East Tenn. woman continues circuit preaching tradition

(WBIR- Sevier County) One East Tennessee woman is keeping the old tradition of circuit preaching alive in the area.

Pastor Alta Raper travels to Burnett Memorial United Methodist Church, Webb's Creek United Methodist Church, and Shultz Grove United Methodist Church each Sunday, preaching to three congregations.

"I just do God's work, and it's the easiest job in the world to do God's work in the mountains with these beautiful, wonderful people," Raper said.

Raper started preaching at the age of 60. She said she has been serving the same circuit for the last 14 years.

"It was God's calling," she said. "He called me in 1989, and I wouldn't answer that call because I kept saying, 'God do you know that I'm a woman? Do you know that I'm not qualified to be a minister?'"

Circuit preaching became popular in the 19th century, especially in the area west of the Appalachian Mountains. Raper said the original circuit preachers rode horses, but she prefers the 21st century convenience of her car.

"My little silver car goes up and down the road, and all the policeman know me," she said. "And they have to sort of turn their heads if I happen to be a little bit late for the next service."

Raper said there aren't as many circuit preachers anymore, and she could only think of two or three in East Tennessee.

She said most of the churches that she preaches at are smaller congregations with strong family ties and prefer to remain that way rather than consolidating into one large church.

"We're smaller, country churches, and everyone knows everyone else," Raper said. "I know everyone's name and everyone's face, and I usually know everything that's going on in their lives."

Raper said she travels about 20 miles round trip on her Sunday circuit that includes services at 9:15 a.m., 10:30 a.m., and 2 p.m.

"I'm able to get there on time," she said. "I just have to time my sermon. I really know how long my sermon's going to be right down to the minute so very seldom do I go over."


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