Day Off

Churchspotting is taking this update off.  There may be a new article during the week, there will certainly be a new one next Monday.  Have a very pleasant evening, and thank you for reading.

Mercy Baptist Church, Part II – Visited on 8/14/12

David Robinson met with Churchspotting in his office at Mercy Baptist Church, where he serves as pastor.  On the previous Sunday he was one of the few men present at Mercy Baptist’s morning service in a suit; on that Tuesday he arrived in a Tommy Bahama shirt and shorts.  The church’s cooling systems were defeated by a mid-August heat wave earlier that day; the interview was spent speaking over the hum of an electric fan in the corner.

David Robinson was born in Monroe, NC, in 1962.  He never knew his birth father, who left his mother before he was born.  Mrs. Robinson remarried when David was a year old, and his stepfather remained with the family till his death in 1982.

The Robinsons were a working class North Carolina family.  David’s stepfather made his living at a brick company while his mother worked at a cotton mill.  Mrs. Robinson developed brown lung disease at her work and must manage with a respirator, but she remains with her family.

Though there was no shortage of love in his family, David Robinson did not develop close ties to his stepfather as a child.  Around age fourteen he “started rebelling,” to use his words.  He began running away and skipping school on a regular basis; by fifteen he left home permanently.  He said he ran with a dangerous crowd, and by age 21 he’d spent some time in prison.

Mr. Robinson left North Carolina at 21 to work for an uncle in Texas.  As a condition of his parole, he swore not to return to NC for some time.  Out in Texas David built log homes and helped in other wood and construction projects.  He also met the woman he eventually married.

In the early 80s, after their first child, David’s young family moved back to North Carolina where he found work in the steel mills.  That career was cut short when Mr. Robinson fell three stories on the job, landed on his side, and suffered severe injuries that precluded him from the work mills required.

According to him, an uncle who also worked at the mills reported a miraculous event on that occasion.  This man said that as David fell, a “cloud-type hand” seemed to coalesce around him and turn him, so that he fell on his side rather than his head, and so survived the accident.  Churchspotting is unable to interview him on this matter, as the uncle in question passed away some time ago.  After his fall Mr. Robinson took to carpentry, the craft he still professes, particularly in service to building houses.

He and his wife separated not long after, due to David involving himself in certain wild practices again.  Among the conditions their separation was that he could only see their children at his wife’s church, Maple Grove Baptist.  As such, he began attending regularly.  On August 12, 1983 visiting preacher gave a sermon on the Biblical figure King David, and Mr. Robinson said he felt “as though a spear were jabbing him” each time his namesake was mentioned.  David repented of his sins before the altar on that day, and became increasingly involved in the church.

A year later he was a regular Sunday school teacher, but felt he should do something more with his life.  He prayed on the issue with his wife, but came to a decision one day while they sang with his friend Terry, the pastor’s son, and Terry’s wife.  He “felt called to preach,” and set out to pursue ministry.

At first David tried traditional seminary study, but with four children he found he had too much work to do to meet the school’s requirements.  Instead, he began to confer with local ministers who taught him and helped him study the Bible.  Between seven and eight years ago he was invited to minister his first church.

It lay in Kentucky, an old and established Baptist church.  Mr. Robinson described his time there as “a battle.”  The founders of the church were still living, and as the deacons of the congregation they held considerable sway.  David’s aggressive style of preaching, far different from what the church elders were used to, rubbed some people the wrong way.

As a first-time minister he did not yet have the experience to smooth those ruffled feathers.  Bad feeling mounted on both sides.  A wealthy member of the church left and pressure grew for David to leave so that he–and his expensive donations–would return.  The congregation put David’s presence to a vote, and he was sent home.  His frustration with the experience remained with him for years to come.

When David’s family returned to North Carolina they settled in Pineville.  After trying several new churches, and even retreating from church life for a while, The Robinson family was invited to a Christmas play at Trinity Baptist in Fort Mill, where they stayed till David was invited to serve as minister at Mercy Baptist.  Mr. Robinson has since ministered to Mercy Baptist for three years, and plans to spend the remainder of his life there.

His tenure at Mercy Baptist has not been without its hiccups.  Around the two year anniversary of his arrival, the church’s founders took about half the congregation with them to found a new church.  Since then, however, the congregation has grown and David has set his sights on establishing a new, permanent building for the church, rather than the old Ace Hardware building it currently rents.  The church has around forty members.

