At Banner Elk Presbyterian Church, the session is made up of twelve ruling elders, a clerk of session, and a non-voting moderator who is the pastor. The members of Session are is elected by the congregation to serve in leadership positions, to develop the annual budget, to support and encourage mission projects, and to make decisions regarding the work and programs of the congregation. Each session elder has responsibility for at least one of the congregational committees.

Rev. Rachael McConnell, Pastor and Session Moderator
Read about Rachael.

Susan Carter – Clerk of the Session
Susan Carter is a child of the church, lifetime resident of Banner Elk, daughter of Margaret, wife of Lynn, mother to Karen and Andy, mother-in-law to David and Stephanie, step-mother to Ryan and Grant, grandmother to Lawson, Emerson, and Isabelle. She enjoys playing hand bells, singing in the choir, hiking, reading, knitting, and traveling. Susan is a retired educator of developmentally delayed preschool children through the Avery County Schools system. Susan has served in many capacities in our church: a church nursery school teacher, Sunday school teacher of young children, an active member of many congregational committees, several terms as a ruling elder and now as clerk of session.

Murry Haber – Class of 2022 – Missions
Murry and his wife Sharon live on Sugar Mountain. They moved here September 2014, and they live here year-round. They moved here because of the friendliness of the people, the beauty of the mountains, and the cooler temperature. Murry is inspired in worship; he loves the warmth of the congregation; and he is in agreement with the commitment to mission endeavors.

Murry is a retired pastor and has served a variety of churches for 41 years in Iowa, Ohio, Texas and North Carolina. He has served on Presbytery committees, was Moderator of New Covenant Presbytery, and President of the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators. He is a Fellow with the American Association of Pastoral Counselors. He was ordained by the Grace Community Church of Raleigh in 2000. He operates the Food Pantry at Reaching Avery Ministry; he is a volunteer with Caldwell Hospice; and he has just joined the choir here at BEPC.

Murry says, “My faith journey is the most prominent experience in my life. It has sustained me during the losses in my life; and inspired me when my dreams have come into being. My experience as a husband and a father have caused me to grow into the person that God created me to be. My experience as a son and a brother have showered me with grace. I continue to be amazed at the way that God has brought healing to the broken experiences in my life journey.”

Don Hilsmier – Class of 2022 – Membership
Born and raised in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Don moved to Tallahassee, Florida, to attend Florida State University on a Basketball scholarship and was coached by Hugh Durham. There he received a BS degree in American History and joined the Army Reserves. He began a career in the field of Financial Services, first in Tallahassee and later in Boca Raton, Florida. As a member of the First Presbyterian Church of Boca Raton, he served as a deacon and elder.

Don and his wife, Judy, have been married 50 years; They are the proud parents of a daughter and son and grandparents of six. In 1990, the couple built a vacation home on Beech Mountain and began attending attending Banner Elk Presbyterian Church. When they retired and began spending more time in the mountains (and on the Beech Mountain Club golf course) They transferred their church membership to BEPC. Since that time, Don has served on several committees, taught Sunday School, and has served two terms on session. He has worked several years on church finance; however, his primary interest is in church evangelism.

Deka Tate – Class of 2022 – Congregational Care
Service to church and community has been the byword for returning elder Deka Tate. Deka served Banner Elk for 12 years as mayor, and five years as mayor pro tem. She also has served on the town’s board of adjustment. She’s active with the Banner Elk Chamber of Commerce, currently serving as vice-president, and was a founder of the Banner Elk Heritage Foundation. She came to Banner Elk more than 45 years ago, and raised her three sons here. In addition to multiple stints on session and on various church committees, she has long volunteered as “flower queen,” organizing bouquets for worship and special events. The flowers in her life extend beyond her yard and the church – into her accomplished flower-powered art that has been displayed in the sanctuary.

Luana Anderson – Class of 2022 – Fellowship
While proudly proclaiming her Italian heritage, Luana Anderson was born and bred a Presbyterian; she joins session as a new elder. “I pledge to give my time and effort to this church as an elder following in the footsteps of my late husband, who served many times over in this capacity,” Luana relates. She and George devoted untold time and talent to Banner Elk Presbyterian following their arrival in the high country in 2001. The “coffee lady” and always reliable kitchen worker for years’ worth of fellowship events now becomes chair of the Fellowship Committee. She has served on multiple committees, including Outreach, and many terms on the Nominating Committee.

Donna Dicks – Class of 2023 – Christian Education
Donna and her husband, Bill, have lived in Banner Elk for almost 50 years and have been members of our church for nearly that long. Their children, Jennifer and David, were born and raised here but are now living in Tennessee and Kentucky, respectively. Twin grandchildren, Maddie and Jaxon, are special joys, but they are growing up too quickly!  Donna worked as Banner Elk Elementary School’s librarian for almost 25 years before retiring in 2008, now wondering how she ever had time to work with so many other opportunities. One particularly meaningful endeavor has been the town’s Book Exchange, which is popular with all who come into the Historic Banner Elk School, enjoying the former library space which has been renovated into a welcoming place to donate and borrow books.

