I'm standing here this morning before the historic Church of the Cross. Behind me is one of the most photographed buildings in South Carolina. Iconic in nature and a puzzlement to most. In fact, most of the visitors who come ask the docents if the Church is a museum! They're just not used to seeing an old building that has new life. As you see on the sign in front of me, it was established in 1767, though this building was not built until 1854. Prior to this, there were three different chapels that folks worshipped in before settling on this place here on the bluff overlooking the May River.
As folks see this church, what's important to understand is what's behind the church, and what's always been behind the church. And that's a mission statement that takes it beyond itself, from one generation to the next.
As I speak about what's behind the church, it's played out on this sign. As we look at the back of the sign, we see the guiding mission statement that has been there for the church for almost two centuries now, and which continues to bring life, vigor, and enthusiasm to the congregation that calls this place home.
We see the mission statement: Rooted in the Past; and indeed this church does have a glorious past back to 1767, but it's not about the past; things that are in the past become root-bound - they do become museums. We're about sheltering the present; yesterday's present was today's past. Our present is tomorrow's future. And we're always about sheltering the present (the folks that are here now), but we always, too, have an eye to the future. That's been there since the time this church was been built in 1854, and the only thing that's been the same throughout all of its history is The LORD; the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, and He empowers everything that's done here for the good of the people, but for HIS greater glory. Let's go inside for a moment.
We enter into a little room, scarcely 15 ft wide and not quite 40 ft long, and what's amazing about this entry room (the theological word is it's a narthex) what's amazing about it is that the whole congregation that built this church worshipped in this little room right here. It was just a bare handful of people (less than 15 families). The church had no heating, no air conditioning; it had an old pot-belly stove. And they worshipped here and they sheltered the present. What's important for us to grasp is that they knew there was a future they would not see, and they had a vision for a Bluffton that would be very, very different. Consequently, that double-handful of folks built the worship space that's before us now.
As one walks into this historic space, you're overwhelmed with this sense of history that surrounds you with the heart-pine beams overhead that are all pegged together, and the box pews and heart-pine floors that the saints have been walking on for almost 200 years. What impresses me most each morning when I'm in here saying my prayers is the fact that that little handful of people built something this big. We seat over 350 people in here, and they never, never saw it filled. But they had the sense that the Bluffton that was there in 1854 was not to be the Bluffton that would be there in the future. And so they built a worship space; they had a vision for the future - they were reaching out to that future, for a future they would never see. Amazing.
Today, we're so focused on ourselves, but those folks weren't. They were thinking ahead to the generations to come. They were reaching out to the future. Rooted in the past for sure, taking care of themselves and sheltering the present, but not stuck in the present: always with an eye to the future.
Fast-forward 100 years. The church is still not filled, but Bluffton was beginning to change; beginning to transition. They spoke of the Bluffton State of Mind, and they could see that what was in 1854 and in the early 1900's would be no more. A lament about that, perhaps, but also an excitement about what the LORD was doing obviously in this area.
1998: The congregation still less than half-fills the space, but they grasp the idea of reaching out the future in this new Bluffton that's emerging on the horizon and they buy land (79 acres of land on the Buckwalter Parkway). It was a remote area at that time, but they had a sense of another way to reach that next generation that what was there was passing away in a sense, and that that would involve a school. In 1998, the land is purchased and the school is built in 2005, and with that influx of folks that responded to different ways of worshipping, that influx of un-churched young families who began to hear the Good News of God and Christ. Today there are two worship services on that campus; over 600 folks every Sunday there. A congregation that was a double-handful in the narthex, now almost 1500 in worship every weekend; over 2000 active parishioners. Praise God!
The question before us now is "What is our present, and what is the future before us as Bluffton changes again?" Bluffton now has a population of about 15,000, but this worship space and the both congregations we draw together from a 35 mile radius. That 35 mile radius is going to explode in population in the next 10 years. Bluffton, less than 15,000 now, by 10 years from now it will be 50,000. Bluffton and southern Jasper County are major draw areas. Southern Jasper County, about 20,000, will be 200,000.
What will the future look like? How are we to reach those folks? Now we're in this place of visioning, of reaching out. Jasper County, to move over there and do there what we did on the Buckwalter Parkway; invest in some land and God will determine what's gonna be on that land. To invest in that land now so that we have opportunities in the future to do for folks back then what the folks in 1854 did for us now. We're standing on their shoulders. We're worshipping in buildings that other people built. We're drinking waters from wells that other folks dug. We must do for the future what was done for us in the present by those in the past. All by God's grace, all for our good, and HIS greater glory.