I’ve always searched for places where I felt at home. As I think we all do. A place with people who feel and believe like we do. Who accept us just as we are. Where we feel not only accepted, but needed.

I’ve found these types of places many times during my life, and usually just when I needed them most. A home. A job. A marriage. A new job. A new home. A new marriage.

And yes, a new church.

When I was growing up back here in Ferrum in the 1970s, a friend joked that the name a nearby church sounded more like a Chinese restaurant than a place of worship. It was a funny quip, and still is. But in reality I knew a bit more.

Evangelistic House of Prayer (ESOP, as it’s known to regular attendees) is a simple local church. Simple, in the most wonderful of ways. Founded by repentant moonshiner Bud Nichols of western Franklin County — known for nearly a century as “The Moonshine Capital of the World” —ESOP’s congregation has grown so large over the past four decades that the original sanctuary is today a Sunday School room.

The music on Sunday mornings has a mountain feel, the conversations have a decidedly Southern charm, and the entire environment is 100 percent family-oriented.

An always-smiling lady stands in front of the gathered crowd at every meeting, “signing” the hymns and messages for congregants who are hard of hearing. There’s a standup bass player on the stage every week, another man skillfully playing steel guitar, another man (Sonny, a son of the pastor) handling percussion, and Adam (a grandson of the pastor) picking the strings of his acoustic guitar. Theresa (one of the pastor’s daughters) plays tunes on the black grand piano in a fun and rollicking style (with a granddaughter politely sitting next to her on the bench), blending the music perfectly with the appeals of Pastor Bud.

When arriving on Sunday morning, every attendee (regular or visitor) is greeted with a hearty handshake from 3-4 deacons in the front lobby. And then my bald-headed buddy Tommy (the husband of my grade-school classmate Tina) quickly scurries around to personally shake the hand of every person seated in the pews, always with a cheerful smile and hearty laugh.

When Mindy and I moved out to Virginia last year, we naturally chose churches where we felt at home. She chose to become a regular at the gathering I’d attended throughout my childhood years — where my parents still attend today, and where my wife can visit with her daughter and grandson on the first day of every week. Myself, I spend every Sunday morning in Franklin County at a simple country church that’s practically just around the corner from our cottage and even closer to my heart.

Where the music has a mountain feel and the conversations have a Southern charm. And the entire environment shouts out “family.” At a church with a name that sounds like a restaurant.

Which I guess it is. But at this restaurant, they serve spiritual food. Welcome to EHOP.

Jeff Stiles is a retired insurance agent who remains active performing standup comedy and writing. He and Mindy recently moved to Ferrum.

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