Posts Tagged ‘ Rock Hill ’

Episcopal Church of Our Saviour, Part II – Visited on 6/18/12

Churchspotting met with Rector Janice Chalaron at her office on the second floor of the Episcopal Church of Our Saviour, covered previously, in Rock Hill, SC.  Ms. Chalaron is the third female pastor encountered by Churchspotting, and the first whose husband has not held a visible role in her church’s hierarchy.

Janice Chalaron was born in 1953 in Tehran, Iran, where were father worked as a diplomat for the US State Department.  Though her earliest years were spent overseas, at her father’s assignments, by the time she entered middle school her family was settled in Arlington, VA.  During this period her family attended churches of the Methodist denomination.

Ms. Chalaron described herself as a “seeker” during her high school years, during which she attended the worship services of many different religious denominations.  This curiosity continued into her college years at UNC, where she studied religion and history.  After college she married her first husband, with whom she had three children.

During the early 1980s she and her first husband divorced, and she began studying recreation therapy at Duke Medical Center.  During this time she attended a Methodist church, but, by her description, “only at Easter and Christmas.”

In 1983 Ms. Chalaron met the man who’d be her second husband and began studying at Duke Divinity School.  During this time she also took an active interest in the Episcopal Church, which “felt like home” to her during that time of significant personal transition.  By 1984 she was committed to pursuing an ordination within the Episcopal Church, which began ordaining female priests in 1976.  Having received her Master’s in Divinity from Duke Divinity, she pursued further study at the University of the South in Sewanee, TN, where she earned another Master’s in Theological Study.

Ms. Chalaron’s first ecclesiastic position was as an associate rector at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Comforter in Burlington, NC, which she assumed in 1990 and held for the next five years.  In 1995 she transferred to St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Rocky Mount, NC, where she served as rector until 2003.  Next, and in her last role previous to assuming the rectorship of Our Saviour, she served at St. Bede’s Episcopal Church in Atlanta, a church of 600 and her first multi-staff parish.  She arrived in Rock Hill in March of 2012, where she attends to a membership of roughly the same size.

Given the general rarity of female religious leaders in York County, Churchspotting asked Ms. Chalaron for her thoughts on the doctrine of the Churches of Christ who hold that, based on their reading of Timothy 2:8, women should not be allowed any role in church organization that might “put them in a position of authority over men.”  Her response was that she did not feel she could judge them for their interpretation of scripture.

On the subject of homosexuality, Ms. Chalaron said that gay men and women may be “accepted as full members of the body of Christ.”  Homosexuals may be ordained in the Episcopal Church as priests; however, as the church does not accept same-sex marriage or sexual relations outside outside of marriage, homosexual Episcopal priests are obliged to practice abstinence.  The church is considering liturgies over the summer for use in sanctifying same-sex unions, but such would definitely be termed as ‘unions,’ rather than marriages.  By her own admission, Ms. Chalaron has never served under an Episcopal bishop who would allow such unions to take place within their territory.  When asked whether she would perform them under a bishop who was so inclined, Ms. Chalaron said that she did not know.

Though Ms. Chalaron said she had never encountered what she would describe as divine visions or miracles outside of worship, she did hold with the Episcopal belief that their weekly Eucharist invokes what they call the “real presence” of Christ, which she described as a miracle in itself.

On the subject of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,  Ms. Chalaron was unsure of the Episcopal Church’s stance, save that her organization recognizes theirs as a faith.  On the Catholic Church she was better apprised, saying that her church maintained “cordial” contact with theirs, though there is no intercommunion between them.  She was worried by what she described as an increasingly conservative bent in Catholic leadership over the last several decades.  Regarding Islam, she said the Episcopal Church recognizes that faith, and works for tolerance thereof.

On the Southern Baptist Convention, Ms. Chalaron said that though the Episcopal Church recognizes that group as fellow Christians, significant theological disagreements lie between them.  Specifically, where Baptists hold the Bible to be the literal word of God, Episcopals believe that it is an inspired text.  “God is present in the word,” she said, but stressed that the book itself is not to be worshipped.

