The Bridge at Clover High School – Visited on 8/21/11

Clover High School sits at the eastern edge of town in a sort of semi-rural no man’s land ringed by housing developments on one side and forest on the other, all bifurcated by the two-lane asphalt ribbon of Highway 55.  It was my own high school as a young man, and as I pulled into the sprawling student parking lot on the morning of the 21st, as I had on so many other mornings long past, I found myself beholden to memories untouched for years on end.

The Bridge is a weekly Christian service held in the high school’s cafeteria.  Unlike Oakridge Middle School, here there are no special concessions to public performance.  The church’s audio-visual equipment stood in a cleared space along the southern wall of the cafeteria, wires snaking here and there from microphone stands for the church’s live band.  Opposite the performance space was a spread of coffee and donuts for the congregation’s benefit, while between food and music sat a half-dozen low octagonal tables usually filled by squamous, gossiping high school students during their lunch periods.

That morning the cafeteria tables were ringed with a different sort: couples and families, a few dozen in their casual street clothes.  Clover is not a wealthy town; many of its families live in cramped, cheap housing along twisting asphalt roads, overshadowed by the outstretched boughs of century-old trees.  The congregants at The Bridge that morning were representative of the tenuous economic space between grinding poverty and the petite-bourgeoisie complacency of a community like River Hills—hanging on, despite the collapse of the region’s industry decades ago and the anemic national economy, a sample of the lower end of middle class.

The Bridge was first started as an auxiliary program of the First Baptist Church of Clover two years ago, and has existed since then as a sort of colony of that older religious community.  It rents its weekly space from Clover High School; in addition, the congregation donates school supplies to CHS and on some days provides free lunches for its teachers.  On October 2nd The Bridge ended its two-year probationary period and officially became an independent church in its own right.

The first half of a service at The Bridge is a performance by the congregation’s band, local amateurs who took their seats among the congregation when their songs were done.  Their music had the tenor of a Christian garage band overlaid with Southern Rock—the last song of their set was a cover of “Sweet Home Alabama” with reworked, Christian lyrics.

As the band repaired to their seats the pastor of The Bridge, Kevin Witt, took their place.  He is a short, heavy-set man; in fact, he looks very similar to the comedian Patton Oswalt.  That morning his sermon regarded the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Through that story Rev. Witt impressed upon his flock the importance of helping those in need, regardless of their background or the relationship between them.

After the service I conducted a brief interview with Pastor Witt.  He is a transplant to Clover, having arrived five years ago from Ft. Worth, Texas.  His church is small but active—adult members can volunteer to join small groups that meet for three-month semesters of shared bible study.

The Bridge is active in providing charity to the needy of Clover: among the projects he mentioned were an adopted stretch of highway maintained by the congregation; a monthly ‘laundry party’, where the congregation pools some money and spends a day paying for all the laundry loads and detergent at the town laundromat; volunteering and donation at the Clover Area Assistance Center; as well as a mission project required of each of the church’s small group classes by the end of their semester of study.

As always, I asked Rev. Witt what he thought of the relationship between Church and State.  After a moment’s deliberation he replied that he acknowledged the division between the two, but preferred to focus on his charitable and spiritual duties, and leave the politics to the politicians.

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