The Shoals Cluster began with a meeting at the home of Chuck and Elaine Beard in March of 1985. Earlier that year, the Beards had received a letter from Alabama Community board member Rachel Bentley, asking them to form a cluster in this area. It was a follow-up for walk #23. There had been six pilgrims from the Shoals Area on that walk: Sheliah English, Stella McDuff, Linda Hodge, Corinne Randle, Virginia Hardie, and Lynda Bottcher. Having groups this size on a walk has been a Shoals tradition for at least this long.
By 1985, the Alabama Community had divided the whole state into 15 cluster areas. Most included more than one county. Ours was shown as Cluster #1, and it was comprised of Colbert, Franklin, Lauderdale, and Lawrence counties. From its inception, the Alabama Emmaus Community assumed the general configuration of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church, and the divisions on the map clearly correspond to the districts of the Conference. This is roughly the upper half of the state. At this time, as Cluster #1, we were called the Florence Cluster, rather than the Shoals. A roster of the Cluster from that time frame shows Walk #23 as the most recent walk, and it lists thirty-two members.
At that first meeting in 1985, most remember about a dozen in attendance. Recollections are not clear, but a possible list is: Chuck and Elaine Beard, Sam and Anita Bristow, Bob and Stella McDuff, Lynda Bottcher, Cindy Schuessler, Linda Hodge, Sheliah English, Corinne Randle, and M.M. and Virginia Adams.
Meetings were held at the Beard's home for several months. There was always a devotional and prayer. Singing was accompanied by Elaine and her autoharp. The group always enjoyed refreshments and fellowship, and usually made agape. Many remembered the small decorative apples that had, "You are the apple of God's eye" written on them. These were usually sent for the women's walks. For the men's walks, a favorite was the black pocket combs that carried the message, "Even the hairs of your head are numbered."
There is a mail-out dated 12/19/86 that lists the meeting sites and dates for the first half of 1987. Those meeting sites include Holy Covenant Church in Sheffield, and the homes of Bill and Ada Cook, Dwane and Janice Rhodes, Deborah and Randall Paseur, Sarah Sandlin, Wayne and Jan Lawhorn with Chris Johnson.
In 1987, most meetings began to be scheduled at the Wesley Foundation, and continued there until 1996. A meeting during that time was held at the home of Sherry Belew. It was September of 1993, and the group gathered outdoors, by the slough near Sherry's home. At dusk, the group was approached by a boat carrying a man in Galilean attire. Could it be? Once ashore, it was clear that the man was Tom Moye, Spiritual Director for the cluster. It was a very moving moment for the group.
In 1996, the meetings were moved to St. James UMC on Cox Creek Parkway in Florence. Then 2000, the meetings began to alternate between St. James, and Tuscumbia First UMC. Meetings in odd months were scheduled at St. James, and those in even months at Tuscumbia. In 2005 Rogersville UMC was added as a host church for cluster meetings.
In the mid-nineties, the Hamilton, Haleyville, and Franklin County clusters emerged. Prior to these clusters forming, old records show several Franklin County residents as members of this cluster. However, few Lawrence County members have been listed on our roles. Those living near Decatur usually joined the Decatur Cluster, while those on the western side of the county join the Franklin County group. By the late 90's, this cluster became known as the Shoals Cluster, and it included Colbert and Lauderdale counties.
Cluster leaders to date have been:
Chuck and Elaine Beard 1985, and 1986
Bill and Ada Cook 1987, 1988,1989 and 1990
Dwane Rhodes 1991
Stella McDuff 1992
Lola Pottenger 1993 and 1994
Keith McPeters 1995
Eddie Moore 1996, 1997
Bud Bottcher 1998, 1999
Bob McDuff 2000
Lynda Bottcher 2001
Sherry Belew 2002
James Ray 2003
Elaine Beard 2004
Ed Smith 2005
Vic Watford 2006
Jamey Cosby 2007
Diana Hurst 2008
Thomas Martin 2009
Gloria Smith 2010
Bill Jordan 2011
Kay Davis 2012
Patsy Killen 2013
Donnie Armstrong 2014
Georgia McCaig 2015
Mark Custer 2016
Linda Watson 2017
Mitch Dobbins 2018
Revonda Twesme 2019
Clay Hammond 2020, 2021
Joe Peeden 2022
Janice Alcorrn 2023
In 1985 Corinne Randle accepted the responsibility for the 72-hour Prayer Vigil for the Cluster and held that position until 2001. Lynne Martin attended Walk #25, and soon began to bring her guitar to the meetings, to help with providing music. In 1987, John Schuessler attended Walk #42. In early 1988, he was asked to help with the music for Walk #55. Since that time, John has served on numerous Alabama and Living Waters Walks, leaving his signature on much of the music for the Community, and has served as music leader for the Shoals Cluster. Patsy Killen has served the Cluster in this area. Others helping with music early on were Judy Woolley, Jennie Lee Cabler, Larry Hogan, Ella Ferguson, Danylu Sibley, Frank Burns, and Jeff Quillen.
