By Jessica Brodie
COLUMBIA—When the Rev. Diane Moseley retires after four decades at the helm of Killingsworth, she knows one thing is certain: thanks to the love of God and the hard work of dedicated United Methodists, countless women are living a life transformed.
Moseley will step down at the end of the year, just after Killingsworth celebrates its 70th anniversary. The longtime pastor, who retired as clergy this summer, has watched the organization morph from a former Christian girls boarding house into what it is today—a unique community residence for women emerging from varying forms of crisis. Some are recovering addicts. Others have escaped an abusive marriage or have just been released from prison, some after being locked up for months, some for years. Still others are battling mental health or gambling problems.
Over the years, Moseley has seen countless success stories: the woman in her 40s who’d finally been at her job long enough to earn a week’s vacation. The mom able to get her child out of foster care and buy her a new backpack and shoes. Those who managed to save up a down payment for an apartment, get a promotion or send out Christmas cards.
“We help families come back together and stay together,” Moseley said. “You know that old saying, ‘If Mama ain’t happy then nobody’s happy’? Not to denigrate the role of the father, but if Mama ain’t working, if Mama ain’t home, if Mama falls apart, it’s tough. One of the things we do is help Mama get back together.”
Making their way in ‘a man’s world’
Killingsworth, a United Methodist Women national mission institution, started in the 1940s as the vision of one woman seeking to meet a need in the community. Back then, it was unheard of for proper Southern women to leave home before getting married. But with World War II, things were beginning to change. Corrie Killingsworth, who answered phones at Washington Street Methodist Church, kept getting calls from parents asking whether anyone knew where their daughters could safely board. The young women were hoping to move to Columbia to attend business or nursing school, making their own way in what had previously been a man’s world.
Inspired, she rallied women from Methodist churches across the area, and together they raised enough funds to purchase and renovate a house in downtown Columbia for these women, which opened in 1947. Within a decade, they had outgrown the house and decided to buy a larger, pricier eight-bedroom home a few doors down. United Methodist Women contributed funding to purchase and renovate the new home, and today, the title sits in the national office, with United Methodist Women owning and insuring the building and Killingsworth’s staff and board handling operations.
But it was so much more than a boarding house, Moseley said. Even in those early days, Killingsworth was a place for women in transition—women stepping out alone, forging new paths, making their own money.
“Corrie’s my hero,” Moseley said. “These women were doing something different; they were the forerunners. Corrie saw that and had a vision.
“When one United Methodist woman has an idea and does something about it, get out of her way!”
‘One day at a time’
But by 1972, there were only two women living in the house.
“The culture had changed,” Moseley said.
And so Killingsworth’s second chapter began. The church had recently become the “United” Methodist Church, and the denomination was beginning to talk more in-depth about women’s issues. And in South Carolina, there were plenty of needs.
The board adjusted to meet those needs. Their mission—to be in ministry to South Carolina women going through significant change—didn’t shift. But the stories behind that change were different.
“Instead of younger women moving out of their parents’ house, these women were moving from a time of brokenness and difficulty,” Moseley said. “They were women with issues like alcoholism, drug addiction, prison release, domestic violence, and it was all about helping them develop coping skills.”
Since their reboot in 1972, Killingsworth has helped hundreds of women get back on their feet. Some stay awhile, some a short time—whatever it takes.
“There’s no judgment; our lives become integrated,” said Becky Roberts, administrative assistant at Killingsworth and a former resident. “This is a chance for a change, and sometimes Killingsworth is the last stop on the block.”
Roberts said many of these women have heard, “Oh, she won’t change,” so often that they have begun to believe it. But at Killingsworth, they try to teach women to believe in redemption, to believe they can become a new creation in Christ.
“Transformation is key,” Roberts said. “It’s a very positive, progressive place in the way we work with each other, they way we treat each other.”
Indeed, Moseley said, they operate on kairos, God’s time.
“We watch: How is she doing? Is she talking like a person who can handle it? Is she ready for her kids?” Moseley said. “It’s about helping women one by one. That’s how they live, one day at a time, so that’s how we meet them: One at a time, one day at a time.”
Emily Adams, a former methamphetamine addict, is one of those women. This is her second time at Killingsworth. She left in 2015 when her father had a stroke, and she went home to care for him. She had been clean for two years, but her father’s death sent her into a relapse.
After rehab, she said, “I knew where I had to come—I had a bed waiting for me at Killingsworth.”
This time, she’s taking her recovery far more seriously. At age 34 and with three kids—ages 14, 9 and 7—she knows she’s battling a hereditary disease, and she’s glad her children can see her fighting to break the chain.
“I’d lost myself. After my relapse, I was bankrupt spiritually and emotionally, just a big old hole,” Adams said. “I feel safe here. I get to save some money. I can talk to someone. It gives you an opportunity to get to know yourself, to grow.”
It also gives Adams the chance to surround herself with what she calls “the winners”— women like her who are choosing to embrace healthy, sober living. Her roommate, Sheneka Boyles, has become like a sister. For the first time in their lives, they’re learning to turn to fellow sisters in Christ to get through their problems instead of drugs or alcohol.
“Coming to Killingsworth was the best decision I’ve made in my life,” Boyles said, clasping Adams’ hand as they shared their stories. “I found hope here, a new way of life here. I’m surrounded by people who don’t judge me. We’re all facing the same dilemma; we have different stories, but we’re going through this together.”
A network of love
What also helps, they said, is knowing they have a network of people across South Carolina and the nation behind them. From donating items and money to prayer and cooking meals, United Methodists support Killingsworth in significant ways.
“These women who live here have so much to overcome, and to have a place like this where they can establish new patterns allows them to move on in life, contribute to society,” said Flo Johnson, Killingsworth president.
“They all need love, and the need is so great,” said Sandra Love, president of the Columbia District United Methodist Women and member of the Killingsworth board. “If there was not a Killingsworth, I don’t know where they’d be—on the street somewhere, maybe.”
It’s personal for Love, for Roberts and Johnson, and indeed for Moseley, who as she approaches retirement looks back on her 41 years of service to Killingsworth with plenty of memories, both good and bad. Some women were not able to resist the temptation of addiction or an abusive partner. But many others live productive, transformed lives today thanks to her and all the people who make Killingsworth what it is.
At the end of the day, Moseley said, “If we did a good job with three women, if we helped them for eternity, I’m good with that.”
For more on Killingsworth: www.killingsworth.org.
By Jessica Brodie