She would drive down to Normandy in her early 20s, not knowing that one day she would become a pastor at the Methodist Church tucked away on Center Street.
Pastor Laurie Raulston was appointed to the Normandy United Methodist Church five and half years ago.
Having gotten engaged on the banks of Normandy Lake and having always felt the presence of God in those “beautiful” rolling hills, Raulston said she nearly fell out of her chair when the superintendent called her and told her she was to go to Normandy.
“It just felt like home. I grew up in a very small, red-brick United Methodist Church. And it’s eerily laid out similarly to this one…” she said with a laugh. “So, God’s plan unfolds over what we consider an extended time.”
Like many of her peers, Raulston did not have any early aspirations to become a pastor. She grew up in the Lebanon area, attended Middle Tennessee State University, and had a couple different jobs in Murfreesboro working in the public sector. She also volunteered with the Chamber of Commerce in Tullahoma where she lives with her husband, Mark, and two sons, Harrison and Jonathan.
Raulston said she came to truly know Christ her last year at college and admits, like everyone, that she’s had ebbs and flows in that relationship. But she always remained active in church and eventually felt the call to go into ministry.
Now five and half years later, Pastor Laurie says she loves being with this “gracious” community.
“This place of Normandy…I can feel the Holy Spirit in this place. And you can feel it when out in town. And then you see these relationships being built.”
Those relationships have proven not only beneficial to the Normandy Methodist Church but also to the Normandy Presbyterian Church, led by Pastor Tom Bagley and the Normandy Baptist Church, led by Pastor Chris Heath.
“Particularly in the role of church, community to the Christian faith is imperative,” said Raulston.
Such community starts within a congregation but then leads to bringing it outside the church’s walls, she said.
That’s why these churches started the Normandy Music Nights last spring, where local worship leaders and friends bring their banjos, guitars, and accordions to gather on Normandy’s Front Street for live music.
“What I hear repeatedly from locals is that they want a strong sense of community, of quality of life, of relationships with their neighbors. I think that’s universal but in a small little hamlet,” which is the word Raulston uses to describe Normandy, “it is possible in a place this size for most people to know each other,” she said.
“In our culture today, we think we’re more connected, but we’re honestly really more isolated.”
It’s also another reason why many of the churches’ laypeople prayer walk through the neighborhood to build relationships and trust with the locals, something that has never happened before, Raulston said.
“There are people living within a stone’s throw of each of our churches who need to hear ‘I want to know your name’ and ‘God loves you.’”
So, for many, Normandy may be a drive-through hamlet with breathtaking views. But for the community, it’s the start of a unity initiative.
“I love what God has called me to do. It feels right,” Pastor Laurie said.