A quick "did you know" fact as we gather for our weekly cup of coffee. In 1902, a business on King Street called Star Vaudeville Theatre was closed. The city fathers decided this particular business was bringing in too many lascivious characters. A successful furniture salesman by the name of Obadiah Dugan purchased the property for $1. He wanted to place something else there, a rescue mission to help the needy. He named it the Star Gospel Mission.
In 1920, the mission was moved to Meeting Street where it still operates today as Charleston’s oldest nonprofit Christian welfare organization. Star Gospel Mission does not bill itself as a shelter. It’s transitional housing. When operating at full capacity, and it is full all the time, it houses 23 men. Another four men live in a renovated house behind the mission.
Bill Chastain is only the fifth executive director in Star Gospel Mission’s history. He is an ordained minister but confesses that he teaches more than he preaches. Chastain once believed the mission was there to give those in need a second chance. “I don’t say that anymore. We’re here to give people another chance.”
Men arrive at Star Gospel Mission sometimes right out of prison or soon after leaving alcohol or drug treatment facilities. In order to gain entrance, the man must have a job. The mission of Star Gospel is for the individual to graduate to a life free of drinking and drugging that allows him to establish his own credit and an ability to move on to a productive and purposeful life. This takes longer for some than others.
Rules to live by
Here’s what’s expected when a man shows up expressing a desire to make Star Gospel Mission his temporary home. He must be working and gone by 7:30 a.m. and cannot return before 3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. During the weekdays, there is an 11 p.m. curfew. On Sunday mornings, there’s a worship service and attendance is required.
Those rules have been the rules since 1904.
Some catch a bus, ride a bike or moped to their jobs. The men receive a breakfast in the morning and a meal at night. They are required to pay $100 a week. It costs the mission approximately $235/week to feed and house each person. The difference in cost is made up through donations from churches, grants, civic organizations and individuals.
No money comes from federal, state or local agencies. It’s totally faith-based.
This, alone, is a testimony to the contributions of the people of Charleston who have supported Star Gospel Mission all these years. In June, the mission commemorates 114 years of service.
Every bunk bed has a different story. Star Gospel Mission is merely a starting point as they try to retool and restart their lives. Some leave, some come back.
Crossing a bridge
With all the development in this part of town, it’s natural to wonder if the value of the property where Star Gospel Mission resides will be worth more than the service it provides? Chastain has heard those questions.
“We’re a conduit for providing construction and maintenance workers to many of the businesses here," he said. "The Board of Directors, with support from the city of Charleston, is determined to stay where we are.”
At the moment, land in this part of Meeting Street is estimated to be worth $8 million an acre. Star Gospel Mission’s campus encompasses a little less than an acre and a half.
Star Gospel Mission is doing much more than sending men to work and helping them reshape their lives. They’re also directing and spiritually renewing men who once wondered if they could even imagine a future.
I saw a quote that once offered this advice when making decisions. It comes from a Scottish musician, named David Russell. It says, “The hardest thing in life to learn is which bridge to cross and which bridge to burn.”
I’m glad we live in a place that values what Star Gospel Mission strives to do. It is even more gratifying to know that the people of Charleston have spent more than 100 years financially supporting this effort.
All the tributes, awards and accolades afforded Charleston are nice and make us proud to live here. How we treat those who are less fortunate, but still trying to dig out from the depths of desperation, is a true measuring stick of a caring community. We’re all better for crossing that bridge.