Full circle: Church welcomes one pastor back to the flock

By Laura Camby McCaskill

ISLE OF PALMS—One United Methodist has returned to her family’s home church—this time, as its pastor.

Dr. Laura Canine Parrish has been appointed back to her home church, First United Methodist Church, Isle of Palms.

Parrish’s grandparents had lived on the island since 1954, and her mother and her aunts grew up just two blocks from the church. The church was a huge part of their life.

“When we came to visit, whether it was holidays from school or during the summer, not only did we spend time playing out in the water and the marsh and doing things around the island, but we also spent a good bit of time at church,” Parrish said. “I remember us coming on Palm Sunday and, even though we weren’t here the rest of the year, church and staff members invited my younger brother, Jack, and me to wave palm branches with the other kids. And we would come on Christmas Eve and I remember how special it was to hold candles during the candlelight service.”

Parrish lived elsewhere in the state for most of her childhood, and she began to feel God’s call on her life at a young age.

“I started feeling called into ministry when I was 7. I had a ruptured appendix that had been misdiagnosed as the flu. I spent a few weeks in the hospital healing from that. And I really had an experience there—I was saved by God’s grace.” Parrish said, “My pastor and people from church came in and prayed with me, and my family was there with me every single day. It really felt like God had His hand on me during that time. So growing up, it was kind of moving into that constant tugging. Church was always a place I wanted to be. I felt comfortable and at home there.”

After she recovered, Parrish jumped at the chance to serve in church any way she could. She worked in children’s ministry, was an acolyte and a lay reader, served as a youth representative on the administrative board and worked in missions.

In high school, she began meeting with her pastor, the Rev. Milton McGuirt, to discuss what it meant to go into full-time ministry.

“He started walking me through the candidacy process. Going into college, I really felt like that’s what I needed to be doing,” she said.

In college, she majored in business on the advice of McGuirt, who had told her it would be wise, as there are plenty of pastors who know a lot about the Bible but very little about managing a staff or balancing a budget.

“So that’s what I did,” Parrish said. “And I’m grateful that I listened to that advice.”

Parrish majored in marketing and management at the University of South Carolina before moving to Asbury Theological Seminary, where she got her Master of Divinity.

“It was one of the best seasons of my life, and I absolutely loved the seminary community at Asbury. I was able to come home during the summers and work at my home church, which was St. Paul’s Waccamaw UMC in Pawleys Island. I served as the director of children, youth and families while there and gained valuable experience in doing so,” Parrish said.

After she graduated from seminary, Parrish was appointed as an associate to John Wesley UMC, Charleston, then served as pastor of Trinity UMC, Fountain Inn, and Trinity UMC, Darlington. She also went back to school and received her Doctor of Ministry degree from Erskine Theological Seminary.

In June 2019, she was appointed to First UMC, Isle of Palms, her family’s church.

“Out of all the churches in our conference, it was pretty amazing that I would be coming back to this one,” Parrish said. “Just hearing about what an important role the church played in my family’s life was wonderful. My mom grew up here, she was baptized and confirmed here, and then she and my dad were married here, as were her two sisters and their husbands. We celebrated the lives and witness of my grandparents here. So being able to come back to a place that had such an important role in my family’s life and to live on the same street where my grandparents lived for almost 60 years is just definitely the Holy Spirit at work.”

Before beginning at First Church, the previous pastor there, the Rev. Thomas Smith, texted Parrish to extend a word of welcome. The text also came with some photos.

“There are two paintings that your grandmother did that are already hanging in the church office here,” Smith wrote. Smith echoed what Parrish had already felt when he shared: “God’s Holy Spirit is at work here, and the people are ready to welcome you back.”

On her first Sunday back in Isle of Palms, the congregation began to share their memories with Parrish.

“My first Sunday, I remember all the people that came out after the services saying, ‘We knew your grandparents’ and ‘we remember when you were born, and we remember when you were little and running around,’” Parrish said, “It’s all been so positive.”

Parrish’s family grew even bigger recently. Last fall, her boyfriend, Mike Parrish, proposed between worship services in the prayer garden at the church that has always had a special place in her heart.

By the time this edition of the Advocate comes out, Parrish will have been married at First UMC, Isle of Palms.

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