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Weekly ‘Lenten luncheons’ help two churches build relationship amid shared history

By Jessica Brodie

CHARLESTON—Two historic and long-connected churches in South Carolina’s Holy City are joining this Lenten season for weekly luncheons to help foster unity and relationships.

Bethel United Methodist Church, on Pitt Street, and Old Bethel UMC, on Calhoun Street, share a history. Started in 1797, Old Bethel was one of two churches commissioned in Charleston by Methodism founder John Wesley; the other was Centenary UMC. In its early days, said Old Bethel pastor the Rev. David Washington, White people, freed Black people and enslaved Black people all worshipped together there until the Civil War. After Reconstruction, the church gifted Old Bethel to the Black congregation and rolled it to its present location on Calhoun Street, building another, called Bethel, on Pitt Street.

“We come from a mixed group in the foundation of the denomination in this state,” Washington said, something all churches would do well to remember as they strive to get along despite racial and other differences.

“Our efforts are to let both churches know we serve the same God,” he added, noting when we get together there won’t be a “Black heaven” or a “White heaven” or an “Asian heaven.” We’ll all be together.

“We need to learn to do this down here on earth, forge relationships,” Washington said.

Washington and Bethel pastor the Rev. Susan Leonard both participate in the weekly joint luncheons. They take a Gospel from the lectionary, then espouse on how the Scripture might be speaking to them that particular week.

“We hope it helps churches see how their pastors might break down and interpret these verses,” Washington explained.

This is the first year they have done weekly luncheons together.

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