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1001 ‘New Way’ podcast celebrates Easter season

The Rev. Zac Morton discusses how bluegrass festival performers helped shape his childhood appreciation for God’s Creation

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

As a seven-year-old, Zac Morton gained an appreciation for God’s Creation through direct experience. (Contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE — The Rev. Zac Morton, pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Morgantown, West Virginia, remembers what it was like  growing up in the blackberry brambles of rural West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

He’d accompany his grandparents to bluegrass festivals. While they played, they had only one rule: “After you eat breakfast, you can do whatever you want. But you must be back for dinner.”

“Obviously I wasn’t their main interest,” Morton said, laughing.

So he would play out in the middle of nowhere: swinging from grapevines, climbing trees, going knee-deep in the mud in the creek and catching salamanders, snakes, turtles and even crawfish.

“In my seven-year-old memory, they were as big as lobsters,” he said. “We’d put them in coffee cans and go back to the campfire and have a good Appalachian crawfish boil for dinner.”

Morton was the first guest for the Easter Season of “New Way,” the podcast for the 1001 New Worshiping Communities movement. In the first of a two-part conversation, he told New Way’s host, the Rev. Sara Hayden, about his experiences growing up and how the community of adults at those summer weekend bluegrass festivals nurtured his love for Creation, teaching him to appreciate the different animals, plants and trees.

As she introduces the episode, Hayden says, “Unlike the cosmic shift that occurred at noon when Christ died, when the sky turned dark and the Temple curtain ripped in two, resurrection comes to us in pieces.”

“There’s no brass, no fanfare, no Easter lilies,” she added. “Just morning dew and burial spices; a missing body; idle tales.”

But as Hayden sees the fiddlehead ferns beginning to unfurl in her Central Indiana home, she realizes that resurrection and new life happen, sometimes incrementally, as we take stock of it and allow it to transform us.

the Rev. Zac Morton

“I love to think of the human element of Jesus, who over and over again in the gospels goes out to a solitary place,” Morton said. “And the disciples are like, ‘Where did Jesus go?’  Every time the crowd gets too close, and the chaos gets too much, the release valve is to go out in nature and reconnect.”

Prior to accepting his call to serve at First Presbyterian Church in Morgantown, Morton served as associate pastor at Roswell Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, where he was missionally responsible for a new worshiping community, known as the Mustard Seed Ministry. He reached out to the “religious nones” through a Sunday morning hiking group and a weekly dinner and discussion group at a local music barn.

You can hear part one of Hayden’s conversation with Morton on “New Way” here. Part two will be released Thursday.

 Join close to 9,000 others by subscribing now for “New Way” weekly episodes that continue through Pentecost, via SpotifyGooglePlayStitcher and Apple Podcasts, so that you don’t miss an episode.

The “New Way” podcast is produced by Atlanta-based artist and pastor the Rev. Marthame Sanders, who also hosts the weekly podcast Aijcast, which is part of the 1001 New Worshiping Communities movement.

 In 2012, the 220th General Assembly of the PC(USA) declared a commitment to this churchwide movement that would result in the creation of 1001 worshiping communities over 10 years. At a grassroots level, nearly 600 diverse new worshiping communities have formed across the nation. 

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