, but my mother felt that it was important for her children to be close to the church in order to stay more easily involved in activities offered.  


What changes have you observed since you joined the church?

 We had a wonderful renovation that offered more space for a growing church (and allowed the minister to get out of the cold and heat when he greeted people after Sunday worship) and gave us a gathering area to correct the bottleneck that occurred after worship on Sundays with people trying to get out of the church.  The renovation gave us a bigger and better fellowship hall that provided the youth with a place to congregate and bond, provided families a place to share a meal together, and provided a stage for music programs.  The renovation gave us more classrooms so that more programmatic opportunities could be offered.


The congregation is younger now with more young children.  We have more staff now who meet the needs of a vast and varied congregation.  The programming has expanded and been enhanced …..again, to meet the varied needs of the congregation.    We have amazing small group opportunities so that people can get to know one another and study and grow together to become better disciples of Christ. 


We used to have only one worship service on Sunday mornings and now we have three, two on Sunday and one on Wednesday morning.


Mission opportunities abound at Raleigh Court and the development of more are encouraged.  We have mission opportunities for all ages, both local and global, and serving others is encouraged by all staff!


What do you feel are the strengths/weaknesses of RCPC?

Weaknesses:  Inherent in a church this size is the problem of how to involve those who only come to church on Sundays and may not feel integrated into the amazing community that is Raleigh Court.  It’s hard to know how to assimilate the “pew warmers” who probably have incredible talents and gifts that could be used in a wide variety of ways.


In a church this large, it is hard for the pastors to visit those who are sick, lonely, in the hospital, or going through a personal tragedy.  I know we have a committee to do that, but I remember when my mother was ill and Tupper showed up on a regular basis, the strength and comfort he offered was our saving grace.  My mother died before church on a Sunday and Tupper was at my house right after church.   I miss that as do others, but it is impossible in a church as large as ours.


We do not really have a means for serving those with disabilities in a way that makes them feel part of our church family.  That was the reason my sister left our church because she needed to find a church where her grandchild with autism would feel accepted, loved, and supported.  That is an area we need to brainstorm about.


Strengths:  (See changes above) The strengths are too vast to mention in one document, so I’ll have to settle on just a few of the many.  We have an amazing senior pastor who has such a gift for preaching the word of God in a way that is understandable, applicable, AND challenging.  He is an incredible preacher and teacher, a phenomenal organizer, and has such a handle on all the ministries of the church, while making it clear that his family comes first…..such an example to us all! 


We have the most incredible youth in our church, who are committed to their faith, to their desire to serve those less fortunate, and to each other.  They sit together in worship on Sunday mornings, some coming to church even when their parents do not.  They are committed to youth group on Sunday evenings and willingly share their faith with one another.  They readily share in a leadership role leading worship services on Sundays.  They are inclusive of all and not cliquish.  The adult leadership for youth group has been consistent, strong and faithful!


The small group Bible studies that have been going on for years have provided a means for people to get to know each other better, learn from one another, grow together as disciples, and make a difference in the world together.  The friendships that have come from that have been lasting and sincere.  Leigh’s leadership in this has been amazing with lessons that teach, draw us together,  and challenge us. 


Leigh is another of the amazing strengths of our church.   The programming she organizes and facilitates for our young people is well planned, well orchestrated, biblically based, and engaging.  The kids know she loves them and knows that she values who they are as individuals.  The God Alive program is exceptional, VBS (both summer and winter) touches so many lives, the Sunday School is strategically planned so that the children learn both the Bible and polity of our church while they also are encouraged to reach out to others.


The mission opportunities available in our church are like none other I have ever heard of in a church and each is a strength in and of itself! We have mission groups that match every possible interest!  I list all I can think of as strengths because they all show the servant hearts of our church family as they reach out into the world in an attempt to be the hands and feet of Christ:


Wrapped in Love               Faithful Furry Friends                   Hunger Action Group

RAM House                      Glad Tidings                                   Sudanese Support

Family Promise                 Haiti Mission Group                      West End Center

Turn the Page                    House of Bread                               HAT

Maintenance Support        Funeral Reception Group               Presbyterian Community

Habitat for Humanity        THUGS                                           Center


There are more, I am sure, but how can one look at that list and not call the servant heart of our church a major strength!!


