Posts Tagged ‘ East Clover Church of God ’

East Clover Church of God – Visited on 10/2/11

The entrance to East Clover Church of God fronts onto SC 55, a two-lane road that winds from east to west through the middle of the small town of Clover, SC.  The church’s drive stands between a combination KFC/Taco Bell and the local Chevrolet dealership, bisected by a wheeled blue billboard displaying the church’s name and times of worship.

Head down the drive, and the seeker finds a wide oval of road garlanded with well-appointed homes, a playground, and an athletic field.  Beyond them a pond glistens in the sun.  The church squats to your left hand, a single story templar’s cross of brick and mortar crowned with a white steeple.  Inside the ECCG is clean and fresh, a relatively new building still under expansion.  On the left-hand side of the entrance hall a wooden table and a wheeled cart stand side by side, set with the church’s bulletins and publications from other Church of God pastors.

Like Greater Life Ministries, visited a few weeks previous to this article, the East Clover Church of God is affiliated with the greater Church of God organization based in Cleveland, Tennessee.  At approximately seven million adherents worldwide, one million of those in the United States, it is the world’s largest association of Pentecostal churches.  The ECCG sits amidst a 32-acre plot of land that includes its long driveway, the three houses and playground equipment lining drive, the pond, and some of the forest beyond.  It is the first church pastored by its current spiritual leader, Rev. Jerry Lee Hibberts Jr., and is home to a congregation of between fifty-five and sixty people.

Beyond the book cart, a turn to the left brings one into the church’s sanctuary.  Like everything else in the ECCG this chamber is clean and well-maintained, two columns of padded seats set before a raised stage, itself lined with two more rows of seating along with facilities for the congregation’s musicians—drums, guitar, electric organ and keyboard piano.  Behind the seating a windowed enclosure holds the church’s two sound technicians.

At the start of the service the main seating is largely vacant.  Most of the congregation is in the stage seating, ready to lend their voices as a choir, all dressed to the nines in their Sunday best.  The church’s membership is skewed towards older members, from middle-aged to elderly, though a handful of children sit at their parents’ sides for the opening ceremonies before being led off to ‘children’s church.’

The service I witnessed began with one of the church’s lay members taking the stage to brief the congregation on recent news in the ECCG.  Next comes a combined Happy Birthday/Anniversary song, apparently sung at the first service of each month.  “May you find Jesus near…” went the song, to a lyric and tune unfamiliar to me.

Then Rev. Hibberts, seated on-stage and off to the side before the keyboard, leads the congregation in prayer.  The pastor’s voice flows with the practiced cadence the classic revival preacher, his voiceover mingling with the murmurs of his flock.  At the ECCG group prayer is done aloud, yet singly, each individual’s divergent words rushing together to fill the chamber with their voices.

As the prayers fade out music takes its place, and here the church truly comes alive.  Even elderly members of the congregation take to their feet, hands raised, clapping and singing as men and women pace around the borders of the seating, waving their arms and chanting in tongues.  Never before have I seen so many old men and women swaying and clapping together.  To the left a bald man in glasses, whom I never saw speak during the service, slaps a tambourine with skill and aplomb, playing in counterpart to the band’s bass section.  Throughout all this the pastor sings along, a tenor worthy of any old-time gospel singer.

At length Rev. Hibberts begins his sermon, though even this is interspersed with more singing and clapping.  At intervals members of the congregation voice “Amen,” and every so often one man in the crowd shouts “Come on!  Come on, Preacher!” egging Hibberts on.  The sermon itself is brief, for all this pageantry.  The pastor remarks on how the Rapture, when God will take the faithful away from the Earth and into paradise, is near at hand.  How the world is set against the faithful, but how Hibberts himself is “not worried about what the outside world thinks; I’m not worried what the religious world thinks.”

By the end of the sermon Hibberts is standing on his Bible to show how it supports him, preaching of ‘spiritual warfare’ against temptation and doubt, and of enduring the trials of this life in the name of faith.  With the sermon’s end the service is over; the congregation trickles out through the door in ones and twos.  As they leave I take my seat on the stage to conduct a brief interview with Rev. Hibberts.

According to him the ECCG was founded five years ago, and began with a congregation of seven.  He bought its associated land and paid for the church’s construction through donations and fund-raising; there has been no financial contribution, he said, from the greater Church of God association.  Of the three houses on the property one is his family’s, the other belongs to Brother Loftus, a retired Church of God minister present at the service I witnessed.  The third was originally owned by another ECCG member family, but that group has since sold the home to a family outside the church and moved out.

On the matter of the Rapture, Rev. Hibberts does not have a specific date but believes indeed that the event is nigh.  He describes it as a “catching away of the church,” and believes that signs and prophecies in the Bible related to this event indicate that it is near at hand.  On more conventional matters he said that the ECCG is not currently involved in any charitable works in the community, but it does donate as a group to sponsor an orphanage in Kenya, as well as giving to provide food during famines in Kenya and to support Kenyan sister churches.

Finally, regarding the relationship between church and state, Hibberts’ beliefs were concise and to the point: “The Founding Fathers, in writing our constitution, never intended to exempt government from religion, but to keep government out of religion.”