Mr. Robinson does not know whether the End Times described in the New Testament’s
Book of Revelation are here, but he feels that ‘things are adding up.’  He finds the conflicts affecting Israel especially important, as well as what he regards as an erosion of the moral fabric of the United States.  He sights the removal of Biblical study from public schools, the rise of the Gay Rights movement as signs of America’s moral shift.  He believes homosexuality is an “abomination before God,” and that any nation that sets itself against Israel will be judged by Heaven.  Despite this, the Apocalypse does not often enter his sermons and he does not regard himself as a ‘prophecy preacher.’
Finally, on the proper relationship between Church and State, Mr. Robinson holds that they need to be separated.  He said that the Bible instructs him to obey the law of the land, with the caveat that where the law and the Bible part ways he will hold to the latter.

Update

A warm welcome to all the readers directed here by the article written by Jennifer Becknell in the Enquirer Herald!  I hope you enjoy our offerings here.  Your arrival coincides with a special announcement: in accordance with certain shifts the writer’s schedule, which may have been apparent in the last few weeks’ publishing times, Churchspotting is changing the day of the week on which it publishes.

 

Though from its inception Churchspotting has run on Sunday evenings, starting August 20, 2012, and continuing into the foreseeable future, new articles will appear on Churchspotting on the Monday of each week.  We apologize to everyone who arrives this evening expecting a fresh foray into the religious communities of York County, SC, but you only have your experience delayed by a single day.  Articles will continue to appear roughly between 7 and 9 PM.

Mercy Baptist Church – Visited on 8/12/12

More and more people in the York County area worship in non-traditional spaces.  Churchspotting has covered groups who gather in rented spaces at local schools, who meet in the churches of other congregations during their owners’ off hours, and who take over and refurbish former business and industrial sites as their places of worship.  Between the collapse of America’s real estate market and an economic malaise with no end in sight, there are certainly plenty of perfectly good buildings standing empty and renting cheaply.  It’s only natural that religious communities, particularly young groups with limited funds, take advantage of these vacuities in the market while they’re available.

Mercy Baptist Church is one such group.  The building it occupies was once an ACE Hardware store, and that lineage still shows in the structure’s red awnings, in the padlocked black iron grate that can swing shut over its main entrance, and in the bones of its interior.

Inside, Mercy Baptist’s ceiling vaults high overhead.  The bare metal of its ventilation system hangs exposed on high, and light pours down from bare tracks of fluorescent lighting.  Beneath that distinctly industrial ceiling, the church’s floor is divided and subdivided by beige walls, between eight and nine feet high–far lower than the ceiling itself.  The walls are set with whitewashed doors, and small red signs above them note their purpose or typical inhabitants: Nursery, Beginners, Teens, “Middlers.”

The walls form an L-shaped hall from the entrance doors, with the L’s stalk terminating in two sets of double doors leading into the sanctuary.  The largest single room in the church is dominated by three sets of wooden pews marching towards a raised stage.  A wooden altar and pulpit lie at its center, flanked at some distance by twin banks of speakers for the church’s sound system.  To its rear stand pews for the church choir; at the congregation’s right is a red-painted wooden ramp that renders the stage handicapped accessible–the first such addition Churchspotting has encountered in a church sanctuary.

There are no flags in the sanctuary of Mercy Baptist.  Instead, behind the choir pews, taller than anything else on stage, stands a wooden cross.  A white cloth drapes about its crossbeam like a shawl; a sign reading “INRI” is tacked to the headpiece.  The crossbeam is punctured at either end by a pair of long nails; a third juts from a footrest set into the cross’s base.  All three nails, as well as the wood around and beneath them, are painted blood red.

The congregation of Mercy Baptist Church gathers for their Sunday morning service at 11 AM.  By that time on the morning of August 12 there were over thirty individuals seated in the pews.  Their ages varied, from elderly to a handful of older children–most children of middle school age and younger spent the majority of the service in their classrooms down the hall.