Unlike many pastors and priests interviewed by Churchspotting, Ms. Chalaron does not believe that we currently live in the End Times described in the New Testament Book of Revelation.  Hurricanes, earthquakes, wars and other calamities have always been a part of human life, she said, and as such she did not feel that their presence today should be taken as a sign of the End.  She pointed out that Medieval Christians enduring the Black Death must have thought the End was come, and described the massive cathedrals of that era as a kind of divine fallout shelter, where people hoped to gather for sanctuary when the apocalypse drew nigh.

Ms. Chalaron’s thoughts on the relationship between Church and State were simple and forthright.  The two should, in her view, be “completely separate.”  As an example, she said that ministers should not act as agents of the state even when they perform marriage ceremonies.  The role of the minister in such occasions, in her view, was to sanctify the marriage in accordance with the new spouses’ beliefs, and that a notary should be present to furnish its legal elements.

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Episcopal Church of Our Saviour, Part I – Visited on 6/3/12

Downtown Rock Hill, SC, is packed with churches.  The same could be said of the rest of York County, from country roads to main streets, but in the heart of Rock Hill this sheer density of worship houses is augmented by the age and size of local institutions.  Some of the churches there were raised at the town’s founding in the 19th Century, accreting worshippers and out-buildings over the course of generations.  Though of widely differing denominations the old downtown churches share a tendency towards facades of red brick and lofty belltowers.

Among these venerable institutions is the Episcopal Church of Our Saviour.  The church is distinctive for the high, sheer crest of its sanctuary roof, but otherwise it melds seemlessly with the brick and mortar of downtown Rock Hill.  From inside the sanctuary’s ceiling is no less high than its outer appearance suggests, but metal cables strung across the empty air and wooden vambraces protruding from either side of its sharp ascent give the long hall a low, close feeling.  Light comes from ornate electric lamps of metal and glass.

The walls, ceilings and roof are panelled wood.  A double row of pews march towards the altar at the sanctuary’s end, austere wooden benches without cushions or coverings.  A huge, arched stained glass window rises behind an altar draped in gold-trimmed white cloth, while to either hand the walls are punctuated by smaller windows glowing in florid blues and greens.  Pipes of the church’s authentic organ rise in columns along the walls before the altar.  Twelve candles decked the altar, upon which lay holy books sheathed in precious metals.

The Church of Our Saviour is significantly more formal, and its Sunday rituals rather more elaborate, than the general run of York County churches.  The congregation’s dress is formal, with men in collared shirts and women in dresses, but neither suffices for members of the congregation directly involved in officiating the worship service.  These dressed in hooded white robes for the occasion, while the church’s priest wore a more elaborate version trimmed with gold.

The Episcopal Church of Our Saviour holds two services on Sundays, one at 8 AM and another at 10:30 AM.  Churchspotting attended the latter of the two.  Before the service began, as worshippers filed into the sanctuary and settled the pews, the church’s music director played the pipe organ over the sound of footsteps and soft greetings.

The formal worship began with tolling bells, at which the congregation stood as one.  A procession of white-robed lay worshippers entered the sanctuary from the rear bearing lit candles and a silver cross on a long pole.  As the light-bearers kindled the candles about the altar, the congregation began a hymn guided by the pipe organ’s music.  Unlike many other groups visited by Churchspotting, at the Church of Our Saviour the congregation’s voices were clearly audible over the instruments.

What followed was a succession of scripture readings interspersed with hymns and prayers.  Prayer was conducted as a form of call and response: one speaker would voice a line, and the congregation replied with its prescribed answer.  The text of all prayers was printed in the church’s bulletin, as was the full text of each reading.

This pattern broke only for the priest’s sermon.  The chief minister at the Episcopal Church of Our Saviour was Rev. Janice Melbourne Chalaron, an older woman with long, silver-white hair worn free for the service.  She was the third female pastor encountered by Churchspotting, and the first such whose husband did not occupy a prominent role in the worship service.

