Verona pastor writes stories, songs and creates guitars, pens from abandoned salvage

By Riley Manning/NEMS Daily Journal

There is an old saying, that those who work with their minds tend to Sabbath best with their hands, and vice versa.
The old adage is probably most true for Larry Dunlap, interim pastor of First Baptist Church of Verona. The father of three is a crafter of guitars, writing pens, stories and sermons.
“I just tinker,” Dunlap said modestly.
Though he has been a pastor since 1967, he has also worked in the classroom, a publishing house, even a jail, and always collecting characters and talents. Over time, he has learned to see the potential wonder in the discarded lives and materials around him.
“Making things is an object lesson to me. People see something dead and worthless, but if you know how to do it right, it can be made into something beautiful,” Dunlap said.
“That’s what God does. When people only see what someone has been, God still sees what they can become,” he said.
Pens
His interest in woodworking began while living in Nashville and working for publishing company Thomas Nelson Inc.
“We were in a store and saw a poster for a pen-making class and my wife said I might want to try it,” he said.
The class lasted only an hour, but Dunlap soon bought his own lathe and other tools for pen-making, cramming full the 8×12-foot shed he works in.
He has made writing instruments from stumps, firewood, burls and anything else he could get his hands on. A particularly unique opportunity came when the hometown church of his boyhood in Union County replaced their pews.
“I remember sitting in those pews as a kid. Probably carved my initials into a few,” Dunlap said.
From the abandoned benches, Dunlap took chunks of the wood – poplar, he remembers – and made them into pens to give to members of the church as a memento.
Repurposing old materials is parallel to God’s work in Dunlap’s own life.
“Looking back over my mistakes, God has forgiven me for the same old things over and over,” he said.
“If he can forgive me, there’s no reason I can’t have that attitude with others,” he said.
Dunlap is always learning, mostly by trial and error experimentation, and said he has ruined more pens than he has completed. Initially, he planned to sell them but ended up giving most of them away.
Guitars
For his first guitar, Dunlap was inspired by a metal guitar he saw in a music video. He obtained a piece of aluminum from a friend and decided to give it a try.
“I figured if I made a mess, I just wouldn’t show it to anybody,” he said.
The guitar turned out great. So great, in fact, his son used it in a music video with his own band. Its clean, bright look has garnered many compliments.
Music has been a passion for Dunlap his whole life. Living in Nashville, the Music City, he was truly in his creative element, and in 1992, Dunlap won a song–writing contest sponsored by country singer and songwriter Paul Overstreet. Unlike his son’s music, Dunlap’s style is more traditional.
“Everhow I do it, it comes out country,” he said, “I’ve been blessed because everywhere I’ve been, God has put me in contact with opportunities in music.”
He recalls playing with country musicians Roy Clark and Bill Anderson in a concluding concert to Nashville’s festival, Music Fest. For four years, Dunlap gave an invitation for listeners to come to Christ.
This connection between people is what he has come to value most.
“I’ve come to find that we’re all in this thing together,” he said.
Stories
Last November, Dunlap fulfilled a longtime aspiration of releasing a book of his stories, “Tales from the Pour House Cafe.”
“It’s always been a bucket list sort of thing for me,’” he said, “I thought, ‘If I sell 100, I’ll be doing good.’”
By his estimation, he’s sold about double what he hoped. One story even won an award at the William Faulkner Heritage Festival in Ripley.
Of all his talents, Dunlap said writing is his oldest love, and life as a rolling stone has provided him with a cache of personalities.
“I don’t like to call it ‘eavesdropping,’ but I like to go to gathering places and just listen,” he said.
What he is listening for are interesting phrases, ways of putting things that jump out at him. When he finds a distinct voice that will stick in his mind, he is careful to remember it.
“When you’ve been around enough, you learn to watch and listen to people, their accent, their vocabulary,” he said.
Dunlap said he takes personalities he finds and puts them in situations, then the characters play out the stories on their own.
“Out of everything, the most exciting times are when I can’t get the words down fast enough in a story or a sermon,” he said.
“Whether preaching or writing stories, you can feel something else carrying you and working there,” he said.
Dunlap said getting into that zone is rare. Other times, he said it can be an upstream struggle. But that struggle prepares him for inspiration.
Currently, Dunlap is working on a semi-autobiographical piece of novel length.
“It’s about a kid with an aluminum guitar,” he said laughing.
riley.manning@journalinc.com