The dress of those involved varied as well.  Both young and old worshippers could be seen in t-shirts and jeans, though overall the congregation skewed towards formal dress.  A handful of men came to worship in full suits, but most were satisfied with arriving in slacks and a collared shirt.  Among the suit-wearers was the church’s pastor, David Robinson.  An older man with brown hair and a greying goatee, he bore a faint resemblance to actor Harvey Keitel.

The day’s service began with a dozen-odd members of the congregation piling onto the stage to sing along briefly with a contemporary Christian song played over the church’s speakers.  A chorus of ‘Amen’s from the crowd met the song’s conclusion as the singers drifted back to their seats and a man from the congregation rose to deliver a few brief community announcements and prepare the congregation to make its offering.  Four ‘special singers’ from the group took the stage to perform, with accompaniment played over the sound system, while two men roved the pews with the church’s offering plates outstretched.

When song and offering finished Pastor Robinson took the pulpit briefly, but not to preach: he introduced his cousin, Paul, who was present with his own family that morning, and invited Paul to take the stage and ‘offer testimony.’  Paul proved to be the father of two teenage daughters, the younger of whom–Haley–was diagnosed with cancer some time previously.  Apparently Haley was a frequent subject of prayer for the Mercy Baptist congregation.

Paul spoke of his daughter’s battle with cancer, his despair when the doctors appeared to “give up hope” after her initial diagnosis, and the great comfort he drew from knowing his cousin’s church stood behind him and in his own faith.  His voice took on a vulnerable, emotional quaver as he drew to his story’s close.  He finished by singing, a capella, an old gospel song his brother sang in church when they were children.

Haley, whose cancer had gone into remission, was present with her family.  She sat with her father as the congregation’s children filed in to sing a rendition of “This Little Light of Mine” for her.  The children had spent some time in the preceding weeks collecting money for Haley’s treatment.

Robinson resumed his position behind the pulpit soon after, and the sermon he began took up the rest of the morning’s service.  Its principle subject was the plan for Mercy Baptist’s future.  It seemed Robinson and his church were committed towards moving out of the space they built in the former ACE Hardware store.  The goal was to buy a 10 acre plot of land nearby, currently occupied by a derelict blockhouse.  A black and white picture of the area, drawn by the pastor’s son, lay propped up on the altar while Robinson spoke.

Robinson spoke of the need for vision in the congregation, and faith that whatever they genuinely set their mind to would be supported by God.  He quoted martial artist Bruce Lee, and said that like Lee they must aim “six inches beyond their target.”

Over the course of his sermon Robinson reiterated again and again that their goal was not to build a church because he wanted it, but because they wanted it.  “Our objective,” he said, “is not to build a church.  Our objective is to build a house that God will want to live in.”  As the sermon drew towards its end Robinson pulled the black and white illustration of the current property to reveal a second picture behind it, this in full color, showing the ‘vision’ of what the property might be: a whitewashed country church with classrooms, a fellowship hall and broad green lawns.

At the close of his sermon Robinson left the stage while the man who read announcements at the service’s start led the congregation in a final prayer.  Then the people of Mercy Baptist Church filed out into the hall, towards the parking lot and a clear, cool August morning.

Clover Wesleyan Church, Part 2 – Visited on 8/1/12

Wayne Spear, pastor of Clover Wesleyan Church, sat for his interview with Churchspotting in his modest office in his church’s Fellowship Hall, a separate building from the church sanctuary and a regular setting for community meals and Bible study.  Though he woke sick that morning, Mr. Spear remained game to speak with Churchspotting.

Rev. Spear was a heavy-set man, of greying hair and deep set eyes.  He was born in  Davenport, Iowa in 1947, the oldest of four children.  His father was an electrical engineer; his mother, a schoolteacher.  Mr. Spear’s family settled in Davenport during his youth, and his parents spent the rest of their lives there.  He grew up on the brown banks of the Mississippi; in his youth, the principal entertainments were riding bikes around town and playing baseball in empty lots.

After high school Mr. Spear left home to begin the pre-engineering program at St. Ambrose college, from which he transferred to the University of Iowa.  In 1967, as he was going down to an evening’s dinner he noticed a poster that read, “Jesus Christ and the New Student Revolution.”  He’d never considered Jesus a revolutionary figure before, but that poster set him to reconsider the Presbyterian faith his family followed, and in which he was raised.  It set him on a trajectory that would lead to his current position as a minister of the Wesleyan Church.

