By Laura Camby McCaskill
KERSHAW— A closed United Methodist church is now thriving in its new life: as an outreach enrichment camp for local children.
After dwindling to about a dozen members, First UMC, Kershaw, closed its doors in April 2014. But a decade before it closed, the church had begun a ministry there to serve about 40 area children, Mount Calvary Outreach Enrichment Camp.
The Rev. Hope Avins, former pastor there, remembers the difficult closing process. “It was a very emotional time for the 12-14 remaining active members, knowing their beloved church was dying a slow and painful death. The only thing that gave them hope in the end was knowing their God-sized dream—of Mount Calvary Outreach being able to receive the church building and the land it sits on from the South Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church—was being honored,” Avins said.
“Where there is a death, a resurrection awaits.”
Mount Calvary Outreach started in 1994 by the Rev. Eugene Lewis, who drove from Charlotte to start the ministry, which began with 40 children. When Lewis died in 2002, the Rev. Reo King took the reins of the camp, reading Bible stories and involving the children in object talks, educational games, plays and singing. King is a pastor in the African Methodist Episcopal Church who lives in Camden.
When the church closed its doors, the camp was given permission by Rock Hill District Superintendent the Rev. Joe Long to continue using the building. Conference Trustees gave them the property at the close of 2018.
Team Church also shares space at the church.
“I have a deep appreciation and gratitude in my heart for the leadership of Rev. Reo King, not only for her ministering to the kids in the Kershaw Community, but also for taking my son, Michael, under her wing. His life has been impacted by the ministry of Mount Calvary,” Avins said. “It gives me goose bumps to think of how many young lives have been transformed over the years due to this ministry.”
Under King’s guidance, the ministry grew, expanding to 120 children in 2018. The four-week summer program runs from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Transportation is provided, and the children are bused to the school for a free meal each day. Divided into five groups, the children are involved in activities such as swimming, bowling, baseball and one large field trip. Past field trips have been to places such as the University of South Carolina-Lancaster, golf clinics, the aquarium and more.
“It has been highly successful.” Mount Calvary board member Beverly Timmons said. “We have seen it make a difference in the lives of the children. I think it’s a wonderful work of God. The children are learning the Scriptures and the significance of the Bible, they’re learning how to worship God, they’re learning manners and respect for elders, and growing academically.”
The children range from 3-15 years of age. The camp cared for 25 3-year-olds last summer.
“We thought that if we bring them in at three, they’d have some experiences before they attend public school,” King said. “It’s working out just fine.”
When children reach the age of 15, they’re given the option of working at the camp, giving them experience as helpers.
At the end of the camp, children are involved in a combination program, where they show what they’ve learned during their time there, whether it be through a praise dance, educational piece, reading or play.
“I think it’s a ministry that stands in the gap for our children, teaching them the word of God,” King said. “And I believe it does develop a vision for the future for them.”
Mount Calvary has expanded even more by opening its doors every day to the community for different events. On the third Sunday, Girls On The Run For Jesus meet. Some Saturdays host mother-daughter luncheons, and on Wednesday night, senior citizens gather for Bible study, lunch and bingo. Mount Calvary even has its own baseball group, Lamp, which ministers to roughly 25-30 young men.
“I wholeheartedly believe this ministry shows the Kershaw community they need to continue to invest more of their time and resources in our young people, for the young people are our future,” Avins said. “And when I think of that, I think of how the Kershaw area churches, regardless of their religious affiliation or differences, come together to support the children of their community. I feel that more churches and communities need to take notice of Mount Calvary Outreach and the Kershaw area churches, and learn from them.
“We need to work and be in ministry together.”
These thoughts were echoed by everyone involved.
“We appreciate the contribution the UMC made for the facility,” Timmons said. “There are many churches of different denominations in the community that support us. It’s a multifaceted support system.”.
The cost for the four-week camp is $55, which helps with supplies, snacks and field trips. For those families who cannot cover the cost, churches in the area will sponsor a child.
“This program has been supported by prayer. We believe that God is a part of this and that He is helping us,” Timmons said. “I think it’s a hopeful message.”
Mount Calvary hopes to expand the summer camp into July and is currently looking into an after-school tutoring program.
“I think it’s the best thing that ever happened in Kershaw,” King said. “They (the children) fellowship with one another. All through the year they ask, ‘When does camp start up again?’”