Posts Tagged ‘ Methodist ’

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.”

First United Methodist Church, Clover SC – Visited on 6/17/12

The First United Methodist Church of Clover, SC is, ironically, not actually the oldest Methodist church within the bounds of that town. St. Paul United Methodist predates it by a few years, but lay well beyond Clover’s borders when it was founded in the latter half of the 19th Century.  Today, housing developments and asphalt roads creep further and further into formerly rural, woodland farmland, and what was once a country church lies just a few intersections off from a significant highway.

First Methodist is, nonetheless, one of the older houses of worship in Clover proper.  Its facade is red, mortared brick, rising to a steep peaked arch above the long hall of the church’s sanctuary.  It hosts two traditional religious services each Sunday, one at 8:30 AM and another at 11:00 AM.  Churchspotting attended the latter of the two.

On the sunny, warm morning of the 17th of June, the sanctuary of First Methodist filled with a golden glow.  The sanctuary hall was framed by marching pairs of stained glass whose yellow central panes transmuted light streaming in from the east to the color of honey mead.  That light fell on two rows of age-darkened wooden pews set with plush green cushions, standing upon wall-to-wall blue carpeting.

Ahead of the pews rose a stage upon which stood altar and pulpit, a pipe organ keyboard, a glossy black piano, and the church choir loft.  Pulpit and altar were hung with green and gold according to the liturgical calendar.  Above the choir the organ’s pipes swept up as a pair of silver wings, between which hung a huge wooden cross lit from above.  Above all was the peaked ceiling, wooden boards braced by a succession of dark beams whose crossing and recrossing formed hollow, spearheaded supports for the high roof.

By 11:00 AM the morning’s congregation were already in their seats.  The service’s attendees were primarily older, gray-haired men and women attending both singly and in couples.  Among them were scattered younger individuals and couples, as well as a handful of children.  Their dress was varied, with older members skewing towards more formal clothing while some younger worshippers arrived in jeans and t-shirts.  Including the choir in their blue robes, attendance was over sixty individuals.

That morning’s service was nonstandard.  In recognition of Father’s Day worship was led by the church’s senior male lay members.  They made the usual announcements, led prayers, and one stepped forward to give the sermon.  Worship began with a procession down the aisle.  One man, termed a ‘crucifer’, bore a golden cross on a wooden pole in white gloves worn for that purpose.  Behind him came another man bearing a flame for the altar’s paired candles.  As they marched down the aisle the congregation stood and sang their first hymn.

After the procession and hymn ended the attendees greeted each other, circulating among the pews to shake hands.  After the greeting came a short sermon for the congregation’s children before they were invited to ‘children’s church.’  Some stayed in the pews with their parents rather than depart.  Then an older member of the church choir stepped forward to present what the church bulletin called a ‘mission moment,’ during which he described his experience helping raise a house for a man left homeless by a storm, and invited the congregation to participate in similar missionary work.

What followed was called the ‘Pastoral Prayer’, delivered by one of the church’s lay members.  At First Methodist public prayer was conducted by having the congregation bow their heads in silence while one person stood behind the pulpit and spoke, guiding their observances.  After prayer came a hymn and a reading from the psalms of the Old Testament, which was delivered as a form of call and response: the reader would voice a section and the congregation would read the accompanying line from their hymnals, back and forth to the psalm’s end.

After the pslam the congregation recited the Apostle’s Creed, and remained standing to sing ‘Gloria Patri.’  The choir sang ‘Just a Closer Walk’ while the congregation regained their seats, before some of their men rose to pass offering plates down the pews.  During the ‘offertory’ several of the congregation’s lay men, as well as the church’s senior pastor, took the stage and performed a song.  The pastor and another played guitar while some seven others sang.

After the morning’s offering was taken up another layman took the pulpit in order honor the congregation’s fathers.  He called on the oldest father present, a man in his late seventies; the man with youngest child, a four-year-old; and recognized the man with the most children, four in that group.

Next the congregation prayed in prelude to two scripture readings, first from the Book of Joshua in the Old Testament, then from the Book of Luke in the Gospels.  The congregation stood to listen to the latter, but kept their seats for the former.  After the scripture reading, the man behind the pulpit said “This is the word of God for the people of God,” to which the congregation gave the ritual response, “Thanks be to God.”

The day’s sermon was called ‘Men’s Ministry.’  One of the church’s laymen described a weekly event called the Clover Men’s Wednesday Morning Prayer Breakfast, a gathering which he described through the analogy of a meal recipe.  The gathering was apparently affiliated with First United Methodist, but was open to other denominations and described as a gathering for “people who love Christ,” and are “unashamed to be a Christian man.”

At the sermon’s close the congregation stood for a closing hymn.  Then the golden cross brought in at the service’s start was taken in procession back down the aisle as the attendees sang, and the church gathering dispersed into the blooming summer afternoon.

St. Paul United Methodist Church, Part II – Visited on 11/6

On the afternoon of the 8th of November, in a room usually used for Bible study and Sunday School classes on the second floor of his church, St. Paul United Methodist, Pastor Brian Preveaux sat for an interview with Churchspotting.  Mr. Preveaux is an older man, heavyset with thinning hair and a congenial personal presence.  Though he officiates worship at St. Paul in sweeping black robes, for this meeting he favored a collared shirt and slacks.  We took our seats on plain wooden chairs at the low classroom table, the chatter of a meeting on the church’s pending Oyster Stew rattling up through the floor.

