The Summerville Church of Christ is a light not only in the community, but also in the far reaches of the world. On Friday, March 25, 1967, a small group of Christians from the area met at the home of Roy and Ada Hartmann to formulate plans for the establishment of the Summerville congregation. The group, E. T. Brown, Jule Dismuke, Wayne and Irma Altman, Alma Jean Warren, Roy and Ada Hartmann and Archie Moore, decided that the first service would be on July 7, 1968. They agreed that Wayne Altman would move to Summerville to be the congregation’s minister.
As a result of the enthusiasm that was generated, the congregation met for the first time, four months early, on March 3, 1968. They met in a small rented facility on Crestview Drive. Fifty-eight people were in attendance and the contribution was $234.03. Brother Don Stidham preached the first sermon. Of the families attending that first service, four still worship with the congregation – Roy and Ada Hartmann, Jo and Jerry Gowdy, Dale and Jackie Cook, and Ken and Ann Leach.
Wayne and Irma Altman and their sons, Ronald and Mark, moved to Summerville on July 1, 1968, to begin their ministry with the new congregation. In the beginning, Wayne primarily supported his family by teaching in the local school district. During the early years, nine different congregations from as far away as Texas provided financial support. The congregation became fully self-supporting in 1979.
During the summer of 1968, plans were formulated for a permanent meeting place. The present site of 3.6 acres was purchased at a cost of $10,500. A bond program of $65,000 was initiated effective December 1, 1968 to finance construction of the original facility. The new building, designed to seat 250, was occupied in June 1969 and dedicated on August 24, 1969. The original bond program was retired on schedule in December 1980. Following the construction period it was estimated that the members of the congregation had contributed about 2,000 man-hours to the construction effort. This spirit of “giving of self” and involvement has been characteristic of the congregation over the years.
The Lord has blessed the congregation in so many ways and for that we give him all Praise, Honor and Glory. Over the years, the congregation has experienced consistent, long-term growth. In 1974, the church initiated a bus ministry utilizing “retired” school buses to facilitate outreach to the community. This ministry operated for several years.
With growth came the need for additional space. In 1975, a neighboring residence was purchased to provide an annex for additional classrooms. In 1980, a large room was added to the annex to accommodate youth activities. The following year a $200,000 bond program was undertaken to payoff the annex addition mortgage, provide additional paved parking and add a large multi-purpose room to the original facility. In 1983, an extension was added to the original classroom wing.
In 1982, the church began holding two Sunday morning services. The original auditorium was too small to accommodate the entire congregation. Although two services solved the space problem, there was a strong desire to have all members in one assembly. Plans were developed in 1987 for the present 600-seat auditorium and office wing. A groundbreaking ceremony was held on March 27, 1988 and the dedication service was held on November 20, 1988. The new construction cost approximately $450,000 of which church members contributed $126,000.
None of this could have happened without God’s help, direction and blessing and without dedicated and effective congregational leadership. A major milestone in the growth of the church was the appointment of elders on January 6, 1980. On that day Wayne Altman, Bill Harris and Eddie Gothard were recognized as elders. On April 6, 1980, Wayne Burbage, Dale Cook, Lloyd Gragg, Bob Hammock, Roy Hartmann, John Kennedy, Ken Leach, Chuck Reese, Danny Rozier and Dave Russell were appointed to serve as deacons. Today the congregation is shepherded by eleven God-fearing elders and served by twenty-three dedicated deacons.
Less than one year after the new auditorium was dedicated, Hurricane Hugo devastated the low country. The congregation quickly mobilized and became an overnight emergency relief center assisting Hugo victims throughout the local area. The church became a truck reception station, warehouse, supply distribution center and a coordinating headquarters for many volunteer work crews arriving on the scene from sister congregations around the country. The church received nearly 100 truckloads of food, supplies and equipment and $613,000 in donations to assist Hugo’s victims. The church handled everything from flashlight batteries, to food and clothing, to building supplies and equipment and mobile homes. These efforts brought honor and glory to God’s name as the surrounding community recognized the church as a caring group. Lessons learned from the Hugo experience made it possible for the congregation to assist sister churches in south Florida and along the Gulf coast following hurricanes Andrew (1992) and Katrina (2005).
The Summerville church is known as a warm and friendly group of Christians who love God and each other. The various ministries are designed to strengthen relationships, foster and promote love and unity, assist those who have needs and to reach out to those around us to share the joy we have in the Lord. The church is active in mission work. It has supported mission efforts in New Zealand, British Columbia, Honduras, Malawi, Mexico, Haiti, and most recently in Nicaragua. In 2005, the church “planted” a new congregation in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina. The church is an active participant in the World Bible School Program. Through this effort the “Good News” has been brought to the lives of hundreds of God’s children thousands of miles from Summerville.
