Rural Mission Inc.’s five decades of ministry with and for the people of South Carolina’s Sea Islands has come to an end, but a hopeful future for its creekside property on Johns Island now rests in friendly hands.
Facing evolving demographics and a shifting mission field on Johns Island, as well as a challenging financial outlook with a daily growing debt, the Rural Mission Board of Directors voted in May to dissolve the ministry and transfer all assets and liabilities to South Carolina United Methodist Camps and Retreat Ministries.
That decision keeps the five-acre Rural Mission property on Bohicket Creek – which originally came to the ministry thanks to the efforts of the pastor and members of Bethlehem St. James United Methodist Church on Johns Island – within the United Methodist Connection for future use in ministry.
The Rev. Pattie Gordon, acting chairperson of the Rural Mission board and pastor of Bethlehem-St. James UMC, reflected on the foresight of her predecessor at Bethlehem-St. James, the Rev. Willis Goodwin, longtime executive director Linda Gadson, and others who have guided the ministry since its inception in 1969. That’s 50 years of working with migrant and seasonal farmers, rehabilitating homes, and offering crisis assistance and other services for low-income residents.
“I am joyful,” she said, “that the vision and hopes of Rev. Goodwin and the Bethlehem-St. James family of that time have served the Sea Islands communities well.”
The South Carolina United Methodist Camps and Retreat Ministries Board of Trustees acknowledged that its mission – “seeking, welcoming and gathering persons into the community of the body of Christ through outdoor camping experiences at a place set apart, while nurturing people in Christian living” – is not the same as that of Rural Mission.
Nevertheless, Camps and Retreat Ministries hopes to partner with local non-profit organizations and churches in an effort to find ways to continue to address the changing 21st-century needs of the Sea Islands people.
“I trust, hope and believe that our children in the Sea Islands will benefit greatly from South Carolina United Methodist Camps and Retreat Ministries through archery, kayaking, swimming and so many more wonderful creative arts and activities,” Rev. Gordon said.
The Rural Mission board celebrates the remarkable, people-focused ministry lovingly performed by Rural Mission staff and volunteers over the years, and its members are saddened to have to bring its work to a close. They are comforted in knowing that God-centered ministry will continue on the property, extending the legacy of both Rural Mission and the Bethlehem-St. James community that launched its work.
“There is no doubt that many lives have been transformed for the kingdom over nearly 50 years of Rural Mission’s service to the people of the Sea Islands,” said Arthur Spriggs, executive director of South Carolina United Methodist Camps and Retreat Ministries. “The beautiful setting at Rural Mission is indeed set apart and prime for continuing ministry.
“And while Camps and Retreat Ministries is not chartered or structured to handle the type of ministry that has been performed by Rural Mission, we will do all we can to partner with other local ministries and churches that are better equipped to take up some or all of that important work.”
The Rural Mission board also thanked the South Carolina Conference and the United Methodist Church for its support and prayers, without which the ministry could not have assisted so many of the most vulnerable over the years.