Ms. Chalaron’s sermon took the form of a story that she described as coming from the Russian Orthodox Church.  It was the tale of a Russian bishop who, in the midst of a long sea voyage, happened across an island community of three holy hermits.  After spending a day teaching the men–whom he treated kindly but patronizingly–his church’s prayers, he was humbled  to wake in the night and find the hermits pursuing his ship by running barefoot over the waves, only to ask the bishop to help remember some of the prayer’s words.  The bishop knelt before them asks to learn their prayer instead.

After the sermon the congregation recited the Nicene Creed, then voiced a succession of prayers that gave special mention to the Irish church and named all those affiliated with the congregation who had died in the wars of the last decade.  Then, after some announcements and an interlude called ‘The Peace’ in which the congregation shook hands and greeted each other with the words “The peace of the Lord be with you,” the church began a ritual called the Holy Eucharist.

Behind the altar, Rev. Chalaron described the Christian tradition of the Last Supper with prescribed words and carefully stylized gestures.  She broke a wafer of bread in half above her head, and raised a goblet for the congregation to see.  Then the congregation rose in sections to file towards the front and take their portion of sacral bread and wine.

Following the Holy Eucharist, also called Communion, the congregation sang a closing hymn before the priest dismissed them, and the church’s members filed out of the relatively dim sanctuary into a bright June afternoon.

First Presbyterian Church, Rock Hill, SC – Visited on 4/1/12

The architecture of York County tends towards the unimpressive.  Clover, South Carolina, for instance, has no readily visible buildings taller than two stories.  Those with a second story are usually the brick blockhouses of main street, brightened here and there by a festive awning or hanging sign.

The area’s younger churches are usually rented spaces, former shops or warehouses or manufactories converted by their new congregations into places of worship.  These buildings’ serve their groups spiritual needs, but they do little to hearken back to older traditions of religious structures that whose architecture, especially their use of light and space, accompanied and magnified the spiritual pursuits engaged within their walls.

Today, Churchspotting visits a place of worship in the old style.  The First Presbyterian Church of Rock Hill, SC is a massive structure by local standards.  Faced in red brick, its tower looms above the two- and three-story bank buildings and art galleries of downtown Rock Hill.  Its sanctuary is a hemisphere of whitewashed, paneled wood, its arches vaulting skyward, its dome pierced by circular stained glass windows that allow morning sunlight too pour down into the chamber.

One side of the sanctuary is lined by the massive form of the church’s classical pipe organ, framed by seating for the church choir and the pastor’s podium.  Pews spread in long rows before the altar, hard wooden backs set with plush red cushions.

First Presbyterian presents a highly traditional service by York County standards.  The congregation, primarily a gray-haired gathering, with a sprinkling of younger parents and their children, arrives in its Sunday best.  Younger men of the congregation take positions by the door, greeting visitors and handing out the day’s church bulletin.  The choir sits in rows before the organ in full robes.

April 1 was a special occasion on the Christian calendar this year.  It marked Palm Sunday, an event from the New Testament where the Christian messiah, Jesus, entered into the ancient, holy city of Jerusalem mounted on a colt, as followers and well-wishers laid palm fronds before and behind his mount.  In memory of that event, the church’s choir entered carrying palm fronds, while the congregation pinned to their clothing blades from like fronds entwined into the shape of a cross.

The service began at 11 am, and ended by noon.  The days devotional regimen was heavy with music from the choir and organ, sometimes accompanied by the congregation on their hymnals.  The church’s choir proved both well-trained and passionate in their music, but their voices easily eclipsed the more muted tones of the congregation itself.  After song, prayer and a moment with the congregation’s children, the church’s pastor took the podium and began his sermon, entitled “The Mind of Christ.”

Titled the church’s ‘interim’ senior pastor, Rev. John Todd is a lean, older man whose hair went white with the years.  His premise for the morning was that the congregation should emulate Christ with their minds as well as their deeds.  Through parables he said that American culture’s focus on worldly success does not necessarily lead to happiness, and that Jesus, whose arrival at Jerusalem the church celebrated that day, spent his life giving rather than struggling to possess more.

In our next article Churchspotting sits down with Rev. Todd to discuss the First Presbyterian Church, its history, and its message, in greater depth.

