By Otto SolbergTeri Crawford Brown was born and raised in Jewel Ridge, Va., and as a child never went off the mountain unless it was for a special family trip to Dairy Queen. Teri now lives in Richlands, Va., in a century-old church that she has been sustainably renovating with her husband. To her, the mountains of Virginia have always been home, and a home she wants to protect.
Three years ago, while visiting Knoxville,Tenn., Teri picked up a copy of The Appalachian Voice and couldn’t put it down.
“I loved everything about it,” she says, “Like trying to grow a new economy and not be dependent on coal, and making our representatives accountable for their decisions.”
After noticing that the papers were distributed by volunteers, Teri began distributing copies across the town of Richlands, Va., including at the hospital where she has been a nurse for 23 years.
“I went through this period of time just trying to find what my purpose was,” Teri says. “I came to the realization — your purpose is always serving other people.”
During her evening walks, Teri carries a stick and bag to pick up trash.
“We would go walking or hiking and there would be trash out in the woods, and that always just bothered me that it felt like a bigger problem than I could fix.”
Aware that trash doesn’t just go away, Teri and her husband Richard are repurposing as much as they can while renovating a secluded 126-year-old church into their home.They bought Davis Chapel in Richlands, Va., from their good friends Mike Smith and Barbette Patton, who had saved the church from development.
Teri and Richard raised their three sons in a 3,000-square-foot home in a subdivision, and Teri felt like she was working all the time to clean, heat and pay for it, so she wanted to go smaller. Moving into the one-room church downsized them to 1,100 square feet of living space.
In their renovations, they used trusses from the old roof, balusters from the altar and light fixtures from the church. They refinished the original walls and floors and divided the church into rooms. In the bell tower, they built a home library, and Teri hand-sanded bookshelves from a nearby library for the floorboards.
“That’s the thing I love the most about the church, and was so excited about, was the bell tower, and having a bookshelf and a big comfortable chair,” she says. “So all of that has come true now.”
Teri also hopes that her kids and grandkids can appreciate the Appalachian mountains the same way she has and wants to protect them from dangers like mountaintop removal coal mining. She can already see three strip mines from Bearwallow Mountain where she was raised.
Teri believes Appalachia is as beautiful as the Grand Canyon, yet, she says,“we don’t appreciate it, and our children, our people, have been raised to dismiss it and allow it to be destroyed, and we can’t get it back.”
To inspire a cycle of positive change, Teri encourages others to work on small environmental issues that are important to them.
“We have to start these things small and let them grow in these very rural small areas,” Teri says.
Teri blogs about her thoughts and minimalist church renovation at gratefullty.com