What boards/committees have you served on?

Diaconate, Session, Youth Group Director/Advisor and worker bee, God Alive, Deaf Ministry (Interpreting on Sundays), Small group Bible Study, Associate Pastor Nominating Committee, Presbyterian Women, Haiti Mission Group, Family Promise, Homebound Communion Group


What programs or ministries are important to you?

All of them, but particularly Youth Group, God Alive, Haiti Mission group, Family Promise, Deaf Ministry, Presbyterian Women, Wednesday Morning Worship, Homebound Communion, and of course Sunday morning worship


If asked, how would you describe RCPC to a new member?

It is truly the church of the open door where ALL are welcome and none are judged, where people can come as they are, but will not stay as they are because they will grow in faith.  Yes, they will grow in the Spirit if the risen Christ whom they will certainly encounter  here in the worship services, in the variety of Sunday school classes, in the service opportunities, and in the people you sit around the dinner table with. Raleigh Court is a church that cares about the world and is willing to work to make a positive difference in that world.


What one thing/happening/or event do you fondly, specifically remember?

There are too many to record, but some of my best memories have been the countless times I have spent with the young people of our church who have inspired me by their faith and their inclusive natures.  Time with them certainly helped me to grow in my faith.


My trips to Haiti changed my life forever!  The relationships formed there have caused me to try to live in a state of gratitude despite circumstances because that is what I witnessed in the Haitians every time I went.  The people I met there showed me what true worship really means because they love and praise God with such exuberance despite their poverty, poor nutrition, poor living conditions, and corrupt government.  Their faith is unshakable!  I want mine to be as well!

Ellen Bown Austin

Leslie Baldwin

I have been a member of RCPC since 1980--39 years--or close to that.


Six years after I joined, my folks retired to this area and joined RCPC.


Since I lived on the corner of Belleville and Shirley, right behind the church, convenience was a factor. More important was the welcome. I remember visiting a Sunday evening service and Sheila Houck really made a great impression on me. Although I had grown up in the Methodist tradition, RCPC felt like a place I could find a church home, raise our boys and grow my faith.


Since I joined, RCPC has come into the 21st century with greater use of technology. The many older women I so greatly admired are mostly gone now, and I miss them, but I love seeing the wide range of people now calling RCPC their church home.


RCPC's strengths are many. We have had terrific pastoral leadership and members that really make us a church family. Communication is a weakness, but I have been involved in many attempts to get out the word, and that remains tough.


I have served as a Deacon and was moderator for a year, have been involved with PW, taught Sunday School and Bible School, played handbells, been part of the Hunger Mission Group, and the Chargers, a group that worked to encourage mission groups, as well as the Pastoral Nominating Committee that brought Andrew to RCPC. I continue to serve on the Endowment Board, serve as Church Treasurer and enjoy our book club.


Our Year of the Bible has been very meaningful to me. I love the general way we look after each other, and the wonderful work of the Hunger Mission Group, the Sudanese group and House of Bread.


To a new member, I would describe RCPC as a loving, accepting  church family, and  a perfect space to explore your faith. To me, we have moved into the 21st century but maintained our traditional worship.


 I have many, many fond RCPC memories. One in particular is from (2006, I think) the Sunday I was ordained as a Deacon. Marian Wordsworth became an Elder that day. As we were recessing from the service, we grabbed hands and I strongly felt the joy of God's presence and the excitement of being part of the group that would lead RCPC.

Leslie Baldwn

Wade and Robbie Whitehead

How long have you been a member?

We joined in 1995.


Were your family members a member of RCPC?



What first attracted you to RCPC?

When we visited churches around the Roanoke Valley, we met plenty of people like us.  At Raleigh Court, we met the people we hoped to become.  On our first Sunday, Francis Trent walked up and said “I don’t believe I know you.  Would you like to sit with me this morning?”  We found so many others who shared her welcoming, warm spirit.  Linda Mayes’s music, circles of youngsters during Children’s Time, and active ministries for kids and youth helped us realize that we wouldn’t find a better to place to grow a family through faith and friendship.

What changes have you observed since you joined the church?

