South Carolina hosts United Methodist Association of Communicators

Above, the Rev. David Washington and the Rev. Susan Leonard co-lead a historical presentation, “If These Walls Could Speak,” about Bethel and Old Bethel United Methodist churches, historic mainstays of the Charleston community.

By Jessica Brodie

CHARLESTON—South Carolina hosted more than 100 United Methodist communicators this fall, all gathering in the Holy City for the first post-pandemic meeting of the United Methodist Association of Communicators.

From journalists and social media marketers to public relations experts and photographers, UMAC members came together Oct. 22-25 to embrace the theme “Salt and Light,” addressing everything from artificial intelligence to planning for the next General Conference. Speakers included Sabrina Joy Stevens, Eric Seiberling, James Lee, Rev. Matt Rawle and Dan Krause, and worship was led by South Carolina Resident Bishop L. Jonathan Holston and Council of Bishops President Thomas J. Bickerton.

The meeting kicked off with a special worship service at both Bethel and Old Bethel United Methodist churches, historic mainstays of the Charleston community. Dating back to 1797, Old Bethel is the third oldest church building in Charleston, and both churches are on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Rev. David Washington and the Rev. Susan Leonard co-led a historical presentation, “If These Walls Could Speak,” about the two churches. The service began at Old Bethel, pastored by Washington. Partway through the service, as all sang “Blessed Assurance,” worshippers crossed the street and concluded the service at Bethel UMC, also called “New Bethel.”

Washington and Leonard shared how Methodism in Charleston was loosely organized and didn’t have much of a following until Francis Asbury arrived in 1785 and found little pockets of Methodists meeting together. He gathered with them to strengthen and organize them.

Initially, both Black and White people worshipped together, and people of that time held Methodists in contempt because of this, Washington and Leonard shared. People would padlock the doors of the church to prevent them from gathering, and they moved to smaller gatherings in people’s houses.

Eventually they built the first church, called Old Bethel; plans were drawn up in 1797, and the church was completed in 1808. Later, they built the “new” Bethel church in 1856. The old building was later rolled across the street on rocks and placed in its current location.

During the Civil War, the only operating church in the city was Bethel, with Old Bethel alongside, and they opened their doors to the entire Methodist population of Charleston.

Washington and Leonard shared how, this year, the Bethel and Old Bethel church families came together for a massive Juneteenth worship experience to praise the name of the Lord. They also hosted joint Lenten lunches to show the church that though people might look and be different, we all serve the same God. 

In his sermon for the morning, Holston preached on “Making a Lasting Impression,” lifting up the motto of the Palmetto State: Dum spiro spero, “While I breathe, I hope.”

“This is a place of hope,” Holston said to applause.

We are living in a strange world, Holston said, and communication is the lifeblood of what we say and how we share. But it’s a competitive world, one that encourages personal gain at the expense of faith and hope.

“The old rules are being rewritten, things are changing that we never thought would change, and we must ask in all this: Who are we?”

Whatever happens, we must remember to stay fixed on God, Holston said.

“We’re here to shine the light, not be hidden under something. We are people who are salt and light, people who bring flavor and light up the world. We are called to get people to follow the light,” Holston said. 

In midst of hurt and devastation, we are called to bring hope and to shine the light—not hide it under a bushel.

Also at the meeting, the annual Awards Banquet celebrated outstanding work by United Methodist communicators across the nation.

The group announced its 2023 Hall of Fame inductees, the Rev. Kathy Noble and Shirley Struchen, and its Communicator of the Year, Sara Hamdorff of Discipleship Ministries.

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