By Jessica Connor
ANDERSON —Ten two-letter words sum up why James Morrison has been leading a firewood ministry in Anderson for the last 38 years: If it is to be, it is up to me.
Morrison, 70, spends at least three days of every week with a splitting maul in his hands or working the hydraulic splitter, chopping wood from trees into firewood that people in need can use to heat their homes in the frigid Upstate winter.
He s been doing it so long he doesn t even consider it hard work, though health calculators say splitting and stacking firewood burns about 400-500 calories an hour ”about equal to shooting baskets, shoveling snow or playing soccer. And yet week after week, month after month, year after year, Morrison and his team of some three-dozen volunteers find themselves cutting, loading and delivering firewood so elderly, sick or financially struggling people can have a way to stay warm.
I love doing it, I love the feeling of helping somebody, and it keeps me going, Morrison said, calling it God s ministry that he is blessed to carry on. The Lord has been good to me, and this just is a small way of giving back.
But it s not small to the families he and his team help. The wood ministry supplies truckloads every winter to Anderson Interfaith Ministries, which for the last 25 years has made it available to families from the wood yard behind the AIM building three days a week. Last year, Morrison said, they logged 1,300 hours of cutting and splitting wood for AIM alone ”and that s not even counting the hours to deliver or the other non-AIM families they bring wood to.
For the folks who receive it, it s critical for them, said Ammon Palmer, who manages the AIM food pantry and provides wood vouchers to qualifying people.
Without the wood, people would have to draw from their slender food budget to pay for increased electric bills, Palmer said ”or go without heat.
From a few to many
Morrison started the wood ministry in Anderson 38 years ago, though he s been doing it since he was a kid, when his father used to cut wood on a smaller scale for some local families ”before they even had chainsaws and had to use a crosscut saw and ax. Morrison brought the ministry to Anderson when he and his wife relocated, and for a while it was an offshoot ministry of his church, Trinity United Methodist Church, Anderson.
The ministry grew as the years passed, and before too long, other volunteers got involved. Today, the team includes people from various churches in Anderson: Trinity UMC, as well as Zion UMC, Concord Baptist, NewSpring Church and several others. They bring wood to AIM along with various families identified by their churches.
As a rule, Morrison and four to six others chop, load and deliver wood on Tuesdays and Thursdays (Morrison s days off; he also drives a truck a few days a week). The full group of 25-35 gathers on Saturdays for a large workday, running six to nine hydraulic splitters, six to eight splitting mauls and a variety of other tools, most purchased by the volunteers themselves. Men and some women of all ages work together, from strong-armed seniors to the freshman class of the Anderson University baseball team, which volunteers at least once a year. Many of the volunteers buy and bring their own splitters and tools, and they work for hours in Christian fellowship. Even in the warm season, they cut and store wood in preparation for winter.
The ministry gets wood from a variety of places: some people call to offer trees down in their yard, or they have a farm and allow the ministry to come on-site and cut. Morrison has friends who own tree services, and they often let the ministry cut any wood they have cleared from a property.
The firewood is distributed from mid-October, when it starts to get cold, until March or April, when it starts to warm up.
The Lord s body
It s a lot of hard work, but the volunteers say it s enjoyable, and it s a good way they can truly be the Lord s hands and feet for neighbors in need.
In fact, that s the prayer Morrison and his team say before they do any work, Morrison said: We are the Lord s body, the Lord s hands and feet. He s letting us do this, so let s get with it. Let s just do it.
Danny Thompson, a member of Zion UMC, Anderson, has been helping with the wood ministry for many years. He said knowing they serve people who really need help keeps him coming back week after week.
I get to see so many people in need, so I know this particularly ministry helps so many people, Thompson said, noting that in December alone, 40-50 truckloads went out to people who need firewood to stay warm. These are people who couldn't pay their bills.
Sometimes, Thompson and others also take people kerosene or wood if they call at night, desperate for assistance. They do what they can.
Joe Miller, a member of Trinity with Morrison and head baseball coach of Anderson University s baseball team, has been bringing his freshmen players to cut wood every January for the past 10 years.
It s really opened some kids eyes; I got a kid from Miami, Florida, and the idea of splitting wood to heat your house was beyond his comprehension, Miller said, noting the opportunity to cut wood with his players is one of the most enjoyable experiences he s had.
Miller said it s also a good way to give back and honor the Lord s blessings.
I don't care how fortunate we are, we ve all been helped by somebody, Miller added. These people can t pay their power bills, so they re throwing wood in the fireplace. ¦ It s just a way you can help out people in need, and it s a very valuable service.
The Rev. Susan Leonard-Ray, Anderson District superintendent, said one can only guess how many families have been kept warm thanks to the wood ministry, what friendships have been nurtured while cutting wood or which ways God has used this ministry to deepen faith.
Like so many ministries within and beyond the doors of the local church, this wood cutting ministry is one borne in heart of the laity to address a need that was real in the community, Leonard-Ray said. It started with a sense of concern that became a conviction that became an action that became a sustainable ministry that includes many people and blesses many more.
Called to serve
And for Morrison, it all comes back to those 10 two-letter words that have become his credo: If it is to be, it is up to me. Years ago, an old football coach told him that saying, and it stuck in his mind and never let go.
Over the years, it s gotten to mean more and more to me, and now i
t s an everyday thing, Morrison said. If someone comes up to me and asks me something, and I can say yes or no, that runs through my mind. And if the Lord is on my heart, I m going to say yes.
Every day, Morrison said, he asks the Lord to give him somebody he can witness to and help. He doesn t care how big or small a way, whether it s cutting firewood or sharing his 10-word saying with a troubled young man in the wood yard or chatting with a stranger.
He never fails, Morrison said.
Inspired by that, Morrison just keeps on working for the Lord, one piece of firewood at a time. He knows there will come a day when he ll need to stop, or someone else will need to take over.
But for now, this is the way he is called to serve. And serve he and the other wood ministry volunteers do ”week after week, year after year, bringing Christian warmth and light to those in need.