Sixty-five year old Herb Codington wishes the 1001 New Worshiping Communities movement had come around 30 years ago.
“It’s really energized me,” says Codington, who is leading three new worshiping community efforts in rural South Carolina. “It’s helped me look at ministry differently, by identifying and focusing on the underserved who live in our midst.”
The Rev. Codington, who serves three Presbyterian churches—Bethany, Lydia and Todd Memorial—also participates in a cluster of small PC(USA) churches in northwestern South Carolina, ranging in size from 15-100.
Coordinated by the Rev. Lawrence Peebles of Little River Dominick Presbyterian Church, this cluster of 12 small churches, known as the Laurens Cluster, has started three new worshiping communities—Luz Para Joanna, Lydia Lights, and the Hanson Circle of Hope.
Luz Para began in an old PC(USA) church building in Joanna that closed in December 2011.
“Joanna is the largest unincorporated community in South Carolina, with many needs,” says Codington, who is one of the key leaders on a newly formed 1001 New Worshiping Communities team in the Trinity Presbytery.
“It’s the kind of place that doesn’t need to lose churches.”
Members of the Laurens Cluster began a series of block parties, which included music, at the old church, and initially attracted people of Hispanic origin who lived in the community.
The cluster began English as Second Language classes in the old church after Codington’s wife Suzan, who speaks Spanish, got involved. When the Presbytery sold the building, other churches in the community (Catholic and Mormon) began working with the Presbyterian cluster on a solution.
Eventually, a Christian relief agency bought an old school building in Johanna and converted it for their use, offering the chapel space to Luz Para for worship.
“It’s one of the most extensive Presbyterian ministries for Hispanics in South Carolina,” says Codington. “Many of our cluster churches are in places where people are not connected to any church brand; spiritually, socially, materially or otherwise.”
In Lydia, about two hours east of Joanna, even though the majority of the population is African American, the four churches—PC(USA), Assembly of God, Church of God, and Southern Baptist—historically served Anglo textile mill workers who once lived and worked there.
That started to change when Ann Felten, a PC(USA) ruling elders who lives in Lydia, began running the local food bank offered by the Laurens Cluster.
Building relationships with the mainly unchurched African American population in the community, she recognized a spiritual need and started the Lydia Lights new worshiping community around a home-based Bible study.
The cluster of small churches also began a new worshiping community with Laurens, S.C., residents who live in fixed income, government access housing at Hanson Circle.
Todd Memorial and other congregations in the community began providing food delivery and meals to the residents. Through this connection of service, the cluster of small churches built relationships with the residents of Hanson Circle.
“They started seeing themselves as a true community, rather than just as individuals living in isolated apartments in a building complex,” says Codington.
Eventually residents told the cluster they’d like to have a weekly vespers service, which came to be known as the Hanson Circle of Hope.
The Laurens Cluster was able to launch these ministries thanks to financial help from the Presbyterian Mission Agency—all three worshiping communities received $7,500 seed grants.
Codington says for too long church planting has been out of sight and out mind for small churches. Smaller congregations didn’t have money to purchase real estate or a building for a new church development, nor did they have staff to manage what new church development looked like in the PC(USA).
“I’m really jazzed about this,” says Codington.
“They’ve felt so underused and underutilized—marginalized in church service,” he says. “For too long church planting has been out of sight and out of mind for them.”
But now, worshiping communities can be planted just about anywhere in places like retirement communities, and abandoned buildings.
“One of the things that excites me the most is seeing people find their niche for usefulness and service, doing things that utilize their gifts,” says Codington. “They get to hear how they are making a difference in people’s lives.”
Recently Hanson Circle resident Jennifer Owens told the Lawrence County Advertiser what the vespers service means to her.
“A lot of people here don’t have family members nearby,” she said. “To know that people care, that the outside world hasn’t forgotten about us is a nice feeling.”
Hearing this, Codington says, “1001 is one of the best things our church is offering. What a Godsend. We’ve hit a home run.”