'Like Salkehatchie for Seniors'

Annual older adult mission event takes on repairs in Spartanburg District

By Jessica Brodie

PACOLET—They might have gray hair—maybe even white—but don’t let their age fool you. These older adults take on a full-scale repair of a church every single year, maybe even more. And those they help say their work is invaluable.

“We could never have done this on our own,” said the Rev. Julie Gibson, smiling as she looks around the busy sanctuary of Pacolet United Methodist Church on a sunny Tuesday morning. All around her, teams of older adults are hard at work: scraping off old paint, polishing brass, sanding down a rusty old railing.

The crew of over-50 men and women are part of the Older Adult Mission Event, a yearly trip that teams up experienced and amateur workers in various churches around the state to spend a week tackling a major construction need (or two or three). They make a point to visit every district; so far, they’ve completed projects in 11 of the 12 districts across South Carolina.

“I call this ‘Salkehatchie for Senior Citizens,’” said the Rev. Mary Green, organizer of the event. This year, the 24 registered volunteers helped in the Spartanburg District April 27-30, dividing in half and committing to help at two churches in need: Pacolet UMC, Pacolet, and Salem, UMC, Cowpens.

Gibson, of Pacolet UMC, said the team at her church focused on repairs to the sanctuary, which needed an overhaul. They did everything from repairing plaster on the walls and securing the antique windows to redoing the railings, replacing ceiling tiles and fixing ongoing plumbing problems.

“It’s not for the building’s sake or tradition, but for the people,” Gibson said amid clanks, hammering and the whir of a steel-brush-topped drill. “For me, this building is a place from which the mission and ministry of the church takes place, so to have it in good condition, welcoming and hospitable, is important.”

Pacolet is an aging congregation in a town hit hard economically, so the help is sorely needed. Gibson said the church is still working to pay off new furnaces needed over the winter, when their old ones died. Without the volunteer labor supplied by the older adult missioners, this latest work couldn’t have been done.

Likewise, work at Salem UMC involved sanctuary repair, too—fresh cement and paint on the walls, mortar work, replacing ceiling tiles and broken windows, and more.

“We really needed the help,” said Gibson’s husband the Rev. John Howle, who pastors Salem. “We’d gone through a major renovation that cost the church a lot of money, and we were running out of money, so their coming here helps a lot.”

The volunteers spent a week doing repairs at Salem and Pacolet, and some of the church members pitched in to help as able.

Sam Johnson, Pacolet member and chair of the church trustees, is one of the members who was hard at work the day the Advocate visited.

“I think it’s great,” Johnson said about the way the older adult teams travel the state every year to help churches in need, like Pacolet. At age 73, he said he is the youngest retired man at his church, which underscores how much the help is needed. “Everyone has talents, and you have to depend on people.”

Richard Cash, member of Salem, agreed.

“This (older adult mission) is one of the best things the conference is doing,” Cash said, as he inspected windows he was helping the team repair. “There are only about three men in the church who could do this work, so we couldn’t have done this by ourselves.”

Green said some of the volunteers are highly skilled and can take on major renovation, while others just help out any way needed, whether cleaning or doing some light paintwork. But together, they fuse their talents to do some good for others, and have a lot of fun doing it.

“It’s just wonderful—it gives you the chance to do something, gets you out of the house and helping,” Green said, hoisting an electric drill in one hand as she surveyed the work volunteer Charles Shupe does at her side. “We have some good teams.”

Older adults do various local ministries throughout the year, plus gather for a conference-wide retreat every winter. To learn more about their activities, visit, or contact the Rev. James Grubb at 843-300-5549 or [email protected].

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