Records during the early 90's reveal that at each meeting, a different person or group was responsible for refreshments. In the time from roughly 1992 through 1994, clusters were assigned some portion of the refreshments for each Walk. Chris Johnson held that responsibility during that time, and made countless trips to Sumatanga, carrying not only food, but agape as well. Eventually, as the Community grew, walks were assigned to the Cluster where the Lay Director belonged, and that Cluster took the responsibility for those provisions. Over the years Bill and Ada Cook have also helped with refreshments, as have Bill and Mary Wallace, Tom and Shirley Watson, and James and Linda Ray.
Agape has been provided by many people, and by many Reunion Groups. Those who have coordinated agape include Stella McDuff, Lynda Bottcher, Jauneece Poe, Tom Watson, Chuck and Elaine Beard, Ed and Gloria Smith, and Dianne Hurst.
For many years, the cluster elected officers to conduct business, and these positions were fairly consistent throughout the Community. Each cluster had a Cluster Lay Director and Spiritual Director, a Secretary and a Treasurer, and Musician(s). There were also chairpersons for Agape, 72-Hour Prayer Vigil, and Refreshments, who coordinated with their counterparts on each walk. In 1994, the Cluster Lay Director was given the responsibility for gathering Applications to Serve from cluster members, and submitting them to the Team Selection Committee. In 1998, these positions and others officially formed the Shoals Cluster Board, which began regularly scheduled board meetings to conduct the business of the cluster.
Since its inception the Shoals Cluster has had ten members who have served on the Alabama Community Board: Cindy Schuessler (1987-89), Bud Bottcher (1999-2002, 2008-2010), Lynda Bottcher (2003-2006), John Schuessler (2006-2009), Bill Jordan (2012-2014), Lori Mills (2013-2014), Leasha Laster (2016), Patsy Killen (2018-2019), Clay Hammond (2021-2022) and Georgia McCaig (2023-2024). Lynda Bottcher and John Schuessler, Bill Jordan and Lori Mills have served as Community Lay Director.
In 1994, the Cluster created a packet for new pilgrims returning to the group. It included a list of the walks for that year with the dates; the location and dates of the follow-up or cluster meetings; and the names of those responsible for refreshments. There was a sheet entitled "General Information about an Emmaus Walk" that told how to serve on a team, what the various committees were and their duties, and gave a list of Points to Remember (do's and don'ts). There was a membership roster, an Application to Serve, and information about sponsorship and reunion groups. During this time, a questionnaire was circulated to gather membership data (name, walk#, etc.); preferences for meeting day, place, and content; reunion group preference and attendance, and a list of Cluster responsibilities for which one might volunteer. The coordinators of this group were given the name Cleopas Connection and these members were added to the Cluster Board.
Walks originating from the Shoals Cluster:
#67 August 1989 Lynda Bottcher
#71 November 1989 Cindy Schuessler
#135 October 1995 Ada Cook
#165 December 1997 Bud Bottcher
#179 October 1998 Jane Stonbraker
#207 June/July 2000 Sherry Belew
#212 November 2000 John Schuessler
#218 March 2001 Joy Harbin
#236 April 2002 Anne Roy
#248 February 2003 Bob McDuff
#258 September 2003 Anita Long (a joint Shoals, Franklin County and Moulton Walk)
#265 March 2004 Rod Schlosser
#276 October 2004 Tom Watson (a joint Shoals, Franklin County and Moulton Walk)
#284 April 2005 Elaine Beard
#296 January 2006 Stella McDuff (a joint Shoals, Franklin County and Moulton Walk)
#305 June 2006 Susan Cosby (a joint Athens, Decatur, Moulton and Shoals Walk)
#319 April 2007 Chuck Beard (an ADMS Cluster Grouping Walk)
#333 March 2008 Judy Wooley (an ADMS Cluster Grouping Walk)
#340 September 2008 Dianna Hurst (an ADMS Cluster Grouping Walk)
#344 November 2008 Mitchell Stevens (an ADMS Cluster Grouping Walk)
#351 April 2009 Jamey Cosby (an ADMS Cluster Grouping Walk)
#362 December 2009 Leasha Laster (an ADMS Cluster Grouping Walk)
#372 September 2010 Deborah Bell Paseur (an ADMS Cluster Grouping Walk)
#380 February 2011 Ronnie Stone (an ADMS Cluster Grouping Walk)
#389 September 2011 Lori Mills (an ADMS Cluster Grouping Walk)
#419 October 2013 Linda Brocato (an ADMS Cluster Grouping Walk)
#426 March 2014 Hal Mills (an ADMS Cluster Grouping Walk)
#464 March 2017 Georgia McCaig (an AM-DS Cluster Grouping Walk)
#488 September 2019 Donnie Armstrong (an AM-DS Grouping Walk)
#496 September 2021 Rosemary Lewey (an AM-DS Grouping Walk)
#505 September 2022 Fredrick Martin (an AM-DS Grouping Walk)
#512 May 2023 Clay Hammond (an AM-DS Grouping Walk)
The Shoals Cluster has enjoyed renewed growth since 1998, with large groups of pilgrims attending walks on a regular basis, and sustained cluster attendance of more than 100, with occasions of 160. At the beginning of 2004, the roster showed over 500 members. By 2008, it is over 900, and in 2016, over 1,200. To God be all the praise and all the glory.