Just before Christmas, Jud Davis went to his pastor with an idea.
Davis, who is living with stage-four, or advanced, cancer, told the Rev. Pete Jones that men with cancer "weren't getting enough support" and that he thought there was a lack of research.
Davis, 58, told Jones about a beard-growing contest between Jim Cantore and Mike Bettes, two on-air personalities for The Weather Channel, and wondered whether Pisgah Presbyterian Church could do something like that.
Jones gave the idea a name: Beards for Buds (as in buddies). Then the pastor pitched the idea to Pisgah members and challenged the Rev. Woody Berry, pastor of Lexington's Maxwell Street Presbyterian Church, to see who could raise the most money and grow the best beards.
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Jones reached out to Maxwell because he used to be the church's youth minister. Both churches also have men in their congregation who have cancer.
As many as 40 men from the two churches are spending seven weeks growing beards and encouraging people to raise money for the American Cancer Society.
The men want the donations to be earmarked for men's cancer support and research.
"It's exciting to see them take this idea and run with it in the hopes of helping other men in their communities," said Sarah Miller, a Lexington-based community representative for the American Cancer Society.
The majority of men involved in the competition committed to not shaving from Jan. 1 to Feb. 21, Fat Tuesday, when both congregations will share a dinner and celebrate, Jones said.
"Pete, he's one of those guys that if you take it to him, he'll go global with it," Davis said of Jones.
Suspense is growing over which church members will grow the best beards and which church will raise the most money.
"Very often in the church, when good things happen, they are not planned," said Jones.
The enthusiasm has reached beyond the church. Jones said he's been approached by people in the community who have heard about Beards for Buds and want to donate.
Berry said he has learned that men don't talk about cancer as "well as women do."
"It was just time to talk about men's cancer issues," Berry said.
Tom White, a member of the Maxwell Street congregation, said his motivation to participate stems from the desire to help friends who are living with cancer.
"I've never grown a beard in my entire life," he said. "It's been fun. I haven't decided whether I'm going to shave it off or not."
For Davis, who was diagnosed with lung cancer in January, the competition is not only personal, but it's also a challenge he can control, his wife says. His illness forced him to stop work as general manager for Glenn Infiniti, a Lexington auto dealership.
Davis' wife, Lynn, said he has been frustrated because he was accustomed to problem solving and finding answers.
With cancer, Lynn Davis said, oftentimes "you don't know" and the answer isn't easily found.
The Beards for Buds project, she said, "gives him the ability to do something positive in the face of a disease which makes you feel helpless."