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Thursday, October 2, 2014

Hope for Hopewell!

We headed east this morning toward Hopewell, UMC, south of Greensville, SC, in the  community of Simpsonville.  Pastor Jim is away for a couple of days but we may get to meet him because this church has a CHILI COOKOFF this coming Saturday night and we LOVE to try a lot of different kinds of chili (memories of all the Hope Church youth group cookoffs over the years).

It was a BEAUTIFUL drive east through the Georgia Appalachian foothills and the Highlands of northwest South Carolina.  But there are NO pictures.

You see, all 70 miles of the road we took was two lane, bordered on either side with lush vegetation, dark hollows and flowing streams; but no pulloffs 50’ of Frog and Toad could use. 10 mile an hour switchbacks and tight corners. Not too tight, or I wouldn’t be typing right now, but tight nonetheless.

As we neared Clemson and Greenville the road became wider and more easily navigated but the reasons to stop and pull out the cameras diminished; at least until we are in TOAD instead of FROG.

In mid afternoon we arrived at Hopewell United Methodist Church in Simpsonville, SC. We were greeted at the coach door by Libby, the Trustee Team Leader.  Libby has been a Trustee for 8 years and comes off the team this December but says she’ll still watch out that things are done promptly by the Trustees.

You see, this small church of about 40 in worship attendance has big dreams, and some of them are being lived out now.  They have a child care center which requires a huge amount of volunteer time, and the reports, etc. that must be filled out by the church for state, county, and local government for childcare facilities anywhere in the Free World is astronomical.  And repairs of any kind must be done yesterday, not ‘;when we get time’. But this program is slowly growing their church, and bringing kids to Christ.

Only forty or so in worship, but Hopewell has a vibrant and attractive worship center ready for new things to happen in.  Yes, some older members are uncomfortable with change, but younger age does not make for easier change when things you’ve become used to are disappearing.  For example, less hymns and more praise songs.

A more youth oriented program (they just built a wonderful HOUSE for the youth alone and we parked right next to it!). And some of the children in the daycare (oh my) don’t even attend Hopewell UMC.  Change is change, and sometimes it just hurts. Pastor Jim has been here for only a couple of months but Libby says he’s a fireball!  Or did she just say ‘hot’?  Nix the last comment.  J

It is marvelous to see the hope of Hopewell’s Trustee Leader for this congregation,  founded in 1799. This was the second Methodist church in Greenville County, after the 1790 Pisgah Methodist to the west, when Cherokee were the predominant neighbors and tiny pioneer farms were the only industry.

The church was noted by Francis Asbury himself, one of the two bishops of the UMC John Wesley appointed over the new American ‘Methodist Episcopal Church’ after the Revolutionary War. His journal records, ‘ We rode… to Berry’s Ford; thence to Thomas Terry’s, near there, sixteen miles southeast of Greenville, Hopewell Church was formed at an early date.”

 That first building of rough hewn logs on this site is long gone. But local histories tell of large camp meetings being held at this site in the early 1800’s and tents by the dozens holding vendors of food and purveyors of whatever could be gotten around the grounds filled with hundreds of campers.

The white frame building built in 1859 to replace the small log structure was put up by the slaves of a neighbor and church member, Philemon Huff, whose family joined him in the cemetery here years later and still so long ago.  

Until the end of the Civil War the ground behind the white frame church was the slave selling auction ground for the local community. This church building is where good Confederates attended this now ‘Southern Methodist Church’. Until a new church was built in 1924. the Southern and Methodist Episcopal Church rejoined in the 1930’s.

That  building became infested with termites in the 1980’s and the fire department had to be called on to burn it in place.  It was then that the present open space worship center was built by some very vision minded members of this congregation.

Today all that remains to see of the old church buildings is the stone wall along Neely Ferry Road, and the cemetery, which holds the dust of the first members of this congregation.  Like Gideon Tetomason, who died in 1867. 

Hannah was a CONSORT of Mr. Thomas.  have no fear.
In those days this was the title for WIFE.

And in a corner off to the northeast of the member’s yard, rough stones still stand which represent the graves of slaves of some of the members.  Slaves allowed ground in the churchyard where their masters attended, but only rocks hand chiseled with initials or names which are now long eroded away.

And one other grave under slabs of stone which tradition tells today’s members, is the grave of a friendly Indian Chief, perhaps of the 1700’s. Unknown but to God.

We are looking forward to exploring the Greenville area while we are here, and hopefully getting to know a few more of the Hopewell Faithful as well.


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