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Just over a year ago Christine and I found ourselves in Florence, South Carolina.  Nice place just off I-95, we found a fixer-upper on the little lake in town.  Pro tip: don’t buy a fixer-upper in your 60s.  You know you can do the work, but you don’t want to … except finding contractors in a small southern town you trust will bring you back to the pro tip of avoiding the original purchase.  But I digress.

 When people ask where Florence is, I mention South of the Border as you head to Florida.  We’re about 45 minutes south of there.  Or we’re 25 minutes south of the new Buc-ee’s travel center. Wasn’t looking to retire and move to SC, but then our daughter-in-law announced that our first grandchild was on the way.  Christine made clear: “I’ve followed you all over the country for your callings.  I have a calling to be a grandmother and that calling is in South Carolina.”  No way I was going to win that one, so I uttered the only Norwegian I’ve learned from her family, “Yes dear.”

Never moved before without a clear sense of call and certainly not to a place where the person cutting your hair asks if you’ve found a church, three different neighbors stop in and ask, the guy installing your new gutters inquires, the electrician who fixed something, the two fellows who encapsulated the crawlspace and the one other contractor we hired, the fellow who redid two of our bathrooms. 

In a place where everyone seems to be churched and asks where you attend what do I as a Lutheran have to offer?  As David Keener of the NALC likes to say, “We Lutherans are less dense here in the South” and the nearest NALC congregation is 50 minutes away.

Then I attended my second lunch time gathering of pastors who are part of Helping Florence Flourish (HFF). One of its priorities is supporting marriage and families.  OK, you have my attention. The pastor sitting across the table with his wife shared with me, “I fear my granddaughter will never meet a decent, Christian young man to marry.  We’ve lost all our young men and now many of them are just lost.”

At the prior gathering of this group the Director of HFF had pitched a vision for a marriage and family blessing gathering at a local park.  He didn’t have many details in place but lifted up the idea.  It was well and thoroughly embraced which had led to my lunch table conversation with a troubled pastor.

Perhaps someday I’ll share what I’ve found when poking around Luther and his passion for marriage, family, and especially the role of the household in faith formation. But that’s a story for another newsletter.

About a decade ago the last congregation I served embraced something called Faith 5, a process put forth by Lutheran Pastor Rich Melheim that led to a book entitled, “Let’s Kill Sunday School before it kills the church.”  Snappy, eh?  It is a simple, five step, 15-minute way of entering conversation as a household; sharing the pains and joys of the day, reading scripture, seeking ways the Word may speak to the highs and lows, praying for one another and ending with a blessing.  I mentioned this approach to the Director.  He’d never heard of it.  He ran it by one of his staff people.  I showed him an example of the bookmarks that go with the process.  He ordered a stack of them and told me “You’re up to present this to our gathering.”  OK then.

March 3rd we met in the park.  Because I’m one of those Lutherans I brought along balm from Israel as I planned to anoint as well as pray and bless.  An elderly woman wept.  A young clergy couple spoke with me at length.  Another wants to talk to me about launching a ministry in the drug and prostitution corridor of Florence. I have an invitation to speak in a congregation. We Lutherans have a lot to offer even if we aren’t very dense.

Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • John Ruff says:

    When you state that Lutherans are not very dense, i guess I do not understand. SC is its own Lutheran synod, it has Newberry College and Southern Seminary in Columba which is not that far from Florence. I grew up in Greenville, and have been Lutheran for all of my 75 years. The lower part of the state is almost all Lutheran with Lutheran Churches everywhere. My parents grew up in Pomaria, my uncle was a Lutheran pastor. Maybe go visit around Columbia, visit the Seminary and Newberry College – you will find tons of Lutherans.

  • Pr. Tony Mete says:

    I have lived in South Carolina my entire life, except for one year as an intern pastor in Tampa, Florida. I am an ELCA pastor serving at St. Paul’s Lutheran in Columbia, SC. We effectively are not theologically ELCA. You are welcome to make a trip here and visit us anytime. Also, Southern Seminary will be moving to Hickory effective January of 2025, guess the RIC statement worked out so well (add appropriate sarcasm here.)

    • Brian Hughes says:

      Thanks for the invitation. As mentioned, the nearest NALC (very small) congregation is 50 minutes away with no LCMC presence in this NE corner of SC. Christine has joined the ACNA congregation here in town and I’ve not done so as to maintain my NALC roster status. My last congregation up in MD was also not theologically ELCA (though still in) and the fellow they called to replace me took them out into the LCMC. Like I mentioned, first time since my early 20s that I’ve moved somewhere without a clear sense of calling other than to support the calling of my wife. Every time we moved she had to take another bar exam. I guess trying to figure out what God is saying to me and what I’m going to do about it isn’t as much of a challenge. 🙂

  • D J L says:

    Have you considered police chaplain role with either county sheriff office or city police?
    It’s a real need, and is a way to stay rostered (at least it was).
    Frequently, deputies and officers, have no one to ‘confess’ or share their burdens in confidence, and if they visit a shirink to talk and work through things, there is a stigma.
    It’s amazing what an officer will share and unburden on a ride along, especially when they may need to decompress after a domestic violence call, Criminal activity by a minor, or just having to deal with the worst in society.