Thursday, October 24, 2013
A common question, in many years past, used to be “Where do you go to church?”
But ask the Rev. Hamilton Smith what he thinks about that question and he’ll tell you it is more common today to say, “Do you even go to church?”
He explained that one in two people he meets does not go to church anywhere.
His mission is to bring the fullness of God’s love to one individual at a time through his new grassroots church St. Thomas’ Church as ambassadors for Christ.
Smith said St. Thomas’ Church exists to serve the Highway 41 Corridor and the whole of Mount Pleasant.
He explained that this northern area of town is polarized in both socio and racial makeup.
The idea is simple, ambassadors of Jesus ask, “What can we do to serve you?”
Smith said, “As His Ambassadors, we are called to; bring spiritual transformation to this community by announcing that, through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, the riches of God’s love are available to everyone who trusts in this promise. All that St. Thomas’ does stems from this “good news;” to bring social transformation to this community by bringing the riches of God’s love to bear where there is suffering; and to bring cultural transformation to this community by providing God’s wisdom and creative beauty to everyone living here.”
Smith talks of the stresses most everyone faces from work, to raising children to finances. “We are all guilty of chasing the Lowcountry dream and when that is not attainable or we over-extend ourselves financially problems with alcohol and drugs could possibly surface,” he said.
“We as humans all want to be happy and at peace but looking for that through work or a certain lifestyle will not show results like it would if you were looking for it through Jesus’ love.”
The Rev. Hamilton Smith
Smith was the fourth generation in his family to practice law in South Carolina. Along with that came status, social standing and a proud lineage - along with the money, of course.
After finishing at the College of Charleston in 1998, Hamilton attended law school at the University of South Carolina. After completing law school in 2001, Hamilton and his wife, Lizzie, were married, they moved to Mount Pleasant and he began to practice law in Charleston at the firm of Young, Clement & Rivers. It was during this time that Hamilton felt called to become an ordained minister.
In 2003, Hamilton, Lizzie, and their first child (Charlotte) moved to England for three years where Hamilton studied Theology at Oxford University. From 2006-09, Hamilton served as the assistant minister at the Church of the Holy Comforter in Sumter. In 2009, Hamilton joined the staff of St. Michael’s Church in Charleston where he served until April 2013. He was sent out from St. Michael’s to start St. Thomas’ where he now serves as the lead minister.
Smith was the number two guy at St. Michael’s Church. It is a large church, and Smith found himself spending so much time in his office leading the staff. “Although St. Michael’s is a great church, and I loved its members, there was no time for my friends, neighbors, etc. I realized I couldn’t build relationships like that.”
And with a hyper-relational personality, Smith felt it was time to find a smaller environment where he could minister to those in pain “and share the message that God loves them and forgives them.”
With this purpose in mind, the name “St. Thomas’” was chosen. The majority of those living here are educated, rational, “I need to see for myself” people like the Apostle Thomas, Smith said. Upon meeting, beholding, touching the Risen Christ, he made one of the strongest professions of all when he declared, “My Lord and my God.” Our hope and trust is that Jesus will reveal himself to many, bid them peace and compel them - like Thomas (John 20) to believe through the faith He gives them, he said.
“The majority of those who live here do not know how much God loves them and the power this love can have in their lives. This is true for church goers and non-church goers. Of the 25,110 people that currently live in this northern community, faith issues are of little relevance to 13,811 people in this area (which is 55 percent of the population).”
Smith said that likewise, the percentage of those households decreasing their involvement in faith is likely to grow.
Over the past 10 years, one-fourth of the households in the community have decreased their faith involvement. This equates to approximately 628 people a year. This trend is likely to continue over the next 10 years because:
• 88 percent of households believes a God exists but don’t have great knowledge of Him.
• Most importantly, 83 percent of households believe that the church primarily exists to help form and support moral values. This indicates that, even among those who are active in their faith, there continues to be a need to hear about the forgiving love of Christ. “Given this information, this community is in need of another gospel-centered church with a strong desire to proclaim the good news of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ,” he said.
Often people assume new churches start with a building and a focus on Sunday worship.
A leadership team was incorporated and leaders have undergone ongoing training. An intentional focus on relationships has been established. “People are not a means to an end,” Smith said. “People are ends themselves.”
Smith and his team have met with school officials, personnel at Somerby (a retirement community in the area) and homeowner’s association presidents.
They are asking two simple questions, “How can we serve you, and what do you need?”
One example the leaders of St. Thomas are serving in Somerby’s “Best Friends” program in which they spend time each week visiting residents. They will also hold their Christmas Eve and Christmas day services there.
An event called Harris Teeter 41 and Friends and Neighbors was held Saturday in the “Pasture” of Dunes West on Highway 41. It was a great chance to love and serve our community, he said.
“While programs and activities have their place, we believe that people best come to know God and experience his love in relationships: one-on-one relationships, in small groups of eight-12 people, and in larger community on Sundays. In these relationships, honesty, transparency and deep questioning about Christianity are encouraged,” he said.
“Given the reality that one in two people we encounter in our daily lives isn’t actively involved in faith, we are called to bring God’s love to those we are already in relationship with: those with whom we live, work, play and learn. Finally, we recognize that if we are in a city, we are already in relationship with the people who live there (Christians or not). So, and it is our joy to help all people who live there experience God’s love by addressing their felt needs.”
Smith said that feeling the fullness of God’s love in a smaller church - such as 10 churches rather than one church with 1,000 members is more beneficial.
“We all want to belong and the idea is to foster community as opposed to individuality,” he said.
“There is no where to hide in a smaller community and that kind of intimacy people long for and are terrified of at the same time.”
In a word, he said, St. Thomas’ will reach this area with Christ’s love by making “Ambassador’s for Christ.”
In addition to establishing St. Thomas’, St. Thomas’ also hope to plant another church in this community by 2020.