Serving Christ through carpentry

Mauldin UMC Woodworking Team crafts cabinets, other carpentry needs for church

By Jessica Connor

MAULDIN – Spend five minutes with the members of the woodworking team at Mauldin United Methodist Church and you feel the camaraderie.

It’s there in the good-natured teasing, the backslapping, the jokes about their wives wanting them out of the house. It’s there in the team spirit, the way they circle and lift each other up in support and friendship.

You get the feeling they spend hours each week painstakingly crafting lecterns, cabinets, crosses and carts not just for the good feeling they get from helping their church, but for the surprising friendship they have found among the planks of oak, white ash and pecan.

And they won’t tell you any different.

Sitting around a table in Mauldin’s fellowship hall with the other woodworkers, a broad smile on his face, team member Ed Rohrman summed it up simply: “I enjoy these guys.”

Fellow woodworker Rodger Temples agreed.

“Dealing with this group is one of the best things to happen to me,” Temples said. “I’m in Sunday school, but I got to know these guys more than I would have anywhere else.”

The woodworking ministry started five years ago thanks to Norm Caplinger and Bob Richmond, who brought the project to Mauldin UMC from their former church, Lake Magdalene UMC in Tampa, Fla. Woodworkers there built much of that church’s internal structure, and when the Caplinger and Richmond families settled in Mauldin, they decided to start a similar woodworking ministry at their new church.

Out of a woodshop a few miles away, the six members of the team craft any wood project needed by their church.

“We’re all retired, and it’s a way our wives keep us out of the house,” Caplinger quipped. “You make a lot of friends, have a good time, make a lot of things and save a lot of money for the church. It’s a good all-around project.”

One of their most ambitious projects has been the interior of the church’s new Spirit Center, for which they handcrafted kitchen cabinets, shelving, tables, crosses, prayer benches, coffee carts, windows and more. They have made something for nearly every classroom in the church. And when they don’t have an active woodworking project, they create items like wooden birdhouses, display cases, pens and clocks to sell at the church craft show to help pay down Mauldin’s building debt.

“Those kitchen cabinets would have cost $10,000-$15,000, but we spent just about $1,000 in materials,” Richmond said about the Spirit Center job.

“We have a lot of fun, and we’re keeping our finances down,” said team member Ron Davis. “You feel good about doing things like that.”

Indeed, feeling good about a job well done is much of what fuses the group.

With the exception of Richmond, a retired accountant who is also a highly skilled carpenter and craftsman, none of the men are experts, and some had little or no woodworking experience when they started with the team. All are members of the Mauldin UMC Action Class.

“We call Bob the journeyman and the rest of us are apprentices,” Caplinger said.

The woodworkers only do projects for the church itself, never for private individuals. They uniformly vote on any project presented to them, and those they help pay for the cost of wood only; the woodworkers take care of nails, glue, stain and other materials, and the Mauldin UMC United Methodist Men provide any needed seed money.

On the Sunday in May when the Advocate visited, the woodworkers surprised Wayne Crick, president of Mauldin’s Action Class, with a handcrafted white ash, pecan and oak lectern – a gift from them and the other members of the Action Class. Crick was moved to tears as he thanked the team for their generosity of time and skill.

Others in the church feel just as moved by the woodworkers’ ministry.

Jennifer Medlock, who performs in Mauldin’s praise band, said she is extremely grateful to the woodworkers for their efforts to improve the church.

“We really appreciate it,” Medlock said, watching her young daughter kneel on one of the team-made prayer benches in the Spirit Center.

The Rev. Smoke Kanipe, Mauldin’s senior pastor, said the woodworking ministry has been a real blessing to Mauldin’s congregation, from the fellowship to the quality craftsmanship that is enhancing the Spirit Center and other places in the church.

“It saved us a lot of money, but it also has the intangible value of our knowing that the building includes a part of us,” Kanipe said.

The woodworkers do put their heart and soul into every project they complete, never resting until it is as good as it can possibly be – no poor-quality projects for them, than you very much. They enjoy knowing their team-built wood crafts are peppered throughout the church, saving the church money and serving as a visible reminder of what their team can accomplish for Christ.

“It makes me feel good that we can provide that for them,” said Art Brown, a retired ceramic engineer who enjoys honing his woodworking skills while helping his church.

“Jesus was a carpenter, and we’re something like carpenters,” Rohrman said. “You’re creating something with your hands, and when you have the finished product you can say, ‘Wow, I made this.’ You can be proud of something you made. It’s important to me.”

“When you start out, it’s the ugliest thing you’ve ever seen,” Temples said, laughing. “But then you see the finished product, it’s something that’ll stay in the church forever, and all of it is beautiful work.”

Caplinger, Richmond and the rest of the team hope other churches across the state will consider doing a similar ministry and they would love to pass on any wisdom they have learned.

“I love every minute of it,” Caplinger said. “And I’m real proud of these guys. It’s all about the fellowship.”

To learn more: To talk with the Mauldin UMC Woodworking Team about starting a similar ministry in your church, call Norm Caplinger at 864-967-3563.

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