The congregation began as an in-home prayer group and later moved to borrowed space at a local church, then at an elementary school. The present building was opened on Christmas Eve 2009 and was finished in 2011. It is the work of the architectural firm of Stubbs Muldrow Herin, whose other projects include government buildings, hospitals, schools, parking garages, bus stop shelters, skating rinks and private residences, primarily in South Carolina. The campus was designed in such a way as to preserve as many mature oak trees on the property as possible. The exterior is neo-classical in red brick; the interior is decidedly modern, plain and functional. Everything looks fairly new and well kept. On the morning of my visit, the air conditioning was not working at the earlier service, but whatever the problem was, it had been remedied before the later service, which I attended. Good thing, too the outdoor temperature was nearly 100° Fahrenheit (38° Celsius).
They sponsor a number of groups, including connect groups that feature (quoting from their website) "good food, conversation, and activities that connect with the community;" compass groups that "encourage personal growth in Christ;" and Bible study and healing groups. They also have a wonderful youth program, and an "art bus" that "brings lessons from God through art to communities in need." Their worship style is modern evangelical and (again quoting from their website) "draws from the best practices of the Christian faith ... [as] reflected in our liturgy, music, and teaching." They are a member of the Anglican Mission in the Americas.
Mount Pleasant, near Charleston, is located on South Carolina's Atlantic coast. The town figured prominently in the American Civil War, with the first resolution of secession from the United States for the state of South Carolina being passed here in 1860. The church is set off the main road a bit. As often as I take this road, I hadn't noticed the church before today. The lawn and church itself are well manicured. The neighborhood is mixed and a bit diverse ethnically.
Bishop Thomas "TJ" Johnston, lead pastor, conducted the service.
What was the name of the service?Worship Time.
How full was the building?
In the beginning it was quiet you could hear a cricket chirp! But once they started the contemporary music it filled up fast. There were about 200-300 people of all ages. Dress was "well manicured surfer" I felt comfortable.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A little boy about nine years old asked me if it was my first visit. When I said yes, he opened the door for me, smiled, and said, "I hope you'll like it." I was then greeted by a sweet lady who handed out the day's information.
Was your pew comfortable?
There are no pews. They had comfortable cushioned chairs in nice rounded rows. Everyone had their own space.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
In the lobby, people were fixing coffee and cups of water. As we sat in our chairs, we were greeted by a man and a woman named Dave and Cathy. Dave invited us in and said it was one big happy family. The family in front of us were also new to the church.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"The gospel of Jesus Christ is good news. It is a pearl of great value."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
There weren't any books at all. They did have the New International Version of scripture on a projector for the congregation to follow. The music was offered in the same manner.
What musical instruments were played?
The worship team consisted of four men and one gentleman in the feed booth. They had a pianist at a real console piano (no digital keyboard here), two guitarists (one of whom switched to bass when needed) and a drummer.
Did anything distract you?
There was a child who cried the parent took her out into the lobby to console her. The gentleman sitting beside me was squeaking his shoe on the well shined floor. I did hear a phone go off, but the guilty party shut it off right away and looked a bit embarrassed.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship was real. Pastor Johnston was comfortably dressed in casual clothes and looked comfortable in the way he stood. He made us feel human, connected. He brought out truth through the Word and did a wonderful job applying the Word to real life. He actually made us comfortable to be sinners not pretending to be better than anyone else.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – Pastor Johnston spoke in a fatherly voice – I felt as though I had known him for years. He managed to make eye contact with the crowd. He spoke from the heart and stuck to biblical truth. He applied a few personal lessons he had learned and really brought the stories home.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The message came from Acts 15 (not circumcision, but the grace of our Lord Jesus, will save us). In a nutshell it was about how we fall short as Christians. We all sin no matter how hard we try not to. If we get caught up in rules, the do's and don'ts of such things as Moses' laws, we risk forgetting about the true message, the importance of Jesus' love and sacrifice for us.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
At the end of the service a child cried out, "Yay! It's over!" We all had a chuckle and left in good spirits.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
There was a bit of a puzzle over which door to go in through and where to sit. There were three wooden doors, all locked, with no signs stating which door to use. It was hard not to look like a newcomer.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
My family and I waited near the ice water and coffee for about 10 minutes, but unfortunately everyone seemed preoccupied with their own crowd. The pastor was caught up with people who knew him, so I did not get to meet him. Finally my family said, "Let's go," and so we did.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The coffee was fresh, but again no one approached us. There were no snacks. Paper cups for coffee, plastic for ice water.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – I would like to get to know the pastor. A friend's daughter tried the children's program and came back smiling. I look forward to seeing more of the outreach opportunities.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes it did. I really enjoyed this service. They collected bags of groceries for the local community food bank, which is dear to my heart.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
No matter how bad my shortcomings are, I have a God who will love me anyway.