Islamic Center of South Carolina, Part II – Visited on 3/2/2012

During Churchspotting’s visit to the Islamic Center of South Carolina in Rock Hill, SC, I sat down with Isam Musa, the man who led that day’s Friday prayers.  Isam Musa was the day’s imam, a position roughly analogous to a Christian preacher.  Mr. Musa was willing to answer some questions, and illuminate some Islamic concepts that may elude our Christian readership.

First, the position of imam.  Sunni Islam has no dedicated class of priests.  Imams are teachers, specifically members of the community with enough education in the theology and traditions of Islam to teach others.  Mr. Musa has a day job, but he makes the journey to Rock Hill from his Charlotte home each Friday afternoon to put his education at the disposal of the city’s Muslim community.

Mr. Musa hails from the city of Jerusalem.  He is a Palestinian immigrant to the United States, and came here some twenty years ago as a student.  He volunteers with the Islamic Center of South Carolina because there is no permanently assigned imam for the congregation.  He is the regular imam at this point, but not the only member of the community who fills that role.

Mr. Musa’s association with the Islamic Center of South Carolina stretches back between nine and ten years, to the group’s founding.  According to him, the Islamic Center began as a group of Muslims who gathered to pray at Freedom Temple Ministries, a Christian organization at the heart of downtown Rock Hill that allowed the city’s Muslims to use their space for Friday prayers.

Though their current worship space is a relatively small rented property a larger facility, called a masjid, is currently under construction in downtown Rock Hill.  Mr. Musa’s closing remarks at the end of Friday prayers included calling on the ummah to donate more towards the masjid’s construction.

The Islamic Center works within the community by contributing to food drives and ‘cure for cancer’ runs, sometimes in cooperation with local multifaith associations.  The Islamic Center’s members are willing to work with other religious groups on community projects so long as their aims and means do not violate Islamic law or beliefs.

The community’s response to Rock Hill’s growing Muslim population is mixed, particularly after the events of 9/11, 2001.  According to Mr. Musa, some reacted with fear towards Muslims in genera after that dayl.  Yet he also described how the sudden awareness of Islam prompted many non-Muslims to seek out their Muslim neighbors to learn more about their faith.  One result of this curiosity, according to Mr. Musa, was a greater tolerance in Rock Hill’s people for faiths not their own.  In a few cases, this greater tolerance and curiosity even resulted in Rock Hill natives from non-Muslim families converting to Islam.

On the relationship between Church and State, or in this case Musalla and State, Mr. Musa said that “all states must have a background in religion.”  He believes that all states must look to religion for guidance, because “religious laws are the laws that Allah the creator set for us, if we try to ignore those and invent something we will come short.”  He clarified that this does not make it his duty to convert all Americans to Islam, or for Christians to convert all their Muslim neighbors, but that the state must respect all religions.  He said it would be hypocritical to claim to be a Christian, Muslim or Jew, but only put the laws and beliefs of one’s religion into practice at home.

Charlotte Avenue Church of Christ, Part II – Visited on 2/21/11

Rev. Mark Reynolds is the pastor of the Charlotte Avenue Church of Christ.  At forty-one years old he is a perpetually jovial, slightly heavy-set man, dark-haired with streaks of gray cropping up at the edges of his short goatee.  Born in 1971, he spent much of his life in Muncie, Indiana.  He married his current spouse at 20, not long before he entered ministry.  The son of a Churches of Christ minister, he originally aspired to a position in the finance industry but found that work unsatisfying.  He became a youth minister in his father’s church, and at 22 he’d preached six lessons when he heard another Church of Christ in town needed a pastor.

Though he’d never attended a seminary and his preaching experience was limited, he sent in a resume at his wife’s encouragement.  He was invited to preach two sermons there, and met with the church elders.  After another two sermons, the elders offered Reynolds the ministry as a full-time position, a role he’s filled in one church or another to this day.

In the years since he gained his first ministry Reynolds earned a two-year degree from the Memphis School of Preaching, a Churches of Christ seminary.  He spent 15 years preaching at the same church in Indiana, but in the late ‘00s found his energies divided between that position, farming with his father-in-law, and coaching at the local high school.

