Thank you and God bless

Published 3:47 pm Tuesday, June 24, 2014

One day back in 2011, my wife and I were having lunch at a Chic-fil-A. We knew that any day, we would be receiving a telephone call informing us of the church and the town where we would be moving that July. My mind wandered, considering all of the possible locations throughout the state of Virginia where we might be sent. Would it be a big city, like Richmond? An overwhelming suburb, like Northern Virginia? A long-forgotten town in the foothills of Appalachia?

Just as we picked up our food from the counter, my phone rang. As much as I wanted to mute the call and sink my teeth into a spicy chicken sandwich, I had a feeling that this was not a call to miss. And I was right.

On the other end of the line, my district superintendent told me that he was meeting with our bishop and they had just decided my next appointment. With great anticipation, I asked him where we were headed. His answer: Courtland, Virginia. My response: Where is that?

He shared with me that Courtland is a small town located near Franklin, Virginia. He compared it to “Mayberry,” from the Andy Griffith show, filled with small town charm, interesting people, and overwhelming kindness. He could not have been more correct!

As my wife and I enjoyed our first few days in town, we quickly realized that even though we were far from our comfort zones (we both grew up in fairly large suburbs), we were definitely in the right place. While we rode down Route 35, Zac Brown Band’s “Free” played through the speakers. We felt as if he was singing about us.

Here we were, young, just married, without kids, and about to embark on a completely new adventure together. Never again in our lives would we be in such a unique and exciting situation. We knew that it would be wrong not to cherish every second of it.

As LeeAnn and I enjoy our last few days in Courtland, it’s difficult to reflect on the past three years without emotion. We have loved and cherished every moment that we’ve been blessed enough to live in this area. We may still be clueless when it comes to fishing, hunting, mudding and pretty much any other activity that people enjoy around here. But the charm and the kindness of this community have left an indelible mark upon our hearts that will forever remain.

Every time I’ve graduated, I’ve always received a picture frame or bookmark with the famous words from Jeremiah 29:11 printed upon it: “‘I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord. ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Regardless of what those words meant when God spoke them to the Israelite people, they have never felt more accurate in our lives.

We leave this community far better than when we entered it. We have been blessed far more than we have blessed others. And there have been few times in our lives when God’s hand has been more evident or generous than it has been through this community over the past three years.

So as I conclude my final article for The Tidewater News, I would like to take a moment to give thanks for all of those who have made such a difference in our lives.

First, to The Tidewater News: thank you for this column. Never did I believe that a weekly article in a local newspaper would make such a profound impact. I have met people all over the state who have somehow been touched by the column you have given me the privilege to write. While part of me still wonders why anyone wants to read the thoughts that come from my head, I have seen the difference it has made in our church and in the lives of people in the community. Thank you for allowing me to be part of that.

To the Courtland/Franklin/Southampton County community: thank you for embracing us as your own. You have shown us what a small town should truly be like. You’ve taught us how to slow down and enjoy God’s beautiful creation that surrounds us. You exemplify what it means to love your neighbor. And you make really delicious fried foods at the Fair. We are better (and perhaps slightly heavier) for knowing you.

To Courtland United Methodist Church: thank you for your love. There are not words to express the joy we have known in leading this church. You are a true example of God’s hope for the church: kind, welcoming, generous, forgiving and faithful. You show the world that the church is not just a building, but a community of people who support one another, bless their community, and change the world. I am proud to have been your pastor. And I pray for you even greater blessings in the years to come than we have experienced together over the past three years.

Finally, to you, the reader: Thank you for taking the time to read this column over the course of the past year. I’m sure that sometimes you enjoyed it, others you didn’t, and perhaps a few times you asked yourself why the newspaper publishes this crazy guy. Whatever the case, I hope that these articles have not only caused you to think, but have led you to act. I pray that your faith is stronger not only because of what you believe, but because of how you have lived that out in the lives of those around you. It is an amazing thing that Jesus invites us to be a part of; this opportunity to change the world by sharing his love with others. May this be the focus of your life and the joy that fills your heart.

Please continue to search the paper for this article each week. While I will no longer be writing it, the new pastor of Courtland UMC, Andrew Book, will be taking over the column each week. Andrew shares my same passion for helping people to draw closer to Jesus and change the world through their faith. I’m sure his articles will be an even greater blessing to you than mine.

May God bless you all in the years to come. Know that I will always pray for you. And should our paths ever cross in the future, please introduce yourself. For, every moment we can reconnect with this community, our hearts will be that much brighter!

BRANDON ROBBINS has been the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He will be starting a new church in Norfolk called IGNITE. To learn more about this church, or to contact him, email