First United Methodist Church, Clover SC, Part II – Visited on 6/20/12

Tommy Wilkes was in the midst of an administrative call when the time came for his interview with Churchspotting.  He was in his office on the second floor of Clover SC’s First United Methodist Church, the church he pastored, on a hall it shared with Sunday School classes and the church choir’s practice room.  His topic of discussion was a church-run summer camp.

His was a dim office, its walls plastered with finger paintings and drawings that might have come from other, similar camps of previous years.  After he finished his conversation Mr. Wilkes took a seat on office’s single low couch, opposite my chair, and began to tell me how he’d come to that place and time.

Tommy Wilkes was born in Charleston, SC in 1965.  His father was a United Methodist minister in his own right and Tommy’s family–his mother and two sisters–followed the elder Wilkes across South Carolina throughout his childhood.  The mainstay of his young life was Spartanburg SC where Tommy attended high school and played in a rock band named Escape.

After high school Mr. Wilkes attended the University of South Carolina, where he pursued a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology.  Even then, though, his goals did not lie in academics.  After completing his preliminary schooling he sought a missionary position through the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Global Missionaries’ US2 program.  The church sent Tommy to Philadelphia, where he spent his missionary years working with inner city communities.

His time in Philadelphia confirmed an inclination towards the church that Wilkes felt from a very young age.  He entered seminary school at Emory University soon after returning from Philadelphia, intent on following his father as a United Methodist pastor.  During his time at Emory he served as chaplain of a nearby mental health ward.  He worked primarily with troubled young people, many of them suicidal, and sought to offer them sort of hope in the midst of a terrible dark part of their lives.

Wilkes graduated from Emory in 1993 and was soon ordained as an Elder of the United Methodist Church.  He served as a an associate pastor at Central Methodist in Spartanburg before embarking on a career as senior pastor in his own right in a succession of South Carolina churches in Lexington and Lancaster.  In 2011 he and his family–his wife, Meg, and three children–arrived at Clover’s First United Methodist.  It was the most established church he’d yet pastored, with around 820 members and over 250 regular attendees each Sunday, spread amongst several services throughout the day.

When asked about the proper relationship between Church and State, Mr. Wilkes made clear his opinion that though the Founding Fathers were wise, they were not in themselves holy.  He held that Church and State should be separate, but thought hat some people want, with evil intent, to take God out of all aspects of daily life.  He insisted that no one “deny that God is.”

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