Blackburn Community Outreach, Inc. developed out of the Blackburn House intentional community. The birth of Blackburn House followed close upon the near closing of Blackburn’s Chapel UMC.
The community surrounding this Chapel faced challenges of aging demographics, lack of job opportunities, and declining economic activity. For long-time residents, these changes led to a loss of their once-lively sense of community and shared purpose. Blackburn’s Chapel came to reflect the broader community decline--Sunday attendance had dwindled to 6-8 aging adults who could no longer provide the energy that a thriving church requires so the Chapel was slated for closure in 2008.
Through a visitor, Bob Bumgarner, Blackburn’s plight came to the attention of Pastor John Fitzgerald of Boone United Methodist Church. Pastor Fitzgerald suggested that BUMC “adopt” Blackburn’s as a mission of BUMC. It thus came to be that Blackburn’s Chapel, while continuing to be independent in finances and personality, became another worshipping community or campus of BUMC. It was the first occurrence of this sort in North Carolina. Subsequently, as a continuation of the renewal process, Blackburn’s separated from a rural three-church charge.
The question then arose of how to resolve joint ownership of the parsonage. Blackburn’s congregation wished to retain full ownership of the house since it was adjacent to the Chapel and had historically been part of it. Their goal was two-fold: to pay off the mortgage and to maintain a beneficial occupancy in the house. With the encouragement of Pastor Jason Byassee, a team from Blackburn’s applied for a grant from The Duke Endowment in 2011, introducing the concept of Blackburn House for the first time.
The proposal was to “convert our unused parsonage into The Blackburn House, with the goal of creating an intentional Christian community of four residents. They will live and worship in Todd, covenant together for a life of discipleship, explore and implement effective leadership methods in the rural setting, cultivate their ministry calling, be Christ to one another and the local community.”
A two-fold new capacity was expected: “1) a vital community ministry and 2) an upgraded facility with its loan balance paid off after three years of grant funding.” A commitment was made to “long term use of our facility as a quiet, contemplative, transitional space for future pastors and church leaders.”
Blackburn House began as only an intentional community program in 2012 and has grown to embody the original vision more fully by becoming a community development organization, Blackburn Community Outreach (BCO). Now a program of BCO, Blackburn House has remained a significant resource in Todd, maintaining regular presence and connection with Blackburn’s Chapel, Todd organizations, and the community-at-large. Learn more about the current iteration of the Blackburn House program, meet residents past and present, or donate here.