Rev. Rapking says goodbye to Parish House after nine years
BUCKHANNON — It was during Rev. Alicia Rapking’s first year as director of the Upshur Parish House and Crosslines, Inc. when she encountered a young mother who came seeking help.
The mother with one child already was pregnant with her second child, working a part-time retail job and she and her husband shared a residence with friends.
“They came in to get help because they needed to move out of the shared house they were living in,” Rapking said. “They found a house but needed help with the deposit. We helped them.”
Rapking and the young mother developed a trust between them but didn’t see each other for several months afterwards.
“One day she came in and sat in my office,” she said. “She burst into tears and she told me that the pregnancy was progressing but there was a problem with the baby. She was feeling guilty because she thought she was doing something to harm the baby.”
“We spent a long time just sitting there, crying together,” she said.
Two months later, the mother returned and shared the devastating news that her baby had no brain and would be born the next day.
“She wanted prayer because she didn’t know how she would get through the next day,” Rapking said.
The woman’s husband had left her at that point.
“I think about her so often because that is so painful for anyone to go through, no matter how many resources you have,” Rapking said. “She was all alone. I can’t imagine going through it with all the resources but having very few resources and no support…About a week or two after that, she told me she was leaving the area. I have often wondered what has happened to her and how she is doing.”
In Rapking’s nine years at the organization she has seen people come in for assistance but doesn’t learn of any resolution.
“Sometimes people come in and all they need is financial push to get them over the hump and sometimes what they need is someone to listen to them,” she said.
“What this place did for her was give her a place where she can come and trust people to hear her story and not judge her,” Rapking said. “It wasn’t just me. She came in enough that some of other volunteers heard her story and when she came in were willing to sit and listen to her and offer whatever support they could.
“There are a lot of times when people will come in just because it’s a crisis situation,” she said. “They may never have another episode when they need us. I like to thank that we helped them with that rough time and they are OK.”
Rapking said goodbye to the Upshur Parish House and Crosslines Inc. this month as she begins a new faith journey as pastor of First United Methodist Church in Parkersburg, organized in 1799 as one of the first churches on the Ohio River, on July 1.
The decision to leave her ministry at the Upshur Parish House was made after much prayer and discernment and a desire to go back into full-time church ministry – something she left when she was appointed to the Upshur Parish House and Crosslines, Inc. nine years ago.
“For about the last year and a half, I have felt God tugging at me to do some different things,” she said. Part of that included me going back into the church as a full-time parish pastor and also included starting a Doctorate of Ministry degree. It also has included me doing a lot of writing.”
Mornings at the Upshur Parish House and Crosslines Inc. begin with prayer among the staff, volunteers and those in the waiting room who need help that day. They share concerns and joys and then start their day where they will face many challenges.
“It’s been both the most difficult and best loved job I have ever had,” Rapking said. “I have learned a lot and I think I have contributed a lot but I also am aware that there are others who can connect with what we do here and need to connect with what we do here. I think Kristi in particular has the skills and the vision and connections to take what we do here to the next level.”
Kristi Wilkerson, formerly director of Christian education at First United Methodist Church in Buckhannon, will fill the position beginning July 1.
As Rapking answered questions in a nearly empty office recently, she reflected on what had happened over the last nine years.
“We have increased the amount of families we work with by three fold,” she said. “We have formed partnerships with lots of different agencies and churches. We are seeing more people and trying to offer more programs that meet people’s needs – both physically and spiritually. I’m very thankful for those churches and agencies.”
One example of that partnership is Holy Rosary Catholic Church’s diaper bank which is open Mondays and Thursdays out of an office in the Parish House.
“We are serving more meals,” she said. “The Clothes Closet has expanded countless times and there are other things on the horizon.”
The Clothes Closet which operates behind the Upshur Parish House in a separate building provides money for the Parish House and Crosslines to put back into the community as well as provides clothing and household items for families through vouchers.
Does Rapking feel more people are in need of services?
“It feels that way,” Rapking said. “I just did a grant proposal last week and checked statistics for the last three years. Families in Upshur County living at or below the poverty level have increased over the last three years. The amount of children living in poverty has increased over the last three years. I’m not sure how much of it for us is that the need is increasing or that our folks are just better able to get to us.”
The Parish House and Crosslines operates with Rapking as the only full-time staff member, seven part-time staff and a host of volunteers.
“Some of them have been here longer than me,” Rapking said. “We couldn’t do what we do without our volunteers. In the course of a year we see over 150 volunteers. They are kind and they are gentle. They get pushed to the limit and they still respond with kindness and compassion. They keep coming back which amazes me because this is a difficult volunteer job. Their heart is with the people of Upshur County who have no voice and who struggle day to day like no other.”
The same can be said for the staff.
“Our staff work tirelessly and they all put in more time because they love their county and love the people that we work with,” she said.
This year the Upshur Parish House and Crosslines was named Organization of the Year by the Buckhannon-Upshur Chamber of Commerce.
Rapking also thanked the community for their support and said she has already shared that with Wilkerson.
“We live in the most generous county I have ever lived in and when we come up short all we have to do is let people know,” she said. “That is the thing that I am most grateful for. Our biggest asset is we have such generous people who support us on a regular basis.”