S.C. churches celebrate their connection to AU

Churches in the South Carolina Conference are being invited to celebrate their connection to Africa University with special events and offerings to mark the institution’s 25th anniversary.

For Bishop Jonathan Holston, the desire to celebrate is natural for South Carolina United Methodists because of their history and unique relationship with Africa University.

“They take pride in knowing that they are helping students in Africa … that we have a university there that is making a difference in the lives of people,” Holston said. “We have that sense of understanding that God has allowed us to think larger than what we ever possibly could dream.”

South Carolina’s relationship with Africa University is deeply rooted. South Carolina United Methodists were among the first to support the idea of building a United Methodist-related university for all of Africa. A South Carolina farmer and businessman, the late Jonas T. Kennedy, gave the university its first major gift and built a dormitory for female students as a birthday gift to his wife, Odette M. Kennedy. Faculty from Wofford College, the College of Charleston and Clemson University served as visiting lecturers and mentored young Africans who are transforming their communities. The conference, which continues to provide funds annually for student scholarships and university operations, also raised $1.7 million to construct the Bishop J. Lawrence McCleskey Theology Building on the campus in 2002.

“I’m encouraged by the celebration of 25 years of this ministry that some said would never happen,” said James Salley, a South Carolinian who has served as the university’s chief advancement officer for the past 25 years.

Since 2014, more than 60 South Carolinians have accompanied Holston on his biennial trips to Africa University. By celebrating Africa University across the conference, Holston hopes more people will experience the excitement and hope of missional engagement.

“People see the ministry that they have been giving to and it brings a sense of wonder to them,” Holston said. “They’re telling the stories, sharing their pictures … it becomes so real to them. Where they were telling themselves what we couldn’t do, they now tell themselves what we can do.”

The effort to celebrate Africa University’s 25th anniversary conference-wide is enjoying strong support. South Carolina’s Black Methodists for Church Renewal is promoting the effort among African-American congregations.

“Giving back … empowers us to be better as family and strengthens the wellbeing and sustainability of our communities,” said South Carolina BMCR president the Rev. Pattie Gordon. “This, in turn, builds relationships and proves that together we make a difference.”

There have been at least a dozen celebration events in the conference so far this year. Most have been special “Africa University Sunday” worship services held in United Methodist as well as in Baptist churches. An event in the Hartsville District, where the Africa University Choir toured in 2015, drew 100 participants. The events are being organized around four goals: give thanks, provide an update on AU’s progress, make new friends for AU and invite attendees to celebrate the anniversary with a gift of $25.

“Keeping Africa University on the hearts and minds of United Methodists is key to keeping Africa University successful,” said Dr. Robin Dease, Hartsville District superintendent.

This year, the Africa University Advisory and Board Development committees are holding their fall meeting Sept. 7-9 in North Charleston. Members are available to preach and speak throughout the Charleston district on Sept. 10 as part of a saturation event in local churches.

Currently, there are eight Africa University-related events scheduled for later this year in South Carolina, with more in the planning stages. These events include the annual Evening of Elegance Scholarship Dinner Gala in July, which is organized by the African-American Taskforce of the South Carolina Conference Committee on Ethnic Local Church Concerns, and the Bishop’s Africa University Golf Outing, which takes place at the Cobblestone Golf Club in Blythewood Sept. 25.

“Here is an opportunity all year long for not only United Methodists, but also all persons who are advocates for Africa University, to make a statement by helping us celebrate,” said Salley. “If people give out of their ability, our practice is to trust God to provide the increase.”

The Africa University 25th anniversary commemorative events culminate in December.

Holston will lead his third trip to Africa University/Southern Africa Jan. 31 to Feb. 10, 2018. For trip information: [email protected] or 803-786-9486.

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