Christmas Eve Under the Stars returns in Bluffton as model for future worship

BLUFFTON—It was a joyous Christmas Eve, as St. Andrew By-The-Sea United Methodist Church’s Bluffton Worship was able to hold its Christmas Eve Under the Stars once again at the community’s Oyster Factory Park.

COVID-19 had prevented the gathering in 2020 at the site owned by The Town of Bluffton. Last year, the congregation struggled with options and finally held a small in-car service in the parking lot at the church’s Bluffton Ministry Center, located in a commercial area.

Bringing back the outdoor service in the heart of the community this Christmas enabled more than 1,000 people to be a part of worship.

Once again, St. Andrew partnered with the primarily African-American First Zion Missionary Baptist Church located near the Oyster Factory Park. First Zion and St. Andrew often gather for Bible studies, special programs and for youth group. St. Andrew Bluffton Campus Pastor Daniel Burbage and First Zion Pastor Bennie Jenkins, along with musicians and leaders from both churches, helped to lead the night under the stars with the theme “Jesus Is with Us.”
“What we know is that outdoor worship is a safe way to gather,” Burbage said. “We have been in a huge learning curve these past two years, but one thing is for certain: Being outside gives us the opportunity to be together.”

In addition to training tech teams for live outdoor sound, the church has been working to not only continue the livestreaming from inside the sanctuary, begun in 2019, but to also livestream the outdoor services through the use of a Wi-Fi hotspot.

St. Andrew By-The-Sea was the first church in the South Carolina Conference to become a multisite with a more than 50-year-old location on Hilton Head pastored by Dr. Robin Dease, appointed in June 2021, and Bluffton Worship starting in 2012 in a leased space at the University of South Carolina’s Bluffton campus.

Currently the Bluffton congregation meets in a space that was a former pool hall and bar, but the church purchased 10 acres in 2014 on Buckwalter Parkway for a future campus where growth is exploding.

While the pandemic has slowed efforts, the church has no debt on the land and is now in the process of ascertaining an interim way to use the site until plans are finalized and campaigns can be put into place to construct buildings and recreation fields for the community.

According to Burbage, church leadership is hoping to hold weekly services on the property once ground has been broken by mid-February, modeled on worship such as Christmas Eve Under the Stars, noting how outside venues provide the most comfortable way for the community to attend and to have a first-time experience with the congregation when looking for a church.

The ease of participation was one of the considerations when the church first landed on the outdoor Christmas Eve service plan in 2012.

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