150th anniversary begins at St. John’s A.M.E.
by The Press and Standard | September 7, 2018 5:00 am
Last Updated: September 5, 2018 at 8:23 am
St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church, originally named St. Matthew A.M.E., was established in 1868 in the Burr Hill community under a bush arbor. Responding to the need for a more secure structure, the Rev. James Nesbitt and the officials of the Charleston District with the assistance of the church’s founding fathers — Robert Aiken, Charles Farmer, Kaleb Gethers, Elijah Haynes, Daniel Jennings, Stephen Logan, Ellis, Lonnie Mack and Simon Pinckney — organized the building of a church.
The original edifice was constructed out of lightwood boards approximately 40’x20’ in size. The church was heated by a pot-belly stove and used kerosene lamps for lighting. (The building later became the homesite of Brother Neelie Limehouse.) The church served members from several different communities and was the site for a public school. The only teacher, Miss Gladys, lived with Sister Celia Farmer when visiting the area.
In the early 1900s, the Rev. P.N. Mouzon, along with trustees Brothers Robert Aiken, G. Gaddings, Ben Holmes, Simon Pinckney, Renty Rhodes and Sister Stephanie Perry, led the charge to obtain a more centrally located place of worship. The effort resulted in the purchase a parcel of land on Oct. 25, 1912 from George Ackerman, recorded in Deed Book 36, page 381, at the Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro. A beautiful wooden structure was erected on the site, situated at midpoint for worshippers residing between the Burr Hill and Mack Village communities — currently known as Griffith Acres Drive in Cottageville.
The pews for this church were handmade at the lumber mill in Cottageville which is still in existence. During this period, St. John thrived and overflowed with a spirit of cooperation.
The present church building was erected in 1975. The Right Rev. Decatur Ward Nichols served as bishop, the Rev. W.H. Barnes as presiding elder and the Rev. W.C. Cain as pastor. The Trustee Board was composed of Brothers G. Haynes, E. Robinson, C. Glover, L. Fishburne, L. Farmer, M. Mitchell Sr., E. Williams and H. Farmer with W. Farmer as secretary.
The church continued to flourish and, with the help of a supportive membership, a fellowship hall was built under the pastorate of the Rev. James Nedd. The fellowship hall today functions not only as a dining facility, but also as a hub for entertainment and educational activities. Future plans include expansion of this portion of the church to accommodate additional community and church-related events.
The programs and ministries initiated at St. John’s have served as models for African Methodist Episcopal Churches in the area and for other denominations as well. St. John’s legacy of producing “spiritual leaders” is evidenced by the number of individuals whose callings are connected to St. John: Presiding Elder L.L. Farmer, Itinerant Elders Reverends Evon Robinson Sr. and Kathy Shider, as well as local reverends such as Daniel Aiken, Ernest Rhodes and George Shider.
The congregation has been composed of doctors, homemakers, musicians, truck drivers, laborers and military personnel, who have served (or are serving) in various branches of the armed forces.
Twenty-four pastors have occupied the pulpit at St. John from 1868-2018, and each has made their mark. Over the last 20 years, there have been three ministers assigned to the church: the Rev. Albertha Cook, the Rev. William Miller (2012-2015) and the Rev. L. Vanessa Johnson (2015-present.)
Under the guidance of Rev. Cook, a major project — the Capital Improvements Campaign — was successfully completed. The church experienced significant growth in all facets of ministry: summer math and reading camps, church school, vacation Bible school, revivals, Bible study, creative and performing arts, annual programs, weddings, anniversaries and baptisms during her tenure.
Following Rev. Cook’s retirement, Rev. William Miller was charged with shepherding St. John. Miller built upon the foundation set by Cook with enthusiasm, challenging the congregation to move forward with a special emphasis on discipleship and broadening the scope of its ministries to appeal to a new generation while staying true to its roots.
For the past three years, Rev. L. Vanessa Johnson has assumed the role of pastor at St. John. Her desire to continue to implement existing ministries and to develop additional ones has been a priority. The summer math and reading camp was offered for one year, and plans are currently underway to secure funding, re-organize and increase its effectiveness. A pilot program “The Iron Sharpeners” for young African-American males was tested as part of an internship program. A community garden was planted which has produced a fresh harvest of vegetables available to members free of charge. Church school and Bible studies are lively and engaging and there has been an emphasis on social justice issues. A new audio-visual system and a new sound system have been installed in the fellowship hall and the sanctuary, and the remodeling of the fellowship hall, the adjoining office and the kitchen is scheduled to be completed soon. The church also had two acres of property donated on behalf of the Rhodes family.
“We are grateful for these accomplishments. However, It is not about the building or any of us as individuals, it is about the power and grace of God,” Johnson said.
“For every milestone achieved and through every transition, God has kept his promises. He has always been present watching over these hallowed walls: the ministries, programs and the members of St. John. Once you have worshipped in this place, you will never be the same. The church is one foundation. We invite you to unite with us by remembering from whence we have come and holding on to what has been true throughout the ages: With God all things are possible,” she said.
“We ask that you too catch the vision. Become partners with us as we seek to carry on the legacy that began 150 years ago.”