Mr. Preveaux is relatively new to life as a pastor; 2011 marks his fourth year as a full-time minister.  A native of Walterboro, SC he spent most of his life in commercial positions, first in management before transitioning into sales.  He described spending twenty years “running from God” before leaving his traditional professional life to become a Methodist minister.  He is still in the process of completing his ecclesiastic education, and attends Hood Theological Ceremony in Salisbury, NC to that end.

Preveaux’s tenure at St. Paul is brief so far—he only arrived at the Clover church in June of 2011.  Still early in his sixth month there, he has yet to fully assimilate the history of St. Paul, a church founded over a hundred years previous in 1891, a mere four years after the chartering of Clover, SC itself in 1887.  As such he could not provide Churchspotting with much detail on the history of St. Paul United Methodist, but he did share some of his hopes for its future.

As a freshly minted minister Mr. Preveaux is still establishing his rhythm and practices.  The All Saints Day ceremony observed by Churchspotting on 11/6 was the first such service Mr. Preveaux had ever attended, much less officiated.  The lighting of candles in memory of his congregation’s dead was his own initiative, rather than a standing tradition of the church.  In future he hopes to find a balance between the long-standing traditions of St. Paul United Methodist and more contemporary forms of worship, and mentioned in particular his desire to bring in more contemporary forms of praise music to augment St. Paul services.

Though he has not yet established standing relations with other churches in the area beyond St. Paul’s sister-church relationship with nearby King’s Mountain Chapel, where he also pastors, Mr. Preveaux voiced a desire to build stronger links to neighboring religious institutions.  He did mention that St. Paul has a longstanding link to the First United Methodist Church of Clover, ironically a slightly younger church founded in 1900, sited at the heart of the Clover township.

Concerning charitable works in the community, Mr. Preveaux cited St. Paul’s Oyster Stews and ice cream socials, the proceeds of which go to the Clover and York Area Assistance Centers, as well as school supply drives conducted towards the start of each school year.

Finally, on the proper relationship between Church and State, Mr. Preveaux “believe[s] it’s a distinct separation.”  He feels government has intruded into religious domains by such initiatives as banning prayer in school or removing copies of the Ten Commandments from courthouses.  He spoke of what he felt was a loss of religious freedom in America, with other groups being given preferential treatment by political authorities.  “When the rights of Christians,” he said, “are being set aside for the rights of Muslims or Catholics, that’s not right.”

St. Paul United Methodist Church, Part I – Visited on 11/6

Today’s update concerns one of the oldest churches in Clover, SC, St. Paul United Methodist Church.  Our coverage is broken into two parts: the first, published on the 6th of November, concerns the Sunday service performed on the 6th; the second, to be released later in the week, will focus on the church’s history and an in-depth interview with St. Paul’s pastor, Rev. Brian Preveaux.  Now, without further ado, St. Paul United Methodist Church.

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St. Paul Church Road winds past farm fields and suburban homes on the outskirts of Clover, South Carolina.  The church itself stands with its outbuildings on a shoulder of the swerving, unpainted country road named for it, all solid brick and neoclassical facades.

St. Paul United Methodist Church is not a large facility, but it shows a rare craftsmanship.  The floors are lacquered, paneled wood; the sanctuary is a white hall, its vaulted ceiling hung with glowing lamps.  A golden cross hangs at the rear of the sanctuary, burnished by lamplight; the cross and candlesticks upon its altar are similarly of worked gold.  Behind the pastor’s heavy wooden pulpit stand two flagpoles, one hung with the American flag, the other with an ecclesiastic banner.  Three rows of stout wooden pews fall in ranks across the sanctuary floor.  The only instruments used in the service Churchspotting observed were the human voice and a piano.

On the morning of the 6th the congregation of St Paul Methodist trooped in by couples and families.  It is an older congregation, mostly grey-haired couples sitting side by side with a handful of younger families, but on that morning they were enough to fill the aisles and pews with over fifty worshippers.

Gathering at St. Paul Methodist is a formal affair, and much of the congregation arrived in their Sunday best, though younger adult members tended towards more casual dress.  The choir, seven members strong, sits in green robes trimmed with gold; the pastor presides over the service robed in black.  St. Paul Methodist observes classical Christian rituals not seen in more contemporary traditions observed by Churchspotting—the congregation recites the Apostle’s Creed towards the beginning of the morning service, affirming their belief in, among other things, “the holy Catholic church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”  The congregation sings together from well-worn hymnals, directed by the choir and piano, and the mid-service prayer ends with a group recitation of the Nicene Creed.

That morning was a special one on the traditional Christian calendar: it marked All Saints’ Day, dedicated to remembering past saints and loved ones lost.  Accordingly, that morning’s sermon concerned death and the Christian doctrines of life afterwards.  Pastor Preveaux discussed a passage of the Book of Thessalonians, where the dead are described in the original Greek text as being merely ‘asleep.’  He emphasized that those his congregation had lost to death over the years were not gone from them forever, but that they would meet again in paradise before their God: “we will meet the Lord in the air.”

Following the sermon the congregation of St. Paul Methodist began its All Saints’ Day ceremony.  The families of six deceased members of the congregation arose, one at a time, to light candles in remembrance of their loved ones with flame transferred from the altar’s twin candles.  With each candle lit emotions in the sanctuary ran a bit higher, as spouses and siblings of those so commemorated returned weeping and shuddering to their pews, supported by their remaining loved ones.  When the last pre-arranged candle was lit the pastor offered a seventh to anyone in the congregation who wished to have their departed honored as well.

After the candle ceremony the pastor offered to let family members take their memorial candles home, and said that though the altar candles usually burn only during worship, to signify the divine presence within the sanctuary, that day they would be left burning in memoriam.  Their prayers and songs finished, the congregation of St. Paul United Methodist Church left their pews for the cold, November morning.