By Jessica Brodie
SALLEY—For as long as anybody can remember, softball has been more than a diversion in Salley—it’s been a way of life, an integral part of both of the town and its people.
“When I have funerals, whether male or female, that’s what I hear: ‘Man, could they play softball,’” said the Rev. Grayson Blackwell, pastor of Clinton United Methodist Church, Salley. “It’s just a part of who they are.”
But the community’s softball field had fallen into disrepair over the years. Without a place to play, and with more and more of Salley’s people working out of town in Aiken or Augusta, people rarely got to see each other outside of worship.
Thanks to Clinton UMC and its spirit of outreach, that is now changing.
Last year, members of the 157-year-old church raised the funds and cleared the land for a softball field on church property, and the games have returned. Inspired by the enthusiasm and fellowship, they decided to take their recreation outreach a step further and recently poured the foundation for what will soon be a paved lighted walking track. Plans are in the works for a prayer walk program, Weight Watchers and possibly Zumba classes.
Blackwell, pastor since 2012, called Clinton a “sweet-spirited church” filled with genuine, mission-driven members who do what they can to reach out into the community, whatever that means at the time. When the flu hit the community hard, the ladies in the church made 50 gallons of soup and took them to people with a get-well card, Blackwell said. They held a Souper Bowl of Caring recently, collecting a substantial amount of cash and canned goods for Harvest Hope food pantry. They put new roofs on people’s houses and volunteer in local schools. They support Epworth Children’s Home as a sustaining contributor. They’ve paid their apportionments 100 percent for 13 of the last 14 years.
“That is the spirit of who this church is,” Blackwell said. “The two greatest commandments—love God, love neighbor—that’s who they are.”
Doris Gleaton, 89, has been a member since she was a small child and was baptized at Clinton at age 7. Over the last 80-plus years, she’s seen a lot of changes, from the one-room church heated by a potbelly stove to the larger modern facility they occupy now, from Sunday school under the trees in the church cemetery to Sunday school in church classrooms. But one thing that hasn’t changed, she said, is the drive to do for and give to fellow neighbors.
“I’m proud of our church,” Gleaton said. “It is changing for the better, and we are improving. We’re getting new members, and not just members around the immediate community, but members farther out. We have things at the church that draw people together.”
Richie Bailey, Clinton’s lay leader, is also the high school baseball coach and is particularly excited about the church’s recreation outreach. He said it’s working; every year, more people come to the games, including the high school baseball players.
Not only do they and the community get to have fun and fellowship, he said, “It gets them exposed to the word.”
Blackwell said when the softball field opened, it immediately began attracting a crowd. They average about 50 people at the games—not bad for a Population 398 town.
And they’ll keep on doing whatever it takes, whether through a softball field, a walking track or some future crowd-pleaser, to create opportunities for church members and community members to gather and connect.
“The things we see as ministries for them are just living,” Blackwell said. “There’s just a richness of outreach.”