Church Creek Sanctuary

Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpah and Shem, and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.

1 Samuel 7:12

In the history of a church, every meeting is actually an Ebenezer, for even the first gathering of believers is an answer to the prayers of many. Thus, when fifteen souls met in the Gold Room of the Francis Marion Hotel at 7:30 pm on January 26, 1971, to organize a Reformed Presbyterian Church, in Charleston, it was not a beginning; it was the culmination of but one step in God’s plan for a church.

The Charleston papers announced the organizational meeting in an advertisement by Nelson K. Malkus entitled “American Presbyterianism at the Crossroads”:

The Reformed Presbyterian Church is a conservative, old-fashioned, Bible-believing Presbyterian Church. We feel that it is time to put our concern into action. At the meeting there will be ample opportunity for questions and answers and open discussion. A local steering committee will be elected. For further information call A. Dale Umbreit in Savannah… or Eugene Walpole, Jr., in Charleston …

Reverend Umbreit, chairman of the Southeast Presbytery’s Extension Committee, had already made personal contact with Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Walpole of Charleston who asked him to come up. At the time he was in an independent Presbyterian church which had called him to “labor out of bounds.” After Reverend Umbreit had met some forty people in Charleston, the Reverend Nelson Malkus, Associate Director of the National Presbyterian Missions, addressed the organizational meeting, and the Steering Committee was elected: Eugene H. Walpole, Jr., Chairman: John Olson, Vice Chairman; and Mrs. Croskey (Caroline) Welch, Secretary.

Only five days later, on January 31, 1971, the first worship service was held, also at the Francis Marion Hotel. when Reverend Umbreit began his sermon, forty-three were in attendance. The first offering totaled $81.00.

At the organizational meeting the pastors present had “volunteered to help supply the pulpit, and further arrangements were made by the Reverend Wyatt Folds.” Thus, in the months that followed, “participation by virtually all the pastors in the Southeast Presbytery, plus chaplains in the area, gave this group the distinction of having heard more Reformed Presbyterian ministers than any church in the denomination.” (National Presbyterian Missions, Vol. IX, No. 9, October 19?1) These ministers included Al (C. A.)Lutz, Greenville, SC; Robert Lewis, Savannah, GA; Chaplain Thomas E. Sidebotham, Marine Corps Air Station, Beaufort, SC; Dr. Thomas G. Cross, Greenville, SC James A. Heist, Anderson, SC: Carl Sorenson, Roebuck, SC; Wyatt H. Folds, Jr., Myrtle Beach, SC; Richard Tevebough, Charlotte, NC; and Warren Myers, Columbia, SC. An average of thirty-one people attended each Sunday. An April 11 bulletin indicates that prayer meeting also met on Wednesdays at 8:00 pm. During these early months a move to the Community Room of St. Andrews Shopping Center was made available through the Merchant’s Association.

“With other phases of his NPM responsibilities lessening for the summer months, the Associate Director (Nelson K. Malkus) and his family closed their home in Memphis and moved to Charleston” on June 13, 1971. “Midweek services were continued, Sunday evening meetings begun.”(NPM, Vol. IX. No. 9,_October 1971)

On June 27 a meeting for the congregation was held after the worship service for the purpose of sharing goals and purposes for the church. Mr. John Olson, Sr., presented a proposed budget of $800 per month for the church. On July 11 the morning service was held for trial purposes in the Seventh Day Adventist Church. The following week the room at the Charles Webb Crippled Children’s Center was used for the services. Services continued to be held there until March 5, 1972.’

Gerald Malkus. “History of the Beginnings,“ Church Minutes, p.1

The facilities at the Charles Webb Center on Calhoun Street had been made available through the courtesy of Director Fred Hamilton.

The more established presence encouraged the News and Courier to interview Reverend Nelson Malkus in July 1971 about “the new church in town.” Indeed, growth and new interest during the summer caused Reverend Umbreit to return in August.

He and Mr. Nelson Malkus visited in the 4 homes of all those wishing to commit themselves to the establishment of a new, sound Presbyterian church in the city. Real enthusiasm and a high level of financial commitment (were) discovered among fourteen family units, ten of which were couples. Interest in the work on the part of the churches of the presbytery (had) been illustrated by the generous support of Shannon Forest Church of Greenville, SC and others.

With a conviction that there seemed to be real evidence that the Lord was in the work, the decision was made to move to a second phase of NPM’s efforts ~- a mission church. Mr. Gerald Malkus was invited by NPM to come ‘into the work as an organizing pastor.

NPM, October 1971

On August 29, 1971, the congregation welcomed Gerald Paul Malkus into the pulpit, and a new chain of events began.