She has served our church as a ruling elder previously, working with different committees. Currently, Donna and AC Marriott are co-chairing the Christian Education Committee, working to provide varied opportunities for learning and connecting. “Our church is blessed with members who are committed to reaching out to those beyond our walls, both with time and financial support. Many folks in our church regularly volunteer by serving in community organizations, while also actively supporting in-house programs and activities for our church family. It is a privilege to serve as an elder with this caring congregation as we seek to further God’s Kingdom here.”

Rick Garrett – Class of 2023 – Building & Grounds
Rick is originally from Person County, located in the Northern Piedmont Region of North Carolina. He is a graduate of Western Carolina University in Cullowhee and North Carolina State University in Raleigh. Rick enjoyed a career as a community college instructor and administrator. He worked at three colleges in North Carolina and was at a college in Florence, South Carolina for seven years. Rick retired from the State of North Carolina in 2016. He has resided in Avery County since 1999 and initially was a member of Newland Presbyterian Church. He has attended Banner Elk Presbyterian Church for most of the years since about 2005. Rick currently serves on the Building and Grounds Committee. At present, Rick volunteers one day a week with the Avery County Habitat for Humanity construction crew and works part-time at the RAM’s Rack Thrift Store and Food Pantry. Every other year he contracts with the Westat Research Group for a couple months to conduct testing for the National Assessment for Educational Progress project. Rick enjoys snow skiing, hiking, some golf, carpentry work, and reading.

Janet Speer – Class of 2023 – Worship
Janet is retired as Chair of the Performing Arts Department at Lees-McRae College, but continues as Artistic Director for Lees-McRae Summer Theatre. Her bachelor’s and master’s degrees come from Texas State University, and her PhD comes from LSU. A member of the church for over 35 years, she has served as ruling elder several times, helped found the “spaghetti supper” for LMC students, facilitates the Faith Seekers Adult Sunday School class, and chairs the Arts Worship Committee. Janet also leads the Stephen Ministry and enjoys being with the Comfort Makers each week. Janet’s husband, Allen, is a retired history professor and author, and she is mother to Donovan and Barton and grandmother to Donovan George.

Alice Buttery Johnson – Class of 2023 – Preschool
Alice is a born and raised Texan, and she moved to the North Carolina mountains in June 2017 to fulfill a lifelong dream and escape the Texas heat. Her hobbies are singing, playing hand bells, sewing, quilting, knitting, needlepoint, embroidery, paper crafting, reading, working jigsaw puzzles, and caring for her guinea pigs, Ethel and Lucy. She has two sons, two daughters-in-law, five grandchildren and one grandson-in-law. She was raised as a Presbyterian and enjoys serving this congregation.

William Dethlefs – Class of 2024 – Communications/Outreach
William grew up in Miami, Florida, and joined the U.S. Coast Guard when he graduated from high school. In 1987 he moved to North Carolina and eventually migrated to the mountains with his wife Trish. They built their dream home in 2010 after searching for two years for the perfect location. William recently retired as a Data Engineer and plans on enjoying the mountain lifestyle of hiking, fishing, hunting and relaxing by a crackling fire. William has been an elder in the Presbyterian church in the past and looks forward serving the congregation here.

Chappie Petree – Class of 2024 – Stewardship & Finance
Chappie is a native of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He graduated from Guilford College in 1973 with a BS degree in Business Management. In 2012 he retired from a career in the banking industry. He was a 30-year member of Highland Presbyterian Church in Fayetteville, North Carolina, where he served three terms on the session. He was a member of the finance committee for 17 years at Highland Presbyterian, and he served nine years as chairman. Chappie and his wife, Deb, have been married 51 years, and they have one son, John. They bought a weekend home on Beech Mountain in 1988. In 2015, they moved full-time to Beech Mountain. They transferred their membership to Banner Elk Presbyterian in August 2016. Chappie joined the Stewardship and Finance Committee in 2020, and he served as chairman in 2021. In his spare time, he enjoys playing golf and working in the yard in the summer and skiing in the winter.

Jesse Pope – Class of 2024 – Permanent Funds
Jesse is a native of Mouth of Wilson, Virginia. He holds a bachelor’s degree in biology with a naturalist concentration from Lees-McRae College and a master’s degree in environmental education from Montreat College. He is the executive director of the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation, following a 13-year stint on the mountain as a naturalist. His interests, of course, include bird watching, hiking, camping, fishing, golf and traveling. Jesse is married to Michelle who came to LMC in the footsteps of her grandmother, who attended BEPC in the ’40s. She and Jesse met as students, married, and have now been in this area for over two decades. They have three children—Spencer, and twins Trevor and Lily. Jesse and Michelle joined the church in 2017 on reaffirmation of faith, with church backgrounds both Presbyterian and Baptist. Michelle is full time at home with children but loves reading and camping. She reports skill in writing and working with computers. Jesse notes he has a botany background, and experience in carpentry and landscaping.

McNair Tornow – Class of 2024 – Personnel
McNair grew up in Laurenburg, North Carolina, and received both his bachelor’s and law degrees from Wake Forest University. After graduating from law school, McNair served as a Captain in the U.S. Army, with a tour in Vietnam. Afterwards, he established a law practice in Winston-Salem and became a member at Highland Presbyterian Church, where he served as deacon and elder. At BEPC, McNair has served as a ruling elder and chaired the Pastor Nominating Committee. He and his wife, Debi, live in their “retirement” home on Beech Mountain.