When general drafts began for the Vietnam War, Wayne Spear decided to enlist and choose a position in the military rather than have it chosen for him.  He joined the US Navy, in which he served for six years as a nuclear-trained electrician on a nuclear-propelled fast attack submarine.  He assisted in the maintenance of electrical equipment on submarine tours that could last from a week to two months at a time–and according to Spear, anything longer than a few weeks seemed to stretch into eternity.

After leaving the military Mr. Spear became an employee of Duke Energy, a Charlotte NC based power company that supplies electricity throughout Charlotte’s surrounding area.  He helped write procedures for the operation of the McGuire Nuclear Station at Huntersville, North Carolina, while it was under construction.

During his time at McGuire one of Mr. Spear’s superiors introduced him to his own Wesleyan congregation, and he evinced a growing interest in spiritual matters and religious study.  After around one year with Duke Energy, Spear left his position as an engineer to enter seminary school.  During this second period of schooling Mr. Spear met the woman he eventually married, and worked nights as a janitor to support himself.

After earning his ordination as a pastor of the Wesleyan Church Mr. Spear tended to a succession of North Carolina churches before settling at Clover Wesleyan, where he has presided as pastor for the last seventeen years.

Clover Wesleyan was founded in 1911, when Clover SC was only three decades old.  As of this interview it averages around thirty-five attendees each Sunday.  The Wesleyan Church was itself a product of America’s 19th century social political schisms.  The group that became the Wesleyan Church split from the mainline Methodist denomination prior to the American Civil War over the issue of slavery.  Whole churches that chose to condemn slavery broke away from the Methodist body to become the Wesleyan Methodists; the group’s name has shortened over the decades into the simpler Wesleyan Church.

Rev. Wayne Spear said that homosexuality was an “abomination in the eyes of the lord.”  He views same-sex relationships as a sin, of the same type and caliber as adultery.  As both a minister and a veteran, Spear believes that though the United States was justified in its invasion of Afghanistan after the events of 9/11, it is not within the US’s power to “fix the whole world.”  He remarked that while the US was engaged in its invasion and occupation of Iraq, genocide and civil wars raged in Africa that our government did not feel obligated to intervene in.  He held that the reason the US intervened in Iraq but not Africa was Iraq’s substantial oil reserves.

Mr. Spear’s church sits across the street from the wreck of the American Thread property, the shuttered and decommissioned warehouses that once held Clover, SC’s textile output.  Many of his own flock worked in the town’s textile mills before the vast majority shut down during the late 1980s and 1990s.  Spear said that God promises to bless the lives, lands and families of those who are faithful, and withdraw those blessings from those who are not.

He believes that America has turned against the Lord, and as such the country’s blessing is withheld.  He attributes this moral decline to the rise of secularism in American culture, to the practice of abortion, and to the breakdown of traditional marriage.  He also cited the “homosexual agenda trying to take over the country,” as a major contributor to civil decay.

Mr. Spear is not sure whether or not we currently live in the End Times mentioned in the New Testament’s Book of Revelation, but he said that after 1948 and the founding of the modern state of Israel, that possibility is stronger than ever.

On the proper relationship between Church and State, he said that the government is barred from establishing a state religion, but contended that Christmas displays on city property do not constitute such.  He maintained that God will bless America if the nation returns to Christian practice and values.

Delay

Due to Unforseen Circumstances, This week’s Churchspotting will be delayed till the afternoon of 8/6/12.  It will feature an interview with Rev. Wayne Spear of Clover Wesleyan Church.  In the meantime, we offer you a bit of ecclesiastical news.  In late June the Southern Baptist Convention reached a landmark decision: churches within the convention now have the option to change their names from “Southern Baptist” to “Great Commission Baptist.”  The name change is covered here by the LA Times, and here by the Baptist Press.  Churchspotting has not visited a Baptist church since the decision was reached, but it will certainly be a topic of conversation in future interviews.

Clover Wesleyan Church, Clover SC – Visited on 7/29/12

Clover Wesleyan Church stands beside Highway 321 in the southern stretches of Clover, SC.  To its immediate north lies the former warehouse lot of American Thread Inc., once a mammoth repository for the town’s textile output.  The warehouse was shuttered decades ago.  In more recent years the nearer of the two warehouse buildings to the church’s property was demolished to its foundations, leaving nothing more than a vast grassy field.  The church’s lighted signboard by the highway reads in black, interchangeable letters, “Pray For America.”