Seven years ago Rev. Reynolds was looking for a way to focus his life towards ministry when he learned of a potential opening at the Charlotte Avenue Church of Christ.  After turning down the congregation’s first request, Reynolds visited the church and decided to up stakes from Muncie, Indiana to Rock Hill, SC.  Today Reynolds focuses on his position as minister at Charlotte Ave., while Mrs. Reynolds homeschools their daughters.

The Charlotte Avenue Church of Christ had a long history before Rev. Reynolds joined.  The congregation that now occupies the Charlotte Ave. site began when a Churches of Christ family from Tennessee settled in Rock Hill in 1943 and found that no other members of their group lived in the area.  They began holding religious meetings in their own home, but as Rock Hill’s Church of Christ population grew they established a building on Spruce Street.

The group grew to approximately thirty members by 1960, when it moved to its current location.  In 1973 Charlotte Ave. expanded into its modern footprint, a church that currently houses upwards of 200 members regularly.  This substantial congregation is involved in providing aid to Haiti, especially in the wake of last year’s earthquake there.  A member of the congregation hails from Kenya, and his presence prompted Charlotte Ave. to support missionary projects in that country.  Locally the church supports the Pilgrim’s Inn project with annual food drives, and the congregation sends relief to sites of natural disasters as they occur.

Charlotte Ave. is an autonomous religious body.  According to Rev. Reynolds every Church of Christ is essentially autonomous, with major decisions made by each congregation’s body of deacons and elders.  There is no central authority or ecclesiastic hierarchy in the Churches of Christ.

Charlotte Ave’s leadership comprises eight deacons and four elders, with the latter group including Rev. Reynolds’ predecessor, David Pharr, who spent more than thirty years as Charlotte Ave’s pastor.  Despite a total of twelve positions, all office-holders at Charlotte Ave. are male.  Though he emphasized that due to their autonomy the practices of individual Churches of Christ may vary, he explained that they all try to avoid “letting the culture change us,” and that in accordance with the Bible the Churches of Christ do not allow women to teach “in a public way, from the pulpit,” to avoid “usurping the authority of the man.”  Rev. Reynolds directed me to the Bible, 1 Timothy, Chapter 2, verses 11 and 12 of which read:

[11]A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. [12]I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.

 Women are allowed to teach other women and children at Charlotte Ave., and to plan and work in church events, but are barred from any position that might give them authority over male members of the church.

When it comes to relationships with other Christian groups, the Churches of Christ believe that any groups that follow “man-made creeds” have diverged from the true faith.  Rev. Reynolds named the Mormon church as such a group.  The Churches of Christ as a body count themselves as separate from the Catholic and Protestant strains of Christianity.

One of the rare exceptions to this rule is Charlotte Ave.’s willingness to join with other Christian groups in opposition to any initiative to change South Carolina’s ‘Blue Laws,’ statutes that, among other things, prohibit the sale of alcohol on Sundays in the state.  The congregation is also willing to work with other groups in support of drives against laws that permit abortion in South Carolina.

Though song makes up a major portion of any Churches of Christ worship service, musical instruments are banned and all hymns are performed a capella.  The Churches of Christ also prohibit divorce under any grounds besides ‘fornication’, which Rev. Reynolds defined as “sexual immorality with someone outside of your marriage.”

These divergences of doctrine and practice in the Churches of Christ all stem from the group’s desire to become more like the original Christians of the 1st Century AD.  In this pursuit they attempt to base all the practices of their churches along strictly biblical lines, and believe any divergence from practices found in the bible constitute the “man-made creeds” the group reviles in other sects.

When asked about the proper relationship between Church & State, Rev. Reynolds voiced the following:

“I believe that religion is the foundation of this country.”  “All good people that strive to let God show in their lives are the foundation of what makes this country great.”

He believes that the government has no right to dictate religious practice, but that religion should play a leading role in the practice of government.  He added that there is a role in government for non-Christians, and that many major figures in American history fall into that category.