The church has been blessed with stability and continuity in the pulpit. Following twenty-seven years of faithful, dedicated service, Wayne Altman retired as the pulpit minister in 1995. Wayne still preaches on occasion and continues to worship with the congregation. Following a prayerful and deliberate search, David Clayton, his wife Sharon and children, David Jr., Sarah and Chase, began their ministry with the church on March 1, 1996. David continues to day as the senior minister.
As the congregation grew, the need for additional staff and facilities became apparent. Terrell Webster was employed as the first associate minister in 1980. The congregation began the development of a strong youth program. In the early days, volunteers headed the program. In 1985, Wayne Ford was employed as the first youth minister. In 1989, Greg and Amy Smith began full-time work with the youth program. During Greg’s tenure, he led a group of the youth on a mission trip to Haiti. Greg and Amy left the area in 1991, and the program reverted to volunteer leadership under the elder’s direction. On June 1, 1998, Mike and Andrea Eppes began their work with the youth. When Mike and Andrea chose to leave for another opportunity, Greg and Kim Kirby succeeded them in the summer of 2003. The youth program is a strong, viable program designed to assist our youth in maturing spiritually in the 21st century. The program has lead to the conversion of a number of young people from the surrounding community. Throughout the years the youth program has had tremendous support from parents and many members. David and Caryn Henniger moved to Summerville in the summer of 2004. David joined the staff to initiate an Involvement and Counseling ministry. He also serves the congregation as associate minister.
A history of the church would not be complete without mention of the dedicated, hard working church secretaries. These ladies accomplish a multitude of administrative tasks behind the scenes to keep the church office running smoothly. Irma Altman was the church’s first secretary, and she served until Wayne decided to retire in 1995. Katy Penick succeeded Irma. Katy continues to perform this important function in an outstanding manner. From time to time as a need arose Jo Vance, Norma Harris, Dixie Yates, Karen Smith, Shelia Bowman and Juanita Gothard assisted and filled in for temporary periods.
In 1999, the first phase of the Family Life Center was completed and ready for use. This facility provided a gymnasium for basketball and related activities, but more importantly, provided ample space for fellowship dinners, ministry fairs and other special events. In 2004, the Family Life Center Phase Two was initiated at a cost of approximately $80,000 donated by the membership. Phase Two provided a commercial grade kitchen, additional classroom space and air conditioning.
A transportation study performed early in 2006 indicated the need for a 25-30 passenger bus to alleviate several concerns including safety. Following a period of further research a committee was appointed to study cost and bus availability, and to make specific recommendations to the elders. Based on the Committee’s recommendations, the elders approved the purchase of a 32 passenger diesel-powered bus. The new bus was delivered in December and is a huge boost to the various ministries. Church members pledged and donated $43,120 towards the approximate cost of $82,000.
A significant event in the spiritual a growth of the congregation occurred on January 1, 2000, when the Purpose Driven Ministry was initiated. The mission statement of the ministry is “WE BELIEVE A GREAT COMMITMENT TO THE GREAT COMMANDMENT AND THE GREAT COMMISSION WILL GROW A GREAT CHURCH”. The purpose of the ministry is to bring people to Jesus, train them for spiritual growth, equip each one for ministry, and send them out to bring others to Jesus. The ministry is executed in a series of on-going seminars: Membership 101, Maturity 201, Ministry 301 and Mission 401. The icon of the ministry is a baseball diamond. First base is leading people to Christ and membership, second base is helping people to grow in spiritual maturity, third base is equipping people in ministry and Home Base is enlisting people in God’s mission of sharing Christ.
The Lord has blessed the congregation with numerical growth. Typical Sunday morning attendance averages 450. During the summer of 2006, the congregation again went to two Sunday morning services. Love and unity are strong in Summerville. The question, “What is your favorite thing about the Summerville Family?” elicits responses such as “they’re very accepting here”, “we love each other”, “God’s love and his presence here”, “the love”.
In 2007, the elders developed plans for a new Senior Care Ministry. This ministry was designed to assist our senior members with such tasks as lawn maintenance, minor home repairs/maintenance, transportation to/from church services and functions, doctor appointments and other needs that might arise. The ministry was formally introduced in 2008 and has been very successful in providing assistance to our senior members.
2008 has been an exciting and uplifting year. The church has been blessed to experience two Praise and Harmony Seminars conducted by Keith Lancaster and designed to strengthen and enhance our congregational singing. We were strengthened and encouraged with a Marriage Matters Seminar presented by Jerry and Lynn Jones. This seminar also served as a great community outreach effort. On July 5-6, the church observed its fortieth anniversary. The church was blessed with the attendance of thirty-five families of former members from as far away as New Mexico. Praise God for His faithfulness!
As we reflect on the first forty years, what will the next forty bring? Only the Lord knows, but our best answer lies in scripture: Matthew 6:33, “But seek FIRST his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 22:37-39, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians 6:9-10, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”