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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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It's 'Uncle Earl' now

In Banner Elk, N.C., only some of the names have changed

Thirty-nine years ago, Jason Townsend and his bib overalls appeared on the cover of The Lutheran. He was 74 at the time. He died in 1976, but that’s about all that has changed around his house near the North Carolina mountain community of Banner Elk. “Uncle Jason,” as he was known, was something of a patriarch at Holy Communion Lutheran, and the church hasn’t changed, nor has its pastor, in all those years.

Earl Townsend of Holy Commu-nion Lutheran
Earl Townsend of Holy Communion Lutheran Church, Banner Elk, N.C., is one of a few people who still make berry barks, buckets made of poplar bark and held together by hickory strips. Townsend learned the craft from his father, Jason, who graced the cover of The Lutheran in 1969 (inset).
Clarks Creek Road, a narrow, winding paved road two miles off Highway 105, runs in front of the church, but it was gravel in Jason’s day. The turnoff to the church is called “Jason Townsend Road.” Once the road runs past the church, it returns to being gravel. If you follow it for a few turns, you’ll see Jason’s old house on the left—now the home of his son, Earl, known as “Uncle Earl.”

Passing on the trade

Earl Townsend, now 77 and a mason during his earning years, was born about a mile “down the holler.” Slowed by heart attacks a few years ago, he sits for hours in the cluttered basement of his home and makes “berry barks,” just as his father did. A berry bark is a bucket made of poplar bark held together by hickory strips and a hickory handle. It’s good for carrying most anything—berries, potatoes, apples or whatever.


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