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September 11, 2017

Faces of Fauquier: From meteorology to ministry

Photo/Don Del Rosso
“We just fell in love the area, the community, the people,” Chris Robinson says of moving to Fauquier with his wife Barbara in 1992.
This guy preached the Bible fervently like I’ve never heard it in before. And so my family kept going week after week. And that started to have an effect on me, because I never considered having a relationship with God.
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Staff Journalist
The young, wannabe meteorologist dreamt of becoming a “TV weather guy,” tracking and talking about the latest and greatest storm.

“It was Hurricane Agnes in June of ’72 that was the catalyst,” Chris Robinson, senior pastor of Grace Bible Church just south of Marshall, recalls 45 years later. “That’s what hooked me. It’s as vivid to me as it was when I was 10 years old. That’s when my passion for this stuff started.”

Eventually, Mr. Robinson became a big fan of The Weather Channel, which launched in 1980 — the year he graduated from Central Bucks East High School near Philadelphia.

“I wanted to be the next Jim Cantore,” he says of the famous Weather Channel storm tracker. “I love him. That’s the type of guy I am. I’m out in the elements all the time. When there’s a big storm in Fauquier, I do videos and post them.

“I travel to upstate New York to get caught in all the lake-effect snow. I’ll travel to hurricanes, tornados. That’s me.”

After finishing high school, Mr. Robinson enrolled as a meteorology major at the State University of New York in Oswego, along the banks of Lake Ontario.

Despite a successful first year, he concluded the night before returning as a sophomore that God had more important work for him.

But, Mr. Robison had been primed to shift gears, after a couple years of attending a Baptist church near his hometown — an experience he describes as transformative.

“This guy preached the Bible fervently like I’ve never heard it in before. And so my family kept going week after week. And that started to have an effect on me, because I never considered having a relationship with God.”

While a college freshman, Mr. Robinson started attending a Baptist church with an Oswego family.

“They came by the dorm every week and took me to church with them,” he says. “And slowly but surely, God started working on me.”

That pretty much cemented his decision to transfer from the upstate New York college to Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C.

“In August 1981, the night before I was supposed to go back to Oswego, I woke my parents up at midnight and I said, ‘Mom and Dad, I can’t give you any reason other than I honestly believe God doesn’t want me to go back there’.”

Mr. Robinson the next day headed for Bob Jones University, where he majored in theology.

“They backed me 1,000 percent,” he says of his parents.

Mr. Robinson met his wife Barbara at the South Carolina university. After he graduated, the couple eventually moved to Pennsylvania, where he pursued a master’s in divinity at Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary in Lansdale.

Before completing the program, Mr. Robinson got a call from a family friend and Fauquier resident who wanted help starting a new church here.

The offer brought the Robinsons to Fauquier and the creation of Grace Bible Church, a nondenominational church with “Baptistic leanings,” he says.

“We started with 15 people,” the senior pastor recalls.

As membership steadily grew, they worshipped at four places during a 14-year period, before building a church on 15 acres along Free State Road just southwest of Marshall.

Today membership stands at about 300, according to Mr. Robinson.

With six staff members, the church has annual budget of about $450,000.

Active in Northern Fauquier and elsewhere in the county, Mr. Robinson until Aug. 9 served as president of the Marshall Business and Residents Association.

While he remains a member of the association’s board, he resigned the top job to deal with a family medical emergency.

“Everybody in the organization has been great,” Mr. Robinson says. “I have nothing but good things to say about them. And, I want to do more, if I can and if they’ll have me back. I love serving Marshall that way, small or great.”

• Age
55

• Home
Marshall

• Work
Senior pastor, Grace Bible Church, near Marshall, 1992-present; teacher, Fresta Valley Christian School, near Marshall, 1992-96.

• Family
Wife, Barbara; four grown children; two grandchildren.

• Education
Bachelor’s degree in theology, Bob Jones University, 1985; Central Bucks East High School, Pa., 1980.

• Civic involvement
President, Marshall Business and Residents Association, 2016-Aug. 9; board member, Marshall Business and Residents Association, 2000-present; Marshall Community Center Board, 1994-98; Marshall Volunteer Fire Department chaplain, 1992-95.

• How long have you lived in Fauquier?
Since 1992.

• Why do you live here? 
Fauquier was the center point for our church plan. We were in Pennsylvania when we got the call to come down here from a family that lived just north of Warrenton; Wayne and Faye Berkemeyer had been living in Fauquier for years and years and years.

He worked for the military. The military sent him on a contract out to Pennsylvania where my family was from, and that’s how we got to know them. The contract was up and he moved back to Northern Virginia.

I was doing my thing at (graduate school) and I got this call out of the blue in August 1991. And Wayne said, ‘Hey, you’ve been on my mind the last couple of years. It’s about time I called you. Would you consider coming down and planting a church?’

To be honest, I didn’t have Virginia on my radar. But, it was great to get reconnected with Wayne and Faye. So we prayed together about it. And my wife and I came down to see him and Faye and, wow, we just fell in love the area, the community, the people.

• How do you describe this county? 
Wonderful people, beautiful surroundings, great small-town atmosphere and an astonishing future.

• What would you change about Fauquier?
There isn’t anything I would want to change. It’s about a fine-tuned balance — wanting growth but retaining the rural integrity of the area.

• What do you do for fun? 
Meteorology is absolutely my passion — tracking weather here, international. It’s helping people for trips. A lot of my Facebook stuff is meteorologically based. People will ask me to track (weather) systems for them, or help them for vacation travel.

I love to read. And, I absolutely love spending time with my family.

• What’s your favorite place in Fauquier?
Marshall. There’s no question about. We just enjoy walking on Main Street; we enjoy talking with people; we enjoy the small-town atmosphere.

But, driving the back roads of Northern Fauquier on Atoka, or Rokeby or Zulla, or Rock Hill Mill, or Frogtown — Barb and I never stop talking about it.

• What will Fauquier be like in 10 years? 
I hope it looks a lot like it does now. I realize growth is slowly encroaching, and I’m not opposed to that. But, I think a lot of it is going to remain the same.

• Favorite TV show?
“Last Man Standing.”

• Favorite movie? 
“The Count of Monte Cristo.”

• Favorite book?
“Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry,” by Paul David Tripp.

• Favorite vacation spot? 
Anna Maria Island, Fla. My wife and I spent our 25th and 30th anniversary there. My daughter Elisabeth got engaged there and my daughter Katie got married there.

• Favorite food? 
A great salad and a great casserole.

• What is the best advice you have ever received? From whom? 
Try not to take things too seriously; learn to laugh at yourself. Wayne Berkemeyer, a very good friend.

• Who’s your hero and why?
My dad. For his personal integrity; his undying love for my mom, who passed away from cancer. They had an incredible relationship. But watching his total, self-sacrifice for her (during her illness) was something that profoundly affected me.

• What would you do if you won $5 million in the lottery? 
I would like to help organizations give it away and set up a trust to provide for the fiscal longevity of my family over a long-term distribution, rather than just ‘Here, do whatever you want with it.’

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Do you know someone who lives in Fauquier County you would like to see in Faces of Fauquier? E-mail Cassandra Brown at cbrown@fauquiernow.com, Don Del Rosso at don@fauquiernow.com or Editor Lou Emerson at LKE@FauquierNow.com.
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