Charlotte Avenue Church of Christ, Part I – Visited on 2/19/11

The Charlotte Avenue Church of Christ stands at the corner of Charlotte Avenue and Lucas Street, just a block from the campus of Winthrop University in Rock Hill, SC.  The church is a wide, stout, humble structure of brown brick built into the side of a low hill.  Its dark tiled roofs rise at staid 90 degree angles.  The church has no steeple, though signs at the roadside announce its name and presence.

By 10:30 AM the church’s parking lot is densely packed.  Charlotte Ave.’s Sunday service averages over 200 worshippers each week and this congregation, substantial for the region, fills the pews of its sanctuary.  The people of the Charlotte Avenue Church of Christ arrive in their Sunday best.  Formal dress was very nearly universal in the congregation on the morning of the 19th.  The congregation spanned a wide spectrum of ages, with children featuring prominently in the pews.  There is no separate Children’s Church at Charlotte Ave., and even the youngest children spend the roughly hour-long worship service in the pews with their parents.

The church’s three main rows of pews fill a long and airy sanctuary.  The ceiling is paneled wood, supported by pairs of massive wooden arches that leave the space eerily reminiscent of the belly of some vast leviathan of the deeps.  Light comes from heavy electric lamps hung from the ceiling by long chains.

The outside wall is a checkerboard of panes of frosted glass panes braced by thick wooden slats, similar in function and appearance to Japanese paper windows.  The opposite wall is whitewashed, with half its length cleared away to make room for a second, smaller hall filled with pews that opens onto the main sanctuary.

The church has no choir loft, and there are no instruments or musicians involved in its worship service.  Rather, a huge projector screen hangs upon the far wall behind the pulpit.  Every period of prayer, preaching, ritual or announcements is bracketed by song.  The congregation sings from their hymnals or from the lyrics and sheet music displayed on the projector screen, without the accompaniment of any instrument or formal choir.  A member of the congregation designated as a music conductor takes the pulpit during hymns, and guides the congregation through its communal songs.

Every Sunday service at the Charlotte Avenue Church of Christ features a distribution of the “Lord’s Supper.”  During the ritual, also called “Communion” in other Christian groups, the elders and deacons of the church distribute wafers of unleavened bread and thimblefuls of wine to the congregation, in recognition of the Last Supper of Christian doctrine.

Though most Christian denominations perform a variation of this tradition (and Churchspotting recorded one such instance, see http://wp.me/p1JM4Z-4P), not many perform it on a weekly basis.  This difference in doctrine was mentioned by the church’s minister, Mark Reynolds, who presided over most of the service.  According to Rev. Reynolds other denominations prefer not to perform the ritual too often out of fear of “overdoing it,” but at Charlotte Ave. it forms a standard part of the regular worship service.

That morning’s sermon, as presented by Rev. Reynolds, concerned itself chiefly with urging the congregation to perform the necessities of spiritual salvation “before the silver cord is cut,”—i.e., before one dies.  Rev. Reynolds claimed that among other criteria necessary for salvation, being a part of the “one true Church” was absolutely necessary.

Reynolds said that the Christian community was divided into thousands of divergent groups preaching wildly divergent doctrine.  He described a billboard he saw on the road that read,

“Love Jesus and hate church?  Then we’re the church for you.”

He remarked that the above statement was “blasphemy,” and continued by citing scriptural references to Jesus entrusting “his Church,” singular, to his apostles.  He said that he was proud to be a part of that “one true Church.”

Rev. Reynolds listed two more prerequisites for salvation.  First, he said it was necessary to accept that “God is always, always right,” and so live life by God’s laws—i.e., according to scripture.  Second, the worshipper must accept and believe that Jesus Christ was not merely a teacher or prophet, but the son of God.  Rev. Reynolds told his congregation that their only means of salvation lay in this right belief and practice, combined with membership in the one true Church.

The Charlotte Ave. is a member of the wider Churches of Christ, a denomination that traces its roots to the Reformation Movement, an American religious movement of the 19th Century in which Christian worshippers, dissatisfied with their current denominations, sought to form new religious associations more directly modeled on the original churches of the 1st Century.

