By Alex Perry – Published 7:57 pm Friday, September 14, 2018
The Rev. Devon Blair has been spending her first September as a Suffolk pastor helping members of her congregation prepare for the impending impact of Hurricane Florence this week. Like many of her members, she’s decided to wait out the storm at home, partly because she’s got pets and partly because of advice from her steadfast neighbors.
“Right before I moved in in June, there were some really bad wind storms that knocked down some trees and stuff, so I’m a little bit nervous with the trees around my house. But otherwise I feel safe here,” Blair said as the rain started pouring outside of her office window on Tuesday at Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church in Chuckatuck.
Blair began preaching at Wesley Chapel on July 1, following in the footsteps of former pastor Brandon Nichols. The new Chuckatuck pastor earned her Master of Divinity in May from Duke Divinity School at Duke University in Durham, N.C.
She grew fond of Hampton Roads during her studies at Virginia Wesleyan University in Norfolk from 2009 to 2013. She was school buddies with Nichols during that time, she said, and the former pastor continues to be a source of support, as he lives in Chesapeake.
“It really worked out for me to be able to get to know the church a little bit ahead of time, because I knew Brandon for so long,” Blair said.
She also grew accustomed to the area when she was office manager for New Fire for Christ in Norfolk from late 2013 to mid 2015. The nonprofit was founded in 1997 by Dr. Bob Boyd Jr. and his wife, Mallory, to “reach the unreached around the world for Christ,” according to newfireforchrist.org.
“It gave me a lot of insight into what goes into making a ministry run,” she said about her time with the Norfolk organization.
Now she’s putting those skills to good use for Wesley Chapel’s 30 to 35 active members, according to Blair’s estimation. She’s been especially impressed by Debbie Bryant’s choir at the church.
Blair herself sings in the choir along with the other members, pulling from her experience singing in church youth choir during her summers off from Middlesex High School, where she also sang high school acapella.
“I enjoy getting to spend time with the group that’s part of the choir,” she said about the more vocal members of her church community. “It’s probably about 10 people — just a third of the attending congregation — but they make some beautiful joy for the Lord, and it’s really incredible to be part of that.”
Another third of the congregation is active on Wesley Chapel’s community service calendar. Members sign up for shifts to do their part daily, including maintenance of the community garden, buying what they can’t grow at the church from local markets and keeping the pantry box at the church parking lot stocked for the hungry.
“They’re committed to being here every day of the week to take care of that,” she said.
She said one of the lessons that Nichols passed on to her was to allow members of the congregation to spearhead their own ideas for the community.
“These are their good ideas being put into practice,” she said.
When asked what she would like to build upon at Wesley Chapel, Blair said she’d like to see younger families and individuals breathe new life and energy inside the church.
“It’s no secret that churches in general across our whole country are in decline, (and) Wesley Chapel is no different. We want to be part of seeing the church be revitalized,” she said.
She said she enjoys the small-town charm of Chuckatuck while still being just a 90-minute drive away from family and an even shorter drive to Norfolk, Newport News and other more urban spots in Hampton Roads.
When she’s not in service and the weather is favorable, Blair can be seen riding her hybrid bike down Chuckatuck sidewalks past the 7-Eleven, post office and sometimes as far as Lone Star Lakes Park. She said she enjoys riding from her house near the church through Chuckatuck’s quiet, peaceful and safe community.
“I think people are noticing me doing that. I got my hair cut here at (Kitty’s Beauty Salon) and they were like, ‘We were wondering who was riding their bike to the post office,’ because I rode my bike to the salon,” she said.