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Aiken church feeling love of district, community after robbery and racial threats

Aiken church feeling love of district, community after robbery and racial threats
Orangeburg District clergy gather at Wesley UMC, Aiken, to show support and Christian love for the Rev. Pattie E. Gordon and her church.

By Jessica Brodie

AIKEN—This Christmas, one United Methodist church is grateful for the gift of love and support shown to them after a robbery and series of racial threats sent them to their knees.

In June, thieves stole the central air conditioning units from Wesley UMC, a small church in Aiken.

“They literally picked them up and took them,” said Wesley’s pastor, the Rev. Pattie E. Gordon.

The theft came right before the church’s vacation Bible school, and the heat of the summer meant Gordon had to cancel VBS, a decision that devastated the church. With just 53 members, the church didn’t have the immediate resources to pay for replacement units, and they were forced to hit pause and wait while insurance and police did their part.

Gordon posted a sign out front—“VBS cancelled due to theft”—and a picture wound up on Facebook and drew the attention of news crews, who began to share the church’s story.

But the difficulties continued. Days later, law enforcement was able to recover the stolen units, but they were so damaged they were virtually unusable. But because they were recovered, the insurance company only gave Wesley a $5,600 settlement, and new units were estimated to cost $21,000—nearly four times that. Gordon didn’t know where they would get the funds to replace them.

Then, as they were struggling with the financial blow, Gordon said the church received an even sharper blow in the form of racially charged threats and insults.

“We got blocked phone calls saying ‘white people should be the only ones allowed to go to college’ and ‘white people’s kids should be the only ones who go to school’ and ‘cops and veterans are trash,’ and at that point, Satan was trying to get me to be downtrodden and focus on the bad,” Gordon said.

But love soon overcame evil, and the congregation began to experience the kind of Christian friendship and community support that turned a mess into a masterpiece. Several Aiken-area churches stepped up with major financial gifts, particularly Trinity UMC, Aiken (led by their United Methodist Men’s unit), as well as Friendship Baptist Church, All Saints Anglican Church, North Aiken Church of God. Individual donations began pouring in at random—$100 here, $50 there, along with little cards and messages expressing care and regret. Holley Heating and Air Conditioning supplied them with new units and let them make payments on them; Gordon said that thanks to church and community support, they now owe only $5,400 on the units, and they were even able to hold a rescheduled VBS. Things might have been on pause, but they were not stopped.

That many of the gifts and letters came in during the height of the summer’s racial protests, when Gordon said people were already struggling with how to relate across racial lines, was not lost on her.

“Everything the devil tries to make bad, God turns around for good,” Gordon said. “You can never stop or give up on people, I don’t care what’s going on in the world, and God uses that which you have no thought about.

“It was just an outpouring of love, I tell you.”

Orangeburg District clergy also stepped up to show their support. Normally, the clergy hold their monthly meetings at St. Mark UMC, North, but when they learned what happened to Gordon’s church, they not only decided to meet at Wesley in solidarity, but they also took up an impromptu collection and donated personal funds to their sister church in need.

The Rev. Jim Arant, congregational specialist for the Orangeburg District, said the support shown to Wesley by the district and community is a strong example of what Jesus said in Scripture about loving one’s neighbor.

“It’s the way it’s supposed to be—when our fellow churches are going through crisis, we need to rally around them,” Arant said. “When we heard about the theft, we thought one thing, but when we heard about the threats, that kind of gave us resolve to really do something. We didn’t get the air conditioners back or pay enough money to pay off their bill, but we did show them some support, and that was what we had hoped for.”

Gordon said Wesley could not have afforded to replace the units on their own, and they are grateful for and humbled by the love shown them by their community and district.

“We thank God for everything in this journey that has strengthened us,” Gordon said, calling the experience an unexpected blessing.

“We are not letting it hold us down.”

To reach out to Wesley UMC, write P.O. Box 2568, Aiken, SC 29801.

The theft came right before the church’s vacation Bible school, and the “Everything the devil tries to make bad, God turns around for good,” Gordon said. “You can never stop or give up on people, I don’t care what’s going on in the world, and God uses that which you have no thought about.

“It was just an outpouring of love, I tell you.”

Orangeburg District clergy also stepped up to show their support. Normally, the clergy hold their monthly meetings at St. Mark UMC, North, but when they learned what happened to Gordon’s church, they not only decided to meet at Wesley in solidarity, but they also took up an impromptu collection and donated personal funds to their sister church in need.

The Rev. Jim Arant, congregational specialist for the Orangeburg District, said the support shown to Wesley by the district and community is a strong example of what Jesus said in Scripture about loving one’s neighbor.

“It’s the way it’s supposed to be—when our fellow churches are going through crisis, we need to rally around them,” Arant said. “When we heard about the theft, we thought one thing, but when we heard about the threats, that kind of gave us resolve to really do something. We didn’t get the air conditioners back or pay enough money to pay off their bill, but we did show them some support, and that was what we had hoped for.”

Gordon said Wesley could not have afforded to replace the units on their own, and they are grateful for and humbled by the love shown them by their community and district.

“We thank God for everything in this journey that has strengthened us,” Gordon said, calling the experience an unexpected blessing.

“We are not letting it hold us down.”

To reach out to Wesley UMC, write P.O. Box 2568, Aiken, SC 29801.

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