Members of the group prefer to describe themselves simply as “Christians,” and do not consider themselves a Protestant denomination.  The Churches of Christ have approximately five million members worldwide, with 1.9 million of those in the United States.

Trinity Bible Church, Part II – Visited on 1/23/12

On the weekend of January 15, Churchspotting visited Trinity Bible Church in Rock Hill, SC (http://wp.me/p1JM4Z-62).  Though that journey did allow us to view Trinity Bible Church in action, and exposed Churchspotting readers to a representative of the Digging Deep ministry, it did not include an interview with that church’s pastor.  In this article, Churchspotting offers an in-depth interview with Matthew James, senior pastor at Trinity Bible Church.

 

James is relatively young for a senior pastor, somewhere in the opening years of middle age.  He is a lean, groomed man, with the look of an earnest local politician.  Pastor James and his ministry were first encountered by Churchspottingat a showing of the film “One Nation Under God,” at Filbert Presbyterian, documented here (http://wp.me/p1JM4Z-5Y) on January 7.  James is a member of the prayer group that put on the event, and spoke to the audience during the film’s intermission.

 

James is a longtime resident of South Carolina.  He attended Bob Jones University in Columbia, SC, where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Bible and a Master’s in Pastoral Studies.  His affiliation with Trinity Bible Church dates to 1996, when he started his long career as an Associate Pastor there.  In 2001 he succeeded to the rank of senior pastor, and serves in that capacity today.

 

On the subject of his church, James said Trinity Bible Church belongs to no particular denomination.  Founded in 1945, Trinity is what he termed an ‘interdenominational’ congregation.  According to Pastor James, Trinity belongs to no wider affiliations or conferences and holds members of many Christian traditions within its congregation.

 

The church explicitly supports two area non-profit organizations, Palmetto Pregnancy Center and Renew Our Community.  Palmetto Pregnancy Center’s founder and current executive director is a member of Trinity Bible Church.  The group is geared towards offering counseling to young pregnant women in the Rock Hill area, specifically as an alternative to abortion.

 

Renew Our Community, otherwise known as “the ROC,” is a Christian nonprofit based in Rock Hill.  The group’s stated goal is to alleviate poverty and homelessness in the region by helping guide the unemployed to steady jobs.  Trinity once operated the Trinity Christian School, but that facility was closed in 2008 due to low enrollment.  It is now the site of York Preparatory Academy.

 

When it comes to neighboring Christian groups, Matthew James has sweeping goals.  In his own words, he and his ministry are “aggressively pursuing a discovery for what we can do to join with the Lord’s people in our community to be a blessing”  He believes that it will take “all of God’s people working together,” to shape the Rock Hill community.  Essentially, Pastor James hopes to forge unity between the disparate Christian communities of Rock Hill.  He wants to turn such a union into a political and social force, which would be used to reform Rock Hill towards the principles of his faith.

 

James believes pastors should play a leading role in political and social life.  As was mentioned above, he is a member of a multidenominational, politically active prayer group that meets every Monday morning at the Pork n More in York, SC.  He is a participant in the SC Renewal Project, one branch of a multi-state nonprofit group that offers ‘policy briefings’ to pastors.

 

The Renewal Project provides free weekend stays at local hotels to pastors in the states it operates, where it holds seminars on advice and support for pastors to back ‘godly’ politicians’ election campaigns.  The Renewal Project operated at least as early as the 2008 presidential election, and is currently rallying politically active pastors for the 2012 election cycle.

 

It should come as no surprise that Matthew James has strong convictions on the proper relationship between Church and State.  An open proponent of what he terms “a conservative theology,” he believes that the current separation between Church and State goes against “the Founders’ intent.”  He does not believe either force should be in charge of the other.

 

Pastor James believes that the inalienable rights listed in the US Constitution ultimately come from a divine source, not any particular mortal government.  He holds that the goal of the Constitution’s framers was to prevent any one denomination from persecuting others, not to separate religious and political practice.  He is a definite proponent of the view that the Constitution provides ‘freedom of religion,’ not ‘freedom from religion.’