By Sue Moore
“Beautiful on the Mountain,” written by former Vicksburg resident Jeannie Lawrence Light, is set to be released this month by Tyndale House Publishers.
In the book, Light recounts her journey from her divorce settlement from a prominent Kalamazoo man to opening a rural church in Graves Mill, VA, population, a few hundred.
But Light’s childhood was spent in the area as she grew up near Leonidas. Her aunt and uncle, Amy and Paul Kuhn, lived in Brady Township on a farm that Light often visited. Then, when her aunt moved to Vicksburg to live at the corner of Prairie and Mill Street, she followed.
Light graduated from Vicksburg High School in 1959 after only three years.
“My dad was a third generation farmer and a master carpenter, but he died when I was 12,” she said. “My mother was a musician, who suffered with seizures. The house was full of books and music and it was always understood that I would go to college.”
So with scholarships, including a Lee Paper scholarship, covering her tuition, she attended Kalamazoo College. To fund her room and board, she lived off campus and worked for the Upjohn family.
For her graduate work, she was awarded a Woodrow Wilson scholarship to study at Columbia University but decided upon the University of Virginia.
“It was like coming home, when I arrived in Charlottesville, VA, as I had southern roots, and I’ve stayed there ever since,” Light said.
She then met and married a member of the Upjohn extended family and, thus, had enough money to be comfortable during the 11 years of her marriage. The couple settled in Madison County, VA, where farm life was the norm for her in 1968.
“Because of the influence of Brady Township life with my relatives, the farm I settled on in Virginia reminded me of rural Vicksburg,” she said.
After the divorce in 1977, Light was left with very little except a 700 acre tract of land which was a combination of rocky cliffs, wooded slopes, and about 125 acres of pasture.
The natives described it as “so poor a rabbit needed to pack a sack lunch to get through it.”
So, she decided to raise sheep on it along with her complement of cats, a dog, horses, and chickens. Soon those who lived in the “hollow” encouraged her to open up a long derelict church. In her book, she tells how she came to know God through the experience in Graves Mill.
Her friend, David Aikman, a former Time Magazine editor who wrote the forward in the book, describes Light’s journey as she, “discovered that opening the Bible among a group of strangers had the effect of opening up a new community: a community of people who laughed, joked, wept, and helped each other out in a sort of mini Kingdom of Heaven. The characters in this book are as funny, flawed, and tragic as any of us. Yet in Jeannie’s story, the love of God enfolds them all, revealing how the body of Christ is supposed to function in everyday situations.”
She was confirmed in the Episcopal Church in 1980 and shortly afterward was licensed as a lay reader.
“I was convinced that my work in the mountains was to get the church open, to build up the congregation, and to spread the gospel,” she said.
In 1985, she became a member of Truro Anglican Church, Fairfax, VA and since her resignation from Graves Chapel in 1993, she has ministered at Truro in various capacities as a layperson. She lives in Louisa, VA.
Light has stayed connected to Vicksburg through her visits with Nina Cripps, whose late husband Rob Cripps, was a cousin to Light.
“Vicksburg is still very dear to my heart and it still feels like Madison County to me,” she said.
Light’s book is available on Amazon.com or in local bookstores.