ST. ALBANS — If you need spiritual guidance or just a good laugh, Pastor Jim Hollingshead is there for you.
“You can’t be bad but you can have fun,” said Hollingshead, chuckling, in a recent interview.
Hollingshead, 54, moved to St. Albans from Brockton, Mass. almost two years ago with his wife, Donna, 44,. Leaving behind his Pentecostal church there, Hollingshead arrived in Franklin County with the intention of helping out another church here, though that fell through. Instead, Hollingshead began Jesus The Rock Apostolic Church, which is currently run out of his home at 179 North Main St.
“I’ve come to St. Albans for two reasons,” Hollingshead said. “One, to start a church, and two, to open a free Bible training center. I want to help the less fortunate.”
While Hollingshead has run his church for the past couple of years (he is certified through the online AMES International School of Ministry), he’s looking to broaden outreach and work with community members. Before forming his Bible training school and doing other projects, though, Hollingshead decided to continue his education at Vermont Adult Learning (VAL) and improve his writing and grammar skills.
“When you’re writing up lots of letters to people, you really want to look sharp,” he said.
Hollingshead began attending VAL in St. Albans in Dec. 2014. He has since worked twice a week with literary specialist Karen Shearer, and each session is filled not only with learning, but plenty of humor.
“You can hear us laughing in here,” said Shearer during an April session.
“Let me tell you, this lady is awesome,” said Hollingshead. “She not only looks good but she’s very smart. She’s a great teacher.”
Shearer said she has specifically worked on fairy tale stories with Hollingshead and has had him write his own, altered versions of classics to learn story elements, sentence structure and grammar.
“To get better at writing you have to write – practice makes better,” she said.
“I wrote ‘Red Riding in the Hood,’” said Hollingshead. The story takes place not in the woods, but in an urban setting like Brockton.
“It’s a really rough place where I came from,” Hollingshead said. As an example, he explained a double homicide once occurred right outside his church there.
“I was on Channel 5 news,” he said of local news coverage on the Bay State station.
In his story, Hollingshead has Red riding in a corvette when a “sleezy wolf” rides up and suggests hanging out at Nana’s “to chill out and eat pizza.”
“He was a real, studly pimp,” Hollingshead read.
To make a long story short, in Hollingshead’s version of the classic story, the wolf and Red get to Nana’s by the freeway, Nana is chloroformed, kept in a closet, and after admiring the wolf’s big muscles, Red eventually calls the police to come save her.
“Jim – I love his creativity and enthusiasm,” said Shearer. “He was a little skeptical about the fairy tales at first. [But] you can be creative, you can write your own story.”
She added, “It makes learning fun.”
Hollingshead has also written other parody stories such as “The Putrid Onion Man” (a smellier, less appetizing version of The Gingerbread Man), and they’re good enough that Shearer and VAL regional manager Lenny Rosenberg have undertaken a search for a children’s book publisher.
“Lenny and Karen think I should publish,” said Hollingshead. With that possibility comes another – funds for his church work.
“The idea of this is to use these stories to fund a ministry,” said Hollingshead. “We’re working on our way to a building [for the church].”
On Sunday, Hollingshead put his English training, as well as his enthusiasm, to work. At Jesus The Rock Apostolic Church, Hollingshead led Bible study, prayer, worship and eventually a sermon for his six churchgoers.
“We’re going to have a good time,” said Hollingshead before setting up a laptop and playing hymns for everyone to sing and worship along to. As Pentecostals, those attending Hollingshead’s church pray with an undeniable energy, holding hands raised to the heavens, repeating praises to God, whooping, clapping, and, in some cases of special fervor, speaking in tongues.
“It’s not church the way most people see church,” said Hollingshead. “We have fun. It’s free worship.”
He added that no two church services are alike. “We’re out of the box.”
After this worship session and a brief period of testimony, Hollingshead gave his message – his sermon – to the group. It was filmed by one church member, Jay LaClair, with the hope of it being presented on local cable Channel 15.
Throughout his message, Hollingshead used the tools of storytelling, providing examples, metaphors, themes and connections for his listening churchgoers. His main points were these: people’s spiritual survival is dependent on Jesus and the Bible, and that God loves all.
“I love the fact that we can let our hair down – if we have hair – and be the way we want with God,” said Hollingshead.
He added, “I’m not ashamed to preach Jesus. Preach it well, preach it hard.” Hollingshead related the many blessings he feels he has experienced after joining the Pentecostal church in 1999. He said at the time, he was battling a brain tumor that he said, after a prayer session with a minister, literally fell out of his nose.
When Hollingshead said that following an MRI his doctor was in disbelief at the tumor’s absence. Since then, Hollingshead has been in the ministry, where he has tried to share God and love with anyone who is interested.
“It’s all about heart guys,” he told his church members on Sunday. “God wants to meet you where you are.”
VAL also wants to meet anyone where they are at with their education, such as Hollingshead. He’s continuing to take his literary course until he feels ready to stop.
“I’m taking it one step at a time,” he said.
Hollingshead’s wife, Donna, also took classes at VAL last year to brush up on math and English. She is now at the end of her first semester at Community College of Vermont.
“Her goal was to work with children,” said Hollingshead, “and she really didn’t have the tools. Now she’s back in the saddle again. She’s doing well, very well.”
And that’s the goal of VAL – to provide all with opportunity for the blessing of success.
“We’ll take anybody here,” said Rosenberg.