We are thankful to have witnessed growth in our church’s outreach, both locally and internationally and in its ability to form a budget and systems that reflect its core values.

What do you feel are the strengths/weaknesses of RCPC?

RCPC welcomes all.  Its members represent the full political spectrum and no one is asked to leave his or her mind at the door.

What boards/committees have you served on?

Mission Study Team (Chair)

Session (Clerk)

Board of Deacons (Moderator)

Kids Kirk Leadership

Youth Leadership

Lots of other music ensembles, committees, mission groups over the years


What programs or ministries are important to you?

Our church casts many nets and seeks to inspire members of all ages.  We especially value our music ministry and youth ministry.

If asked, how would you describe RCPC to a new member?

Raleigh Court is a progressive church with a big heart that asks its members to serve with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love.


What one thing/happening/or event do you fondly, specifically remember?

When our son, Jack, was three, he was playing in the living room while we cleaned up after a meal in the kitchen.  Our phone rang and a neighbor (more than a block away) said “I think I just saw Jack walk past my house.”  Panicked, we ran down the sidewalk and turned onto Grandin Road, where we found him walking along without a care in the world.  We ran beside him and asked “Jack, where are you going?”  With a twinkle in his eye, he smiled and replied “Church.”  We realized then that RCPC is a place that anyone – even a toddler – can be thankful to call home.

Wade and Robbie Whitehead

Nancy Ayling

How long have you been a member?

I joined in 1975.


Were your family members a member of RCPC?

No, I grew up in Staunton Va. and attended First Pres. there.


What first attracted you to RCPC?

My mother and grandmother knew Jim Allison when he was the pastor of Augusta Stone Pres. Church near Staunton.  He had a sterling reputation as a wonderful pastor and scholar/theologian.  He was a big draw plus the church was so near to our home in Raleigh Court.  I met some lovely friends for life when we first joined and I was made to feel welcome.


What changes have you observed since you joined the church?

One of the most obvious changes is the growth both of the physical plant and also size of the congregation.  There are more children and teens now probably due somewhat to the presence of the pre-school.  There are now 2 services each Sunday as well as an early one on Wednesday morning.  RCPC seems to be a beehive of activity with AA groups meeting now as well as other secular groups such as Tai Chi, scouts etc.  It's good to see the building used more than on Sunday mornings.


What do you feel are the strengths/weaknesses of RCPC?

Its size is both a strength and a weakness.   Because of its large membership we can undertake big projects but the downside of that is that a person can become invisible unless they choose to participate in a small group such as choir, Bible study, Sunday School etc.  We have to be careful not to let people become overlooked.  I think that our pastor should be both a leader and a shepherd (the word "pastor" refers to being a shepherd).  The visitation committee helps to keep homebound members feeling that they are still a part of the church.  One thing that concerns me is that it seems as though simplicity in worship is almost gone except for the early service.  We have to be careful that worship doesn't become either entertainment or a performance.  In many instances less is more.


What boards/committees have you served on?

I was on the pre-school board years ago and on the search committee for Tupper Garden and the transition team for Matthew Aldas.


What programs or ministries are important to you?

Small groups are much more important than big ones.  Seekers Sunday School class and the book group are probably the most significant ones to me.  Also I enjoy being part of the Back Pack program that we do for Hurt Park school.  And this is a small contribution but I like helping Lois count the money the 2nd Monday of each month as well as signing checks when necessary.


If asked, how would you describe RCPC to a new member?

It is a busy vibrant church with many strengths such as bible studies, the whole music program and 2 ministers who are neither right nor left-wing in both political outlook and theology.  Opportunities are there to make lasting friendships as I have.


What one thing/happening/or event do you fondly, specifically remember?

I remember Jim Allison's funeral and Tupper in tears as he walked down the aisle to the narthex because I was sitting on the back row still in my white nurse's uniform.  Also I well remember my daughter Mary Beth playing the piano for a prelude one Sunday.  She had not practiced as she should have and consequently she made a few mistakes.  When it was over she told me that she wished she had practiced more and not made mistakes but that she believed that the folks at RCPC cared about her and overlooked her mistakes.  Isn't that grace and what the church should be about??

