By Jessica Brodie
Children across the state are getting an extra level of love and protection this summer as Epworth Children’s Home prepares to launch its first outpost in the Charleston District.
“We are delighted to be a part of this ministry,” said Dr. Sandra Stevens-Poirel, Charleston District superintendent, in the official launch of what she called the “Charleston District hub of Epworth.”
While Charleston is the first, Epworth has a plan to launch outposts in all 12 districts of South Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church.
The Charleston outpost will be housed on the campus of Bethany UMC, Summerville, in what they called “The 303 Cottage.” Two Epworth staff have been hired and are working in Charleston with a goal to recruit, license and support foster parents in the Lowcountry.
Stevens-Poirel announced the launch at Bethany May 11 to a packed room of clergy and laity from across the district.
Speaking to the crowd, Epworth President and Chief Executive Officer the Rev. John Holler said the outpost is part of Epworth’s Institute for Child and Family Wellbeing, a key part of Epworth’s Every Child is a Miracle campaign for program expansion.
Epworth Children’s Home has been thriving since its start in 1896, moving from an orphanage to its comprehensive mission today to serve children, youth and families through a caring, accepting and safe Christian community. But Epworth has long wanted to reach children and families beyond Columbia.
Through the Charleston outpost and others like it, they will be able to help people across the state.
“The need is great,” Holler said, noting the outpost launches will solve a problem children in this state have faced for a long time. “Our children are in a silent epidemic, neglected, abused, forgotten. They’re at our back door, in our neighborhoods, wherever.”
Holler said the Charleston District is the pilot, and future outposts will be modeled on what happens there.
Just like Mary, mother of Jesus, wandered Bethlehem searching for an inn where she could birth the son of God, Holler said, “We in South Carolina have an opportunity to create an ‘inn’ (for children) here and here and here.”
He said he hopes the outposts will be “a powerful witness” to the rest of the conference that United Methodists and all people of faith truly care about children in need.
“Together, we can do something truly amazing to help the thousands of children who need it,” Holler said.
South Carolina Resident Bishop Jonathan Holston also spoke that day, noting God is leading His people to do something different and is allowing us all “to do some really wonderful things together.”
“If we don’t do what God’s asking us to do, then we’re not open to the Holy Spirit,” Holston said.
He lifted up the people of the Charleston District for working together, which he said is the strength of the UMC.
“We are here because we recognize Jesus still lives,” Holston said, noting that 80-85 percent of the churches in the South Carolina Conference of the UMC are in small, rural communities.
“That’s the strength of our church, not our weakness,” Holston said to applause.
Holston also announced that as part of the Epworth outpost program and capital campaign would be a partnership to help Fairfield Children’s Home in Mutare, an orphanage and children’s home near Africa University. He also lifted up the story of his childhood friend, Dennis, who he later found out had been a foster child.
“My friends, you don’t know when you’re entertaining angels unaware,” Holston said. “It’s not what we do for ourselves but what we do for Christ that matters.”
The Charleston Mission Outpost of Epworth is expected to launch this summer. Additional locations will help with training and support.
Twenty local churches are engaged in foster and kinship parent recruitment and awareness, Epworth reports.
The local office of the Department of Social Services reports a need of at least 250 foster homes to meet immediate needs.
“It’s really an exciting new ministry,” said David Braddon, Charleston District lay leader.