Sunday school starts at 10 AM at Clover Wesleyan; the day’s religious service begins at 11.  Devotions are held in the church’s sanctuary, a high-ceilinged, white-washed hall.  Two rows of pews march down its subtly slanted floor, each decked with faded off-pink cushions.  Wall to wall carpeting of a slightly darker pink covers the floor beneath them.  The walls are pierced by towering, arched stained glass windows.  Their colored panes do not depict scenes or specific images; they are simply plates of swirling, predominantly blue-tinted glass.  Their glow on the morning of July 29, along with the illumination cast by electric lamps hanging from the ceiling, gave the sanctuary a fresh, pale light.

The pews give way to a narrow open space before a curved wooden banister rises to delineate the congregation’s seating and the wooden pulpit, altar and choir loft beyond.  The choir sits in a tall, squarish depression in the far wall; above them hangs a wooden cross.  The church’s pastor sits in a high-backed wooden chair beside the choir loft when not speaking or preaching.  Two flags stand in the corners: the American flag to the congregation’s left and the Christian flag to their right.

The congregation numbered about 35 individuals on the morning of the 29th, with around a quarter of those being children.  Dress tended towards the formal, with women in dresses and men in collared shirts and slacks.  This trend lessened with the congregation’s children, with most–but not all–of high school age and younger arriving in street or school clothes.

The day’s service began with announcements delivered by the church’s pastor, Rev. Wayne Spear.  A heavyset, middle aged man, he wore one of the handful of suits present at that day’s service.  A performance by the choir, a seven-member body of men and women led by a young woman referred to by the congregation as ‘Miss Anna,’ who guided the rest of the church in a cycle of hymns.  Despite the choir’s microphones and the piano accompaniment, the congregation’s voices were still clearly audible as they took part in the music.

After the songs came the day’s offering collection.  Two older men who’d stood by the sanctuary doors stepped forward to bear the golden plates up and down the pews, collecting what stray bills and envelopes the congregation put forward.  Then the congregation’s children filed onto the front pews to listen to the ‘Young People’s Sermon’ offered by Rev. Spear.  The pastor described to the children what heaven is supposed to be like, and explained to them that their only means of reaching that paradise was to ask forgiveness for their sins and accept God into their lives.

After the children’s sermon Spear asked his congregation for any particular people or issues they ought to pray for, then led them in worship.  Topics of prayer included members of the congregation who were sick or undergoing medical treatment, an Air Force chaplain slated to head for Afghanistan, and a few requests members of the church wished to remain ‘unspoken’–that is, prayed for by the group but not explained publicly, trusting to the omniscience of the deity to know what was ultimately asked for.

Another performance by the choir followed, which was succeeded in turn by a performance by the “Wesleyan Men”: a group of six men, including the pastor, lined up on stage to voice a gospel song, with Miss Anna on the piano for accompaniment.  After the Wesleyan Men finished, the pastor took his place behind the pulpit and began a sermon that filled the rest of the worship service.

Mr. Spear took that morning to advise his congregation on how to be “effective and productive” as Christians.  He read from 2nd Peter in the Bible’s New Testament, and listed qualities the apostle Peter believed were essential to meaningful Christian practice.  He explained that works alone had no bearing on whether or not one went to heaven after death–that lay entirely with each individual’s faith and repentance–but added Peter’s belief that “faith without works is dead.”

Spear said that a great part of living the Christian life was a matter of personal discipline.  He told his congregation that so long as they lived on Earth they’d be surrounded by iniquity and decadence, and as such it was their duty to keep themselves apart from corruption.  He invoked the character Gollum from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, or at least their film adaptations, and spoke of how Gollum’s lust for the One Ring goaded him to hate and fear those who tried to help him.  As an example of standing firm in the face of decadence Mr. Spear hailed the Catholic Church’s “stand against gay marriage.”

After Rev. Spear’s sermon a Norman Dunn, one of the Wesleyan Men and an elder member of the church, led the congregation in a final prayer.  With that the worship service ended, and the congregation dispersed into a bright, relatively cool afternoon of late July.