Nancy Ayling

Joanne McGraw Foster

We joined RCPC in 1977

We were new to Roanoke and visited several churches. 

Raleigh Court was the friendliest by far, very warm and welcoming, and in our neighborhood - good combination. 


The biggest changes have probably been the ones that come with new pastors and their style of leadership. We also have more outreach in missions throughout our community.  The outreach through our preschool program has given the church

 enormous respect and visibility.  The music ministry has grown tremendously.  I think RCPC still is known for its welcoming atmosphere. 

The youth program is vibrant.

 As mentioned before , we have an excellent preschool program and music ministry.  The communication with emails is great but if there are people without this access , I’m not sure what is available for them.  More information on shut ins needs to be made available.  I feel that we need a ministry for “senior “members for fellowship opportunities that could include other community members as well.  There is a void for this age group. They need be recognized as the resource they are.

 Fellowship committee

Worship committee

 Also worked with Youth Group, Girl Scouts, Presbyterian Women


 All of the community outreach ministries are important simply because they are in our community - West End - Presbyterian CC. and many others. Helping on the local level is important.


 RCPC is a vibrant , caring church with strong pastoral

 leadership, offering a place for spiritual growth and a place for

 you to minister to others through the varied outreach programs. 

 All of our Christmas music programs bring back fond memories.  Also, the 4th of July Sunday celebration included patriotic    processional music, flags included,  with a picnic on the lawn    following the worship service. This was during Jim Allison’s era.

Joanne McGraw Foster

Leigh-Anne Branch Williams

How long have you been a member? 53 years


Were your family members a member of RCPC?

Yes, my parents, Donn W. Branch and Carol Christie Branch have been members since 1956.  My brother, David C. Branch was also a member until he married and moved to Richmond, VA.


What first attracted you to RCPC?

My parents brought me to Raleigh Court as an infant.  I was baptized and married at RCPC.  My husband, Lee, joined the church after we were married in 1989.  Our two children, Marinne and Mason, were also baptized and confirmed here.  


What changes have you observed since you joined the church?

Three pastors: James A. Allison who baptized me and married Lee and me in 1989.  Tupper Garden was my second pastor who baptized both of my children.  Andrew Whaley is my current pastor. 

I have been a part of music programs with Wayne Gibson (I think that was his last name),  Valinda Ashworth, and Linda Mayes. 

My family has observed a renovation to our church. 

A female associate pastor assisted with the baptism of Marinne. 

We have included modern technology such as video boards, video services provided for shut-ins or anyone who wishes a copy.  You can watch the service live on your computer if unable to attend.  Weekly Devotionals are sent by email. 

Handbell choirs were added. 

The American Flag was removed from the sanctuary but has now been placed back along with the addition of a globe.  A dinner honoring our service members was started in recent years.

A sign language interpreting service is provided for our deaf worshipers. 

Many youth programs have been provided.  Mission work both locally and internationally have continued…Haiti, backpack program, blood drives.

In the Lord’s Prayer, we stopped saying debts and debtors and replaced it with sins and those who sin against me.

We added Communion by Intinction in recent years that I didn’t do in my youth.

The Bethlehem Stable that we walk through before entering the sanctuary with stuffed animal donations is a nice community service.

I fondly remember picnics at Lakeside Amusement Park then rides after!

My family and I would go to Camp Montgomery which was later changed to Camp Fincastle. 


What do you feel are the strengths/weaknesses of RCPC?

Strengths:  our pastors, music directors and choirs, elders, deacons, Sunday school teachers, Bible School staff, programs for all ages, mission work, community service, maintaining Presbyterian tradition while incorporating modern technology, friendly, caring, loving church members.


Weaknesses (but not really):  I would kind of like to do away with passing the peace.  We are really passing the germs!  I speak to those around me and seek out people who are not sitting near me. 


I miss having the SERV shop.


What boards/committees have you served on?

I have taught Sunday School and Bible School.  I played in youth and adult handbell choirs.  I sang in chorister and youth choirs.  I attended youth group.  I have been an usher.  I have been a nursery caregiver.


What programs or ministries are important to you?

All programs and ministries for children and youth.

The blood drive.

Community ministries.


