A church and then some

South Main Chapel and Mercy Center marks 10 years of serving Anderson’s needy in name of Jesus 

By Jessica Brodie

ANDERSON—It’s a chilly winter day, but inside the sanctuary at South Main Chapel and Mercy Center, the people—and their hearts—are strangely warmed.

Up front, Mr. Jerry lifts a microphone to his lips and closes his eyes.

“It’s a new day, and I’m still breathing,” he sings, his olive-green jacket like a cape as he sways and bobs his head to the beat. “What a wonderful blessing that I’m receiving.”

All around him, the pews are lined with men and women in similar dress—hoodies and beanies, work boots and layers upon layers. A few sing along, their heads nodding in tandem. Others just watch, and still others sit, eyes closed and heads bowed while they tap their feet to the music.

Their pastor, the Rev. Kurt Stutler, has just brought a word on 2 Corinthians 5:17 and the new creation all are in Christ. The message, along with the song, seems to hit home as they listen, united in Christ and love, united in need and in the care they are receiving.

After, when lunch is over and the chapel and mercy center has closed for the day, most will head back to wherever they came from—the public library or one of the houses in the surrounding low-income neighborhood, perhaps a nearby tent or abandoned home, even the woods or the Salvation Army up the street.

But for now, they seem to listen as one, absorbing the grace-filled message and the hope and love they find together. A family.

This is how it is, Stutler explains, day after day at South Main.

For the last ten years, South Main Chapel and Mercy Center has built a thriving community of care within its walls as it’s opened its doors and its hearts to all. Many of the people struggle with mental illness, homelessness, food scarcity and other problems faced by those living in poverty.

“We’re a church and then some,” Stutler explains, smiling as he details their many offerings—worship on Sundays, two meals a day Sunday through Thursday, counseling and health-care services, food stamp assistance, bus tickets and much more.

Modeled after love

South Main is housed at what used to be Orrville United Methodist Church, a small Anderson church in existence since 1900 that closed in 2012. At the time, Stutler had been pastoring a three-point charge while also working in neighborhood community development for United Way of Anderson County, and he and his then-district superintendent, Susan Leonard, were strategizing about what Orrville might become.

One day she turned to Stutler and asked, “Have you ever heard of Triune Mercy Center in Greenville?”

Triune is a groundbreaking nondenominational church with a mission to help homeless and low-income people in Greenville, providing emergency relief through meals, medical and legal aid, addiction and mental health counseling, and an array of social services. Leonard thought maybe the former Orrville UMC might do something similar for the people of Anderson.

Leonard invited Stutler and United Way’s Carol Burdette to join her in visiting Triune.

Immediately, Stutler’s heart was tugged.

“I was so moved,” Stutler said. “I cried through most of the service. I’d never been in a church service where the diversity was like that—people in business suits along with people who slept on the streets. We went to lunch with a man who had been released from prison eight weeks prior and was tattooed from the top of his head, and he couldn’t stop talking about how much the ministry meant to him.”

Stutler, Burdette and Leonard put together what he calls a “dream team” in the summer of 2013 to see whether they could turn their vision into reality. Meanwhile, the vacant church had been vandalized in that time, its air conditioning units stripped and electrical wires ripped out, and work was needed to get the building back in shape for a ministry launch. 

Private donors contributed funds, they found a contractor who would do the work for a reasonable amount—$100,000—and the South Carolina Conference of the UMC agreed to contribute $90,000 to renovate the building, plus designate it a “new church start” for ten years.

‘They’re family’

South Main is open Sunday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. They offer breakfast and lunch, all prepared in-house except Sunday, when a group of partner churches bring lunch and volunteers to serve. A variety of social services are offered, from mental health and pastoral counseling to treatment from a volunteer nurse practitioner. On Tuesdays and Thursdays they can shower upstairs and do laundry, and on Thursdays is Bible study. Mondays are ”game day,” and Wednesdays are “craft day,” and they can also charge their cell phones or use the mercy center’s phone as needed.

South Main’s ministry associate, Elizabeth Hiott, helps them get food stamps or fill out housing or job applications, get free bus tickets, use the computer, and even get help establishing proper identification, which Hiott said can be a major hurdle for their population. For instance, one man had been in foster care from a very young age and had no birth certificate, driver’s license or social security card and wasn’t sure where he had been born. Yet without proper identification, he wasn’t able to get food stamps or other government assistance.

“It’s like a circle,” Hiott said. “We try to help them, try to make them feel like a person, because navigating through the system is hard.”

Every weekday just before lunch they offer a short chapel service with a song, Scripture and message, and on their way out, everyone gets an additional sack lunch they can take to a friend or eat later that day.

“We’re just trying to help close the gap, trying to make a difference in people’s lives, and there’s a lot of joy. I can’t ask for a better job,” Hiott said. “These people, they have mental health problems, some of them are homeless, but they’re all human. And they’re family! I have a 3-year-old who comes to worship with me here every Sunday, and every day people ask how he is.

