The folks at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church know what it’s like to wander in the wilderness, but that’s about to stop.
Home is in sight!
The group’s roots go back to 2012 when about 22 people met in the home of Richard and Rebecca Lovelace with the goal of starting a new church.
“We met in my den and we formed a church and we elected the first church governing body. It was me and Pete Hearn and Dan Ennis,” she said, explaining that the trio served as a steering board or governing body.
They began renting the Lackey Chapel on the Coastal Carolina University campus, but that was for Sunday mornings only.
Sunday school classes were in CCU classrooms about a block away and they weren’t allowed to store anything that children might need there, not even wet wipes.
When they wanted to have a weekday Sunday school meeting, Bible study or church supper, they had to find willing church members to welcome them into their homes.
“In some ways it was like going back to the first church, and that’s what I thought about a lot because in the early days of the church, they met in people’s homes,” Lovelace said.
She thinks that practice helped church members get to know each other better.
“You know starting a church with nowhere to go was a scary thing, but Lackey Chapel has been wonderful for us,” she said.
Hearn was also complimentary of Lackey Chapel and the university.
”Lackey Chapel was great. The college was good to us. We didn’t have to do the maintenance to it. It was perfect, but we didn’t have a lot of space and as we grew, we outgrew it,” he said.
All that is about to change now that the group has purchased and almost finished its renovations on the former Lighthouse Christian Supply store on North Main Street in Conway.
The group had been looking for a home for six or seven years, according to Lovelace. They put a bid on a former building supply store before deciding that wasn’t the right place. They also looked at a fitness center and, more recently, had hoped to buy the old Santee Cooper building in Downtown Conway, before being outbid by Horry County government.
None of that matters to Lovelace now. In fact, missing out on all those buildings was actually a blessing.
About the old bookstore, she said, “The inside looks like a church. Once the Goodwins (the former owners) moved everything out then there was this huge open space, it’s perfect. We are very, very fortunate.”
Rector Rob Donehue began pastoring at St. Anne’s in 2016. He and his wife first lived in North Myrtle Beach while they looked for just the right place to make their home. They found that place in Conway.
Donehue shares Lovelace’s and Hearn’s excitement over the new church building and the vacant lot beside it that the church also bought.
The church hired architect Steve Ursy in September and then contracted with Sellers Construction to do the renovations. He couldn’t be happier with both hires.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, St. Anne’s has been meeting online, but by mid-January or early February they hope to be in their new building and will worship in person there, although they plan to limit the number of worshippers. To let people see the building and get excited about their new home, they put together a display of about 30 to 35 nativity scenes and invited everyone in on Christmas Eve to see them and to help them remember what having a church home feels like.
Donehue says despite stormy weather, they had about 65 or 70 people come. There was even a musician on hand.
They offered a live Zoom broadcast from the church.
“That was the first official service to have taken place onsite,” Donehue said.
Their new home has room for two classrooms, a nursery, restrooms and kitchen, of sorts, an office for Donehue and some storage.
With its new building, the church will be able to host midweek services, Sunday school and Bible studies, and they’ll be able to start engaging with their community organizations. Donehue mentions Alcoholics Anonymous, and they’ll be able to have people, who just happen to drive by, drop in for worship. Before they did most of their outreach through The Shepherd’s Table and Churches Assisting People.
Although the details haven’t been worked out, Donehue hopes to have a volunteer at the front desk Monday-Friday or at least Monday-Thursday from about 10 a.m.-3 p.m. to greet people and to answer the phone.
“I’m hoping that it will give us a much more public face in the community, so we can do more good work for Conway,” he said.
Hearn says the building needed lots of work, but it was affordable.
“It’s really been transformed. We’ve got an altar and a cross. We’re so excited. Rob is really excited…His enthusiasm is contagious.”
His explanation for why things have worked out so well is simple.
“It’s just God’s work. It’s a community of people coming together and sharing the love. We need that…We have people from all walks of life and we have a lot of diversity in our church, but everybody who comes in there feels loved,” he said.
Donehue says the church has been wandering in the wilderness since 2012 and surviving on Zoom for almost a year.
“Some of the people in the church have not seen other members since March. In fact, I have to laugh about this, but the last full service that we had together as a service was my son’s baptism on March 1,” he said.
Donehue said he developed a comfortable relationship with the Goodwin family through the purchase and mentions that Louise Goodwin, who died before she could see the final result, was excited that a church was buying the old bookstore.
He’s excited about something that she passed on to him.
“If you remember the bookstore, on the far wall was a cross. That cross is going to remain in the church. In fact, it’ll be kind of a central point for the sanctuary,” he said.
The rector said when the members of the Hut Bible class remodeled their building in Downtown Conway they chose not to keep the cross. The Goodwin family was happy to accept it because the original carver knew a member of their family.
They put the cross on an inside wall in the bookstore.
“We saw it, loved it and asked if we could have it, and they said ‘yes’, so that connection with the Goodwin family remains strong…It’s wonderful that in a very wonderful sense the Lighthouse will remain a house of Light,” Donehue said.
Donehue thinks the site already looks good, but he says there are more improvements coming.
“It’s going to look even better when we’re done with it. The parking lot will be repaved. All that landscaping is going to be redone. In due course, those pear trees will go away,” he said.
They don’t have any plans for improvements to the vacant lot right now. Their immediate plans are to use it for overflow parking.
Lovelace says they’re all excited; Donehue and Hearn agree.
“The excitement is palpable, even on Zoom. Meeting in that place for the first time on Christmas Eve gave people the sense of we’re coming home. People are excited to come home, to have a home,” Donehue said.