More than 100 people gathered Sept. 28 to commemorate what God has done through Rural Mission Inc. – and what God is doing and promises to do with the Johns Island property that was home to the United Methodist ministry for nearly five decades.
The celebration at Wesley United Methodist Church also honored eight longtime members of the Rural Mission family.
“Remember the faces of the people who are being honored tonight,” said the Rev. Pattie Gordon, chairperson of the Rural Mission board and pastor of Bethlehem-St. James UMC on Johns Island.
“Remember how they have touched your lives, but – most of all – remember what God has done through them.”
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.
Longtime Rural Mission staff honored at the banquet included:
- Nancy Butler, administrative assistant
- Linda Gadson, executive director
- Eartha Goodwin, longtime board member
- Anderson Mack Jr., special assistant to the executive director
- Viola Moore, purchasing agent
- Josie Nelson, day porter
- Richard Porter Jr., facilities coordinator
- Christine Williams, director of finance
Donate: Rural Mission Love Offering
Bishop L. Jonathan Holston summed up how many in the South Carolina Conference will remember both Rural Mission and those who worked tirelessly for decades to make sure Sea Islands have a safe and secure place to call home.
“The people who have shared in leadership at Rural Mission have made the people of these islands feel that they matter, that they are important to God, and that what they needed could be helped by those who would come to be a part of this ministry,” Bishop Holston said. “Tonight, in a small way, we say thank you for the expressions of love that you shared through your actions.
“Thank you for how you have given yourselves in such a significant way.”
The Rev. Telley Lynnette Gadson literally grew up at Rural Mission, helping her mother and others throughout her youth and beyond. She delivered a rousing sermon praising God for keeping Rural Mission vital for five decades and commending the work of the honorees.
“Rural Mission Inc. was birthed in the dust, reared in the soil, stood fast in the storm, matriculated in the wind, matured in the waves, grew up in trials, and was tried by tribulations,” said Rev. Gadson, pastor of St. Mark UMC in Taylors. “But Rural Mission made a difference.
“These honorees have championed the work of human services with character, dignity, integrity, faith, hope, and – most of all – love, for 50 years. We thank God for them.”
Rev. Gadson made sure that the Rural Mission pioneers who were not present also would be remembered. The Rev. Dr. Willis T. Goodwin, Eartha Goodwin’s late spouse, and “a circle of sacrificing servants” led the effort to establish Rural Mission when he was Bethlehem-St. James’ pastor in 1969.
“With the truth of the Word as a reminder that the poor will always be with us,” she said, “they took seats at the table of love to have conversations about a faith that needed work and a work that needed faith, a people who were in need and a need that required a people.
“A mandate to serve. A clarion call from Matthew’s gospel to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give sight to the blind, heal the sick, hug the lonely, liberate the imprisoned and center the marginalized.”
Arthur Spriggs, executive director of Camps and Retreat Ministries, shared his reverence for the good work of Rural Mission and expressed gratitude “for allowing us to have the opportunity to seek God’s next step in God’s plan for this property that has meant so much to the Sea Islands people.
“Imagine how Jesus has shown up over the nearly 50 years of what this staff and volunteers have been able to do at Rural Mission, and allow yourself to be used in a mighty way by God.”
The Rev. Lillian Hymes Washington was born and raised on Johns Island. She grew up as Rural Mission was coming into being and worked in the ministry’s summer reading program. She credited Rev. Goodwin and Linda Gadson for “molding me into the minister that I have been over the past 40 years.”
“I recognized and answered my call to ministry while working at Rural Mission,” said Rev. Washington, who served several churches across the state and as the Hartsville District superintendent before retiring in 2015. “I saw ministry in a way that I had never seen ministry done before.
“At Rural Mission, I saw what real ministry was all about.”
The honorees expressed their gratitude for all of the support – through donations of money and volunteer time and prayers – they have witnessed over their time with Rural Mission.
“Our gift has been knowing the people we served and the people who served us,” Anderson Mack said.
“God is so, so good,” Linda Gadson said. “I thank God for all of you. I’m grateful that the property will always be there in God’s service for years.”