The members of Trinity United Methodist hope that everyone can find a place in the church's long history, one the church is building on to continue spiritually and socially transform the lives of future generations.

The church's 150th Founder's Day celebration will run throughout the year and encapsulate everything the church is doing to continue its impact on the community.

"My vision is simply this: sharing God's word, leading God's people and transforming lives. The mission of the United Methodist Church is making disciples for Jesus Christ, but the disciples were to tell the world about him," said the Rev. Mack C. McClam, church pastor.

"Trinity has been a leader in the South Carolina United Methodist Conference in doing that. When we think about the Civil Rights Movement and the role that Trinity and Orangeburg have had around the state and beyond, Trinity has been a leader in social reform and race relations," he said.

Church historian Barbara Townsend said she fully appreciates the church's role in enhancing its community.

"This is what comes across as I have studied our history. We were kind of like the center of many activities in town and between the two colleges, also," Townsend said, referring to the close relationship the church maintains with Clafin and South Carolina State universities.

The church was founded in 1866 as Trinity Methodist Episcopal. Its present structure on Boulevard Street was begun in 1928 and completed in 1944.The first congregation occupied a small school house built by the Freedman's Bureau, which the United States Congress established in 1865 to help former black slaves and poor whites in the South in the aftermath of the American Civil War. The congregation operated under the guidance of the Rev. T. Willard Lewis and the Rev. Thomas Phillips.

Townsend grew up in the church and remembers worshiping in the basement of the present structure until the main sanctuary was completed in 1944.

"I remember what we called 'the feast in the wilderness,' and that's how some of the earliest funds were raised to build the church. The ladies of the church did all of the cooking, and once a year they would sponsor this picnic-type activity. They also manned booths at the county fair" to help raise building funds, she said.

The Rev. I. DeQuincy Newman, a former president of the state NAACP and state senator, moved the congregation into its present sanctuary in 1944. Townsend said the church worshiped in the basement until 1944 because there had been a lull in construction during the difficult Depression years.

"The late Alexander Lewis was telling me that you could look at the church and see that there are certain differences in the mortar lines, which indicates they had to stop construction until they got more materials. You need a pretty well-trained eye to see it," she said, noting that many of the items in the sanctuary are gifts that were generously donated by families in the congregation.

"The baptismal font was a gift from the Williams family. The pulpit was given by the McTeer family. One of the great highlights was the day the organ was moved in," Townsend said, referring to the towering pipe organ that boasts a variety of ranges.The church has since undergone some remodeling, ranging from new carpeting and cushioned seats to stained pews.

The church served as headquarters for the Orangeburg movement during the 1960s, serving as host to civil rights meetings and rallies attended by prominent leaders like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Thurgood Marshall. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.

Ghussan Greene, a Clafin graduate and member of the church's communications committee, said she can personally speak about the church's involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, particularly since she spent her freshman year of college in jail in the fight against segregation.

"After classes, all of the students from Claflin and South Carolina State would gather in the basement of Trinity," where they were fed and trained on how to execute their nonviolent protests, Greene said.

"Trinity was a training ground. Almost any name you could think of spoke here. Trinity was the center of the movement. We would go to jail but when we got out, we came back to Trinity," she said.

Greene said Trinity is not only a leader in the fight for social justice, but in other areas, too, including supporting women who wanted to be ministers or otherwise involved in the church.

"We have several women who came out of Trinity who are ministers in the United Methodist Church. The first black president of the S.C. Chapter of the United Methodist Women, Mrs. Ethel Manning, came from Trinity," she said.

The church is home to a childcare center, an after-school program, an award-winning Boy Scout program, a children’s garden, a year-round soup kitchen and a wellness initiative that enables Trinity to minister beyond its walls.

The church possesses one of the largest collections of stained glass windows in the South Carolina Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. A book, "The Windows of Trinity," was published last year in celebration of the church's 150th anniversary.

Townsend said, "The windows were purchased by individual families. We have 93 windows that are dedicated and I believe we have the largest number of memorial stained glass windows among churches in Orangeburg."

The church kicked off its 150th Founder's Day celebration with a church service on Jan. 3 at the sanctuary. A dinner theater and gala were held on Jan. 8 at the Jonas T. Kennedy Center on the campus of Claflin University.

Greene said Trinity UMC plans to continue its anniversary celebration with other events throughout the year, including a fashion show. A concert featuring Trinity First Lady Gwendolyn McClam is scheduled in February.

"We're also putting together a calendar and a new directory. All of that's happening this year," she said.

Greene said she appreciates the relationship the church has maintained with the two universities, including S.C. State, whose trustee board conveyed the land the present structure is located on to Trinity trustees in 1927. Students from both universities worship at the church, where Claflin President Dr. Henry N. Tisdale and his wife, Alice, also worship.

The nearby Orangeburg Wesley Foundation, one of seven campus ministries in the state, which started in Trinity's basement in 1975, also welcomes and provides spiritual and social enrichment for all students and denominations.

"Our choirs work together sometimes, too," Greene said.

McClam said it is his goal to strengthen the relationship the church has with the universities and surrounding communities.

"When we reflect on the church's 150-year history, we must see it as a challenge to make sure that we leave as rich a foundation for years to come. The transformation must continue until the kingdom work on Earth is done," he said.

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Contact the writer: dgleaton@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5534. Follow "Good News with Gleaton" on Twitter @DionneTandD.


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