Three women in the church — Karen Buford, Sue Martin, and Jeanne Cutler — led the welcoming activities with a surprise shower for Pam and Gerry Malkus on September 14. Five days later the Charleston press acknowledged the growing church with another news bulletin, “Charleston to Organize”:

Now the congregation has pledged a monthly sum of $550 to their new work. Nearly $300 monthly will be asked in outside support until the church is more fully developed.

By 6:00pm Tuesday, September 21, 1971, the Malkuses had moved into their first Charleston home, and the next Sunday, September 26, Reverend Nelson Malkus helped the congregation welcome Gerry and Pam officially. The mission church had been established. Yet another newspaper article about “the new church in town” confirmed this on October 2.

The next five months of work, worship, prayer, and growth led the congregation to begin services at the French Huguenot Church on March 5, 1972 (a date with double blessings. Andrew Russell Malkus, the first child of Gerald and Pam, was born at 6:11 pm the night before.) Facilities at the French Huguenot Church included greater seating capacity, a nineteenth century Henry Erben tracker organ, and a well-known location. Early members recalled, though, setting up the nursery in the Green Room of the Dock Street theater each Sunday, holding Sunday school classes for the adolescents in the grave yard, and greeting an occasional tourist surprised by a church service in the historic landmark.

Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Walpole

The growth of the church also led to a joint meeting of the provisional session and the administration committee on March 21, 1972. At this significant meeting the first official minutes were taken, the ordination of the pastor was set for April 4, the examination for the charter roll was arranged to begin April 25, and officer training classes were to begin in September. The Provisional Session included Reverend A. Dale Umbreit, Moderator; Mr. Gerald Malkus; and Mr. Leon McLaurin. Mike Martin, Eugene Walpole, Jr., and Don C. Miller comprised the Administrative Committee. Charles Roystga and Daniel Todd, deacons from Faith Presbyterian Church, visited.

The service of ordination took place at 7:30 pm on April 4, 1972. at the French Huguenot Church. Reverend Wyatt H. Folds, Presiding Moderater of Presbytery, conducted the service. Reverend Everett Develde gave the sermon, and Reverend Nelson K. Malkus, Gerald’s father, offered the prayer. Reverend R. D. Tevebaugh issued the charge to the pastor followed by Reverend A. C. Lutz’s charge to the congregation.

Three days later on April 7 a special congregational meeting was held at which time there was a motion to call Gerald Malkus as the first pastor of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Charleston. The motion carried.

On April 25 the Provisional session received the first of twenty members of the new Reformed Presbyterian Church: Mrs. Thad Altman, Mrs. Kenneth Herbert, Dr. and Mrs. Don Miller, Mr. and Mrs. Wesley Pontier, Mr. and Mrs. Ralph B. Poston, Miss Kathy Poston, Miss Virginia Poston, Mr. and Mrs. James Ingram. At the following Provisional session meeting, May 23, the growth continued: Mr. and Mrs. Dale Cutler, Miss Frances Poston, Mrs. B. L. Lacey, Miss Emily Lacey, and Dr. and Mrs. Vincent Moseley.

As the church grew, the facilities of the French Huguenot Church — principally lack of Sunday school space, nursery, and heat — no longer met the needs and a search for a more suitable location began. Thus, on November 26, 1972, the Administrative Committee recommended that the congregation move its Sunday meeting place to the Seventh Day Adventist Church on Highway 17. The motion carried. Later at a March 21, 1973, Administrative meeting, the pastor’s report noted continued growth in the new locations the morning service attendance averaged 59, evening service averaged 15, and prayer meeting ranged from 4 to 6.

Finally in November 1973 the Reformed Presbyterian Church was incorporated. The Administrative Committee proposed to petition Presbytery in February requesting reception as a particular church and to advise NPM of this action. The charter roll was submitted with thirty-one communicant members and sixteen covenant members, and on February 10, 1974, Wesley Pontier, Jack Merry. and Eugene Walpole become the first elders. At a special congregational meeting on April 7, 1974, two years after he was officially asked to pastor the mission church, Gerald Malkus was called to pastor the newly established Reformed Presbyterian Church in Charleston. Boyce Talbert became the church’s first deacon on May 19. 1971.

How brief on paper seem the activities of these three years, yet how vast were the prayers that couched each decision.

“Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.”

And they continued steadfastly in the apostles‘ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. Acts 2:42

The Session’s minutes during 1974 and 1975 are dominated by the acceptance of new members. As of January 1. 1976, there were fifty-three communicant members and twenty-three baptized covenant members.

