Orangeburg County's more than 300 churches create a community rooted in love for service to its social and spiritual needs.
Whether helping individuals or families in times of crisis or just lending a helping hand in exploring the meaning of life’s purpose, the church community shines.
“When you think of the whole spiritual care in the community, we’re pretty diverse. We have a great mixture of churches and religions as well. We have people from the Bahá'í faith, we have an Islamic mosque here and we have a Hindu temple here. Our mailing list is roughly just over 300 churches in this area,” said the Rev. Paul Hamilton, director of pastoral care at the Regional Medical Center.
“It’s a very diverse community of spiritual believers in the spiritual community, but the Christian community is strong as well,” Hamilton said.
“Many of our leaders are ministers and people of faith, and I think that gives us a good strong base that we go by, particularly with the morals and character that any religion teaches and can train people to be. It’s faith that sometimes changes lives and you can see something different in their lives,” Hamilton said.
The Rev. Earl Humes, area representative with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, said the church is designed to transform the community, particularly with the power of love.
“The church is always important in terms of representing the spirituality of people but, for many, one of the greatest roles of the church, especially in any community such as Orangeburg, is the fact that we all have a sense of who God is,” Humes said.
“The two greatest commandments are that we should love God and that we should love one another. So the church is so important in spreading that message of people coming together as a community and loving one another. That’s what I love about Orangeburg. I feel that we live in a community where people are trying hard to live up to that principle,” he said.
He said the FCA is all about spreading that love throughout the community and world.
“Our vision is to impact the world through the influence of athletes and coaches, and we’re impacting the world as a Christian for Jesus Christ. We’re not just looking at what we’re doing within the four walls of the church, but looking for what happens outside.
"A great philosopher, Francis of Assisi, once said, ‘Go out and preach the gospel and use words when necessary.’ So our actions speak so much louder than words,” Humes said.
The organization’s theme of action this year is “One,” which he said is rooted in Philippians 1:27, where the apostle Paul talks about standing fast in one spirit and one purpose.
“My grandmother taught me a long time ago that each one of us is called to do what God’s called us to do. And if you have a job that you love, it’s not just a job, but it’s a calling. And you can tell people who understand what their calling is,” Humes said.
The Rev. Nate McMillan is a member of the Orangeburg County Ministerial Alliance. He also serves as chaplain of The Oaks Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly, or PACE, program.
McMillan said the local ministerial alliance helps reach people beyond the four walls of the church, which he said is necessary.
“The ministers of Orangeburg come together at times of community need. We have each other’s phone numbers and stay connected. We respond fairly immediately and quickly any time there’s a crisis because we understand the level of needs and our responsibility and how we add to everything that may be happening in our community,” McMillan said. “We feel a sense of shepherding for those kinds of things.”
He said the local alliance comes together for other activities such as community revivals and church growth conferences.
“We are unified in addressing the needs of our community,” he said, including those of the elderly. The Oaks PACE program, for example, includes an interdisciplinary team comprised of physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, social workers, therapists, van drivers, aides and others that makes the project unique.
“It’s only available in Orangeburg, Calhoun and Bamberg counties. It’s for this whole vicinity and available for seniors age 55 and older. Taking care of our elderly is important. A lot of people are involved in the care of our elderly. Our future looks bleak if we don’t care for them,” McMillan said.
McMillan said a strong faith community is important to the community’s overall health.
“It provides a holistic approach. It provides spirituality. We recognize there are other needs that a person may have,” he said, referring to the biblical story of Jesus feeding 5,000 people to whom he was also ministering.
“He was able to share the gospel, but met their immediate needs. That was being addressed. They needed to be fed and he provided that for them. It showed the significance of faith based on meeting physical needs as well,” McMillan said, noting that communicating God’s love is what makes communities such as Orangeburg County stronger.
He said groups such as Child Evangelism Fellowship and the Orangeburg County Community of Character are important in reaching out within the community.
“Child Evangelism Fellowship actually addresses the needs of our young people and connects them with their faith at a level that they can understand to be able to connect with God. It’s a wonderful program.
"A lot of our schools have Good News Clubs, and that’s a way for them to be able to express their faith at an early age.
“The Orangeburg County Community of Character initiative actually involves the 17 municipalities of Orangeburg County. Character really is nothing but the fruits of the Holy Spirit,” McMillan said.
Hamilton said responding to community needs is what church leaders do well, particularly in times of crisis.
“They get together, pray together and they help each other through the crisis that we face. We end up getting together and pulling together and one of those common things that we can all do together is to pray together. The alliance gets stronger with crisis, but the reality of life is that our faith can grow through every crisis as well,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton added, “I think you have to go beyond the four walls in order to be a church and the reality is we have volunteers here at the hospital from churches. I have close to 35 or 40 volunteers who come here to minister to patients.
“I have volunteers in the community, pastors in the churches, who come in the middle of night when we have families in crisis. I have representatives from all the faith communities. I’m also involved with other hospitals in the state, and they’re absolutely amazed at what we’re able to do with volunteers.”
The Rev. James Vigen, pastor of Orangeburg Lutheran Church, said the purpose of the church is to reach out within the community.
Vigen said examples of that can be seen through the various outreach projects of area churches, including his own.
Soup kitchens and providing clothing and other necessities to the needy in the community are among church activities, he said, citing the work of the Cooperative Church Ministries of Orangeburg as an example.
“All of these things are most likely things that wouldn’t be happening without the church,” he said, noting creation of a community garden is among ways Orangeburg Lutheran Church works to meet the physical needs of the community.
He said his church’s participation with a group of approximately six other churches from different races and denominations has been fruitful and is needed.
“The pastors meet regularly. We’ve done several things together and we continue to find things to do together. Williams Chapel AME, for example, has a very active food pantry. All the pastors in the group came together one day to serve so that we can see the extent of that ministry. That was also very positive,” Vigen said.
“We intend to just continue working together,” the pastor said, noting that while the church’s growth and development may go through cycles, its core mission will hopefully remain the same.
“When asked what their religious affiliation is, more and more young people will answer, ‘None.’ That has many people in the church afraid but I have a PhD. in church history, so I know the church has gone through cycles. I have confidence that God won’t let God’s church die.
“It’ll just look different in the future than it does now and what we have now won’t necessarily disappear, it’ll just be a smaller group of people,” he said, noting that the church will always have a heart for cultivating a community of love.