“I love it here.”

Breaking the cycle

Another major way South Main helps is through their Ride to Work Anderson program, which helps people get to their job site if they work someplace outside the local bus route. Stutler said Anderson’s bus route only operates Monday through Friday 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., and it doesn’t go all the way to the interstate, where some of the factories are located. This create a huge obstacle for many who are seeking employment but have no transportation.

Ride to Work Anderson provides a subsidized Uber for 15 weeks so people can get on their feet at a new job and figure out transportation. Four or five people are currently in the program now, the maximum, and all are asked to pay $5 a day toward it, which Stutler said gives buy-in and responsibility. Unsubsidized rides are usually $25 one way, but as Hiott explained, they often only make $50 or $60/day at first if they got the job through an agency.

South Main is also an authorized distributor for a free government cell phone if people qualify, and Hiott explained they qualify if they are on Medicaid or get food stamps. As she noted, today, having a smartphone is now a necessity.

“You have to have a smartphone to even get a job at McDonalds,” she said.

They also let people use the center as a mailing address, also required for some aid yet not always obtainable for those who are homeless. 

Hiott said she’s filled with success stories. Even circumstances that seem bad at first, she said, end up working out for good.

For example, one man confided in Hiott that his fiancée was living in her car, and because of a physical issue, she hadn’t been able to get out of her car in six months. Hiott secured a wellness check for the woman, as well as some food, and later the man suggested the woman might need a pregnancy test.

They got the woman out of the car and into the hospital—and discovered she was six months pregnant with twins. She has since delivered two healthy babies and now the young family all lives with her mother in Greer.

“We’re here not only to spread the love of God but to show the love of God,” Hiott said, noting she hopes every community across South Carolina will consider establishing a mercy center of their own.

“This kind of place needs to be everywhere.”

‘It’s changed my life’

Those who come to South Main can’t say enough about the care and love they receive.

Tammy Hollingsworth, who lives in a house in the surrounding neighborhood, has been coming to South Main since it opened. Since her husband died seven months ago, it’s been a lifeline.

“It does a lot for me, gets me out of the house and around people,” Hollingsworth said. “I wouldn’t know what to do without it. I can get a haircut, get to the doctor, everything.”

Tim Smith, who lives in a tent with his dog on the other side of the street, is also a longtime attendee who comes to South Main daily.

“It’s a good place to be,” Smith said.

While he appreciates the help he receives, he also really appreciates the opportunity to give back. He’s dubbed himself South Main’s official greeter, and he tries hard to be welcoming to others who come.

He’s also the official dog whisperer of the community, known for pushing his dog around the neighborhood in whatever he can find with wheels—shopping carts, baby strollers, a skateboard, even a push-mower. Pointing to the window, he said the church let him bury his last dog, Jacob, on the property when Jacob passed away. 

“The only time people make me mad is if they say anything about my dog,” he said.

Mary Jane Adams, who lives below the mill nearby, said she loves the church and Pastor Kurt, and she especially loves how the pastor’s mother-in-law plays games with them every Monday. 

“Everybody can be themselves here,” Adams said. “I invite people here all the time. We’ve got a nice pastor, he’ll help you, you can wash your clothes and shower. Everyone in this church is nice.”

Another frequent attendee, Nicole, can’t say enough about South Main. As a transgender woman, she said, her community can sometimes feel shunned by the church. Bu there, she’s found complete acceptance and love. She started coming in 2020 when she was homeless and struggling with addiction. Today she lives two blocks from South Main, was recently baptized in their sanctuary, and she’s resuming classes so she can take her high school equivalency exam.

“I was going through a deep spiritual awakening, I needed guidance, and I had this dream where I heard God say, ‘The church on the corner. The church on the corner,’” Nicole shared. “When I came here I was broken—depression, anxiety, addiction, affliction. I came looking for a mental health evaluation, and they provided that for me. I got on medication, and it’s changed my life.”

Now she goes to church on Sundays and feels fully appreciated and loved.

“If they can do for me, they can do that for anybody,” she said. “God’s spirit is alive, working and healing here in this place.”

Deana Crisp agrees.

“When I was hungry they fed me, when I needed clothes they clothed me, when I needed a job they helped me,” Crisp said. “These are my people. I thank God for this church.”

Hopeful future

Now in its tenth year, South Main is hoping to convert their status from “new church start” to “mission church.” While financially solvent, most of their funds come from outside the congregation, so paying apportionments on top of operating costs would be difficult.

Mission churches are not required to pay apportionments, while traditional churches are.

“South Main Chapel and Mercy Center is a place where grace, mercy and peace merge into a genuine community of faith and love,” South Main board member David Bryant said. “It is the early church in today’s world.”

For more on South Main, email Stutler at [email protected], visit their Facebook page at or visit them at

Get Periodic Updates from the Advocate We never sell or share your information. You can unsubscribe from receiving our emails at any time.