Prospering during the pandemic, a new church development provides fertile soil for gospel growth
April 10, 2023
“Did you agree to be dirt?” the Rev. CeCe Armstrong asked commissioners of Charleston Atlantic Presbytery and members of a newly chartered church in Charleston, South Carolina. The members of Parkside Church in Charleston, in accordance with G-1.0201 in the Book of Order, signed a charter that read in response to the grace of God, “We promise and covenant to live together in unity and to work together in ministry as disciples of Jesus Christ, bound to him and to one another as a part of the body of Christ in this place according to the principles of faith, mission, and order of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).” As a result, the presbytery convened at St. Barnabas Lutheran Church, which is Parkside Church’s place of worship, for a chartering service on Jan. 29 to commission the church, ordain and install elders and fully install their organizing pastor, the Rev. Colin Kerr.
“Did you really feel called to all of this? Because the truth is, you’ve been called to be dirt,” Armstrong preached at the service. “Whenever you become a part of a congregation, you agree to be dirt.” Armstrong then drew on a connection with the parable of the sower and the idea that the seed of the gospel can flourish in the right kind of soil. Armstrong proclaimed that “Parkside is the right kind of dirt for this neighborhood.”
Those who have supported Parkside since its beginning and watched its growth in a short time certainly agree that Parkside’s vision, location and partnerships provide fertile ground for its ministry. The dream of Parkside began in 2016, according to Kerr and new elder Samantha Holvey, who was part of the original wine and cheese Bible study that began to pray about the idea that Kerr described as “a new Presbyterian church focused on reaching younger people and non-Presbyterians.” At the time, Kerr was working with 1001 New Worshiping Communities in the Presbyterian Mission Agency on a collegiate ministry called The Journey, which met in a bar near the campus of the College of Charleston. “Parkside started being dreamed up in 2016, initially as a joke,” Kerr said, but it became a serious idea when he and others started an advisory team. Despite launching during a pandemic, the church reached the 100-member quota required by the Charleston Atlantic Presbytery for official charter in late 2022.
Holvey said she knew when she joined the Bible study that she had “found my people.” When Kerr asked Holvey to join the advisory team to launch the church in 2019, she was all in: “I was always taught that Jesus loves everyone, and I finally feel like I’m in a community that lives that out.” The move from a new worshiping community to a fully chartered congregation means Holvey was also ordained a ruling elder during the chartering service. “It’s pretty magical that this thing that we’ve been working on for so many years is now official. Personally, it was also deeply meaningful to be ordained as an elder.”
Stories like Holvey’s are one of the many things that Kerr says make Parkside special. “In late 2022, we applied to charter and began elder training. None of our eight new elders have even been elders, and none come from the PC(USA).” Kerr also praises the “unique style of worship that is unmatched in the city” thanks to the leadership of Erin Norton, who according to Kerr is “a former evangelical who brings her progressive feminist convictions to bear” as a leader in their church, a current seminarian, a Presbyterian campus minister and an abuse-awareness advocate.
“Colin asked me to be a part of Parkside in the early planning stages in 2019,” said Norton, “but I was hesitant about getting involved in a church plant because of the amount of work involved.” Kerr promised “that it would be ‘just one Sunday,’” remembered Norton. “Well, the next week rolled around, and he needed help with worship for ‘just one more Sunday.’ Now, three years later, I am leading the congregation as the director of worship every Sunday.”
Beth Waltemath, Communications Associate, Presbyterian News Service
Today’s Focus: 1001 New Worshiping Community
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Ruth Adams, Director, Assistance Program, Church Engagement, Board of Pensions
Simone Adams, Coordinator, Budget & Mission Effectiveness, Theology, Formation & Evangelism, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Let us pray
Come, Holy Spirit, and fill us with love for neighbor and stranger. Show us your love for the people around us and send us to befriend them and serve them and welcome them in your grace and in your power. Amen.