If asked, how would you describe RCPC to a new member?

We are the church of the open door in every sense of the word (with the exception of having to lock the doors due to the type of world we live in these days) as far as our Presbyterian tradition and values.  Our church has programs for people of all ages.  We welcome new members with open hearts and open hands.  We are a family.  Raleigh Court Presbyterian Church is Home!

What one thing/happening/or event do you fondly, specifically remember?

When I was 8 years old, I wrote a little note to Mr. Allison that I handed to him as I left church one Sunday in July 1974.  I have little memory of what I wrote that Sunday but something to the effect of how much I loved him and what a wonderful minister he was to me.  A few days later, I received a letter in the mail from him which he wrote while he was attending a class or seminar at Princeton Seminary.  I have treasured that letter for the past 45 years and keep it in a special place in my home.  I recently sent a copy of the letter to Andrew and Matthew, the only other people outside of my family that I have ever shared it.  You never know what act of kindness, no matter how great or small, can affect a person’s life.  I have tried to live up to the words Mr. Allison wrote to me all those years ago.

Leigh-Ann Branch Williams

Barbara Carter

How long have you been a member?  Served on RCPC staff 1989-2014


Were your family members a member of RCPC?  No


What first attracted you to RCPC?   When interviewing for the job I was informed that Dr. Jim Allison (second pastor serving at RCPC) would be retiring the following year.  I was amazed at the love and respect that every member felt for Dr. Allison and his wife Margaret.  My first year on staff was filled with much planning and events to honor his upcoming retirement.  The Retirement Reception given by the congregation was absolutely lovely.   


What changes have you observed since you joined the church?   While serving on staff there were many aesthetic changes to modernize and improve accessibility to the church facility.   A few that come to mind: a beautiful new pipe organ, the addition of the Gathering Area, elevators installed, a new Fellowship Hall, a Preschool playground, and the Columbarium. 


What do you feel are the strengths/weaknesses of RCPC?   The church has always been blessed with Godly Pastoral staff that have served so faithfully for 95 years. 


What boards/committees have you served on?   Church employee.


What programs or ministries are important to you?   Preschool, Presbyterian Women, School Backpacks


If asked, how would you describe RCPC to a new member?   Raleigh Court PC has always been a loving, caring and supportive congregation.  Whether you’re a new church member, are in a season of crisis, are dealing with an illness or a financial issue, or have lost a loved one, this church has always reached out to care for its members.   As a staff member I was embraced many times with love and support from the church members. 

What one thing/happening/or event do you fondly, specifically remember?   Upon my retirement RCPC was so good to me.  I’ll always fondly remember the Worship Service and my Retirement Reception.   The many thoughtful and caring gestures of love and appreciation shown me will never be forgotten.    

Barbara Carter

Steve and Debbie Nash

How long have you been a member? Members for 27 years


Were your family members a member of RCPC?

Sister/sister-in-law, Mary Lou Prillaman was a member when we joined RCPC


What first attracted you to RCPC?

Undoubtedly, the friendly congregation stood out immediately.  Also, there seemed to be a lot of other families in our age group.

What changes have you observed since you joined the church?

Personnel wise: Tupper Garden and Andrew Whaley have become fulltime pastors. 

Building wise: the gathering area, fellowship hall, and columbarium have been constructed.

Increased communications/interactive website

Adult education has grown from Sunday school only to small group participation throughout the week.

What do you feel are the strengths/weaknesses of RCPC?

Strengths: Ministerial staff, endowment, RCPC Preschool, music program, youth group, Haiti Mission

What boards/committees have you served on?

Steve: Elder, Deacon, Property and Maintenance, Administration, Columbarium, Search Committees, Communion Fund


Debbie: Elder, Deacon, Endowment Board, Officer Nominating, Altar Guild, Pump-a-pint, Pre-school, and Sunday school teacher


What programs or ministries are important to you?

Debbie: Endowment, pump-a-pint, Bible study

Steve: Columbarium maintenance, weekly Bible study sessions


If asked, how would you describe RCPC to a new member?

Friendly, pro-active, spiritual


What one thing/happening/or event do you fondly, specifically remember?

The Baptism of our children

Steve and Debbie Nash
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