As my time in West Virginia is coming to a close, I wanted to share some reflections on this state. A state which boasts many fun-facts but has also been mired in misconceptions. I want to share some of those fun-facts, clear up, confirm, or dispute misconceptions and views “Gentiles” (non-West Virginians) still hold.
1. Country roads will take you home, and make sure that you will stay awake while driving on them. Because West Virginia is so mountainous, the shortest distance between two points (a straight line) is rarely an option. Someone described the cities to me as “islands separated not by water but by mountains.” You will probably not fall asleep driving on the interstate because you will never drive in a straight line for more than a mile. But what about in-town neighborhood driving? Yep, you’ll be awake for that as well, because you’ll be avoiding potholes. Many neighborhood roads are not paved by the city, but instead left to Homeowners associations. My $100-a-year-fee for snow removal leaves little hope that our neighborhood road will not forever be plagued with potholes.
2. Pretty people? I didn’t hold this myth to be self-evident but I know someone who did. He didn’t believe there were pretty people in West Virginia. In fact, he didn’t believe me when I first told him that so and so was from here. His reasoning: the gal was a very attractive. Of course he was from Virginia, and this neighboring state seems to hold a number of inaccurate prejudices. Finally, he agreed with me that his misconception was wrong. If you still don’t believe me, Jennifer Garner is from West Virginia. There are plenty of pretty people here, just like there are in every state.
3. Family Values. I had heard that the family unit was strong here. Very strong. I wasn’t disappointed, as this is true throughout all socio-economic levels. Birthdays are bigger here than anywhere else I’ve lived. Parties are only the start of it, as festivities also include, at the very least, separate dinners out with both sides of family. But because of this strong family unit, as an outsider, it can be hard to break in. Many give up and I’ve had conversations with folks who just end up leaving. I’ve found this to be a shared experience of both Christians and non-Christians. Fortunately I have had a wonderful church family that received me and my family as their own, so my experience as a pastor of an established church is a bit more unique. But for many who move here, it takes a long time to break through. Family units are so tight that brothers, sisters, cousins, are their friends. This is why a church has to think outward, as the opportunities to invite people into their family celebrations are not only endless, but necessary if the local church is to have an impact on its community. Of course it also has to think inwardly as well and consider the “orphaned” within the church.
4. Not “Buck Wild.” Many West Virginians were angered at the show “Buck Wild.” And they should have been. The world outside West Virginia has one view of what West Virginia is, and this is it. Now I’m not belittling any way of life; I’m simply saying that there are plenty of places in West Virginia which couldn’t be described by “Buck Wild.” Where I live, it is simply a small, fairly Southern, suburban bedroom community in between the two “big” cities of Charleston and Huntington. It is known as “The Valley” and is not Buck Wild. Many places are not Buck Wild, but there are already too many “Desperate Housewives of Teays Valley,” so I doubt that type of show could get good ratings.
5. Sports Passion. I’ve enjoyed the sports community up here. They enjoy their sports. Now of course, West Va fans got pegged as the third worst fans by a GQ poll some years back, just behind Philly fans. But I’ve never seen couch burning in Hurricane. Florida is so divided with FSU, Miami, UF, USF, UCF, and after the NCAA tourney, who knows where Florida Gulf Coast will go? In West Virginia, it is pretty much W.V.U., with Marshall making up the large minority. For the most part the two opposing parties co-exist, much better than fans within the Florida college sports sub-culture. When it comes to sports for kids, there is the same passion you’d find anywhere else. Unfortunately that passion gets misplaced, just like the rest of America, and many people choose travel sports over church.
6. Fix-it culture. Dudes can fix things up here. Period. I can’t, so I’ve enjoyed being around people who can. Not only that, but people really do want to teach others to fix. They get “fix-it discipleship.” I’ve really appreciated all I’ve learned in that regard.
7. Not a bastion of Reformed Theology, but ripe for picking. For a number of reasons, of which many are unbeknownst to me, Reformed Theology has not taken much root here the way it has in Virginia. Now there are some bright spots, and some Presbyterian and Reformed Baptist churches are doing some fantastic work in mercy, gospel proclamation, and theological training. Also there are conferences, and bloggers springing up that are beginning to have influence. Yet there are many churches who not only are hostile to the idea that God could actually be Sovereign over everything, but believe the only inspired bible is the King James version. I never came across that in Florida. Still, I’ve never seen such people who really want to learn more deeply the gospel and the doctrines of grace. Many folks at Redeemer feel cheated that they didn’t get to really hear about grace all of their lives. And so now they are trying to play “catch-up” and can’t get enough. They want to meet. They want to read. They want to learn. They listen on-line. And they are incredibly thankful. I will miss that hunger and teachable spirit greatly.
8. Fewer Mom and Pop restraunts than expected. We have a plethora of Bob Evans, Tudors Biscuit World’s, and Applebees, but fewer Hillbilly Hotdog type restraunts than I had hoped. And expected. But again, that may be more in “The Valley” where I live. I can’t speak for all of WV.
9. Outdoors. Many people here take advantage of the beauty of this state. Most camp, and many fish. In fact, a much greater percentage at Redeemer fish than in my church in Bradenton, FL. That has resulted in “official” yearly men’s fishing/camping trips that I started and are now continuing without my involvement, planning, or participation.
10. Property Value. Many folks told me, “You’ll be able to get tons of land and a big house for very cheap up there.” That’s actually not true. At all. Where I live it is not cheap, and for the same house size, it’s not much if any cheaper, than Bradenton. It was actually a decent bit more expensive up here just a few years back. Now if I were to live in one of the smaller cities outside this Huntington-Charleston area, there would obviously be a price break. But if you want a neighborhood, and some quality schools nearby, it is not usually all that cheap.
11. Counties over cities. Because there are few “big” cities here, most people refer to where they are from with the county name, not city name. I have never come across that before and can’t imagine explaining to someone I’m from Hillsborough county. But it makes sense why they do it up here.
12. Higher Car standards. My Mazda Protege did not pass the car inspection up here. I had to get two new side view mirrors in order to get my 12 dollar sticker. Will not miss that yearly inspection.
13. South Carolina? There are probably more South Carolina car stickers per car in West Virginia than in South Carolina. It is a bit odd, but this is where WV folks vacation each year, so that’s the reason. Still I have found it intriguing that with a state with such state pride would don the South Carolina palm tree sticker so often.
These are simply some of my reflections (as somewhat of an outsider) on West Virginia the last 3 and half years. I hope that if you’re from here, you’ll find that that I represented you well and if you’re not from here that you at least learned something.