The Treasurer’s report for 1/1/75 to 12/31/75 was presented and received with thanksgiving that the contributions had exceeded the budget by 30 percent. (Jack Merry, Session Meeting, January 15, 1976)

During this time of growth the Seventh Day Adventist Church had asked that the Reformed Presbyterian Church seek another facility for its worship services. Thus, the congregation began meeting at the Fairfield Office Park in August 1975. A building committee was formed, and on October 1, 1976, Robert L. Ables, Chairman, proposed that “an offer be made for the property located on Highway 61 and Church Creek in the amount of $33,000.” This figure was adjusted to $36,000 in February, and at the meeting of the corporation the motion was approved.

No history can adequately record the power or the wonder of God’s work. In the month that followed the vote to purchase the land, the congregation sought earnestly the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Was this indeed the step God wanted the church to take? Was this location acceptable? Was God willing for the church to grow as an established, landowning group, or should the church continue in its almost nomadic state? Each worship service was filled with petitions and careful study of the Scriptures. A day of prayer and fasting was observed. The women of the church spent one day in the city market selling “white elephant” wares to offer the proceeds to the building fund.

Finally the day set for the offering for the purchase of the land arrived. During the worship service on March 13, 1977, the plates were passed. At the conclusion of the service, no one left. Everyone waited while the proceeds were counted. The little congregation of fifty-seven members (about eighty-five in attendance) needed over $30,000. Wesley Pontier, Clerk of Session, wrote this in the Minutes of the Session:

This day marked a special historical time in our church. In answer to many prayers, the Lord put it into the hearts of Members and friends to fully support the purchase of property on Highway 61. Approximately $25,500 was collected in cash, and $9,000 in pledges was received to pay for the property in cash.

Rarely has the Doxology been sung with more tears of joy or more sincerity of soul than on March 13, 1977. God had again answered the prayers of his children.

“Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.”

The Corporation met July 10, 1977, to select a new name for the church. when the votes were cast, nineteen had chosen Church Creek Reformed Presbyterian Church; eighteen votes were divided among the other eleven suggested names. Five weeks later, in accordance with the by-laws, the church became Church Creek Reformed Presbyterian Church.

At that same September 12 meeting, Fred Ehni and Steve Russel of Ehni Associates presented the plans for the new church building. By January 8, 1978, the Congregation was ready to vote that the trustees borrow the necessary funds to begin construction and to approve the signing of a contract with A. B. Youngblood Co., Contractors.

Barely a month later the News and Courier published a drawing of the new building:

Groundbreaking ceremonies for the new Church Creek Reformed Presbyterian Church were held February 5 following the regular morning service. Work on the church, located on the corner of Highway 61 and Plainview Road, should be completed sometime in July.

Frances E. Poston, one of the early church members, turned the first shovelful of dirt with a gold-painted shovel, and in the weekends that followed other members brought shovels, axes, and chain saws to the site. In an effort to conserve money, the church sawed timber and cleared as much of the land as possible. Photographs taken during the winter of 1978 show Reverend Malkus, Elder Dale Oderman, and Deacon Don Ethredge weilding exes, Dr. Kenneth Herbert and Harry Bescancon using chain saws, and various ladies of the church sawing limbs and pulling away debis. This personal effort by church members continued throughout the year. As the building rose from its foundations, Deacon Bob Ables directed work parties in the art of landscaping the church; Lisa Emory painted the first church highway sign.

In October 1978 the NPM Building Club published Appeal No. 22 for Church Creek Reformed Presbyterian Church. Including the plans for the church and a brief history, the letter frm Gerald P. Malkus also added insight to the goals and special needs of the church.

The ministry of the church has been an interesting history. Because of three colleges, two military bases, and a medical school, Charleston is a very transient community. As a result, the church has had three almost distinct congregations in the past six years. It has been frustrating and rewarding to send about thirty percent of the congregation away each year to places all over the United States. At least five men who were well-qualified elders have had to leave Charleston and the ministry of the church, but their leadership has been used of the Lord in other local churches. At least seven men have enrolled as students in solid Presbyterian seminaries.

As a result of observing this fact in the life of the church, the session made it an established goal to be sure that the members and friends of the congregation have been grounded in biblical principles regarding the doctrines of Grace and the importance of the ministry of the local church. The thinking has been that the Lord would use the Church Creek Reformed Presbyterian Church to prepare and train families to take their part in other local churches. The Lord has richly blessed this effort.

This is the primary reason why the initial building program of the church has been to build a sanctuary that holds about 300 people, so that when the congregation attains a certain size, some of the congregation can be used to establish another new church in one of the geographical areas of Charleston. The session and the congregation are anxious to see these goals reached.

The long awaited day arrived at last. To the glorious music of piano, trumpet, and voices lifted in song, the congregation proceeded en mass into the Sanctuary for its’ formal dedication on November 19, 1978. Reverend A. Dale Umbreit, appropriately, delivered the dedicatory sermon.

 

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