Through Corey Pelton’s Rural Church Development work, he’s had the opportunity to help a gathering of believers form in Ellijay, GA. Currently known as Cartecay Gathering, this church plant is slightly different from Corey’s primary focus, but it’s where the Lord clearly led him.
The group is named after the river that flows through the town, but cartecay is also a Native American word meaning “valley of bread,” tying to this group’s desire to share the bread of life with others.
Corey recalls, “When we first moved up here, we had one contact – a couple who owns a sporting goods store in Blue Ridge and used to attend a PCA church in Chattanooga. Through them, we met several other people and continued making connections, including the owner of the Chick-fil-A in Ellijay. She had been involved with the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church and Presbyterian Church in America.”
The Chick-fil-A owner had been involved in the beginnings of a PCA church plant eight years prior, but the plant was never fully established. Remnants of that group were still around Ellijay, so Corey gathered their names and met with four couples in early 2022. He encouraged them to take three months just to pray about possibly beginning a new PCA church.
“I told them that I’d send a devotion email with prayer points each Sunday, and then we’d get together after three months to talk. In early September 2022, we met in a living room to talk about whether or not they wanted to continue the conversation. We collectively decided to start a Bible study.”
The Bible study began meeting in early November, utilizing the senior center in downtown Ellijay. The one-room building was offered to them for free use, and it was central to the community. About twelve adults and seven children attended the first meeting.
Corey says, “I focused on a philosophy of ministry and talked about the building, body, and bride of the Church. We talked about the Church’s relationship to the kingdom of the world and the kingdom of God. We met on weekday evenings before moving to Sunday afternoons.”
Eventually, the group outgrew the senior center. One of the members knew the lady who runs the Gilmer Arts Playhouse, a theatre just off the town square. “She let us begin using it for almost free,” says Corey, “and they said that they’re glad we’re here in Ellijay. I thought the auditorium would feel too big for us, so we began using the foyer on Sunday mornings and the auditorium as the kids’ area.”
The group is starting slow, without an official launch of worship or advertising efforts. “We moved the Bible study to Sunday mornings on March 1, 2023 and began adding elements of worship,” explains Corey. “We’ve had visitors every Sunday, and if everyone was there at once, we’d have about 40 adults and 15 kids.”
Corey appreciates the variety of backgrounds and skills represented in this group, saying, “We’ve got dreamers, thinkers, initiators.” As he writes in his blog post about the gathering, “Engineer, shop owner, organic farmer, social media influencer, retirees, young moms, pool repair . . . these are some of the spaces that our people inhabit . . . the places that the Lord has gifted with these, His friends, for the beauty of His kingdom and the good of Ellijay.”
Because he is not the official church planting pastor of Cartecay, Corey is keeping things simple while they look for a church planter. He explains, “This plant is not typical of what I’m looking to do, but it’s what the Lord provided. I’m not making too many decisions on behalf of the church. We have very simple worship: announcements, call to worship, three songs, and a sermon.”
His work with Rural Church Development is primarily about equipping local ministers, mentoring them, connecting with communities, and bringing theological training to areas that may not have a Reformed theological background.
Corey currently visits three towns on a weekly basis: Ellijay, GA; Blue Ridge, GA, and Copperhill, TN/McCaysville, GA. To learn more about his unique ministry, read his blog post, “On Being a Parish Pastor.”
He describes Ellijay as a gospel desert. “They play country Christian music in the grocery store, but when it comes to landing sermons on Jesus, that’s rare. This group of believers wants a PCA church that preaches the gospel. They’re kind of starved for the gospel – a hopeful gospel that seeks to see lives and communities changed.”
Corey hopes that Cartecay will be an example for other communities who desire to begin something similar. “I hope this will be a catalyst for the other communities. I can say, ‘Hey, come see what we’re doing in Ellijay,’ and they can envision what it would look like in their community.”