While one longtime charity has ended operations on a valuable waterfront Johns Island site, ideas for a new initiative are just beginning to form.
The South Carolina United Methodist Camps and Retreat Ministries acquired the Johns Island property, formerly home to Rural Mission, a charity that helped rehabilitate homes for low-income residents. The ministries group has considered turning the 5-acre parcel into a sea islands retreat center, but hopes to meet with stakeholders and residents later this year to help dream up what the site could become.
“My brain is spinning on the possibilities of this property," said Arthur Spriggs, executive director of S.C. United Methodist Camps and Retreat Ministries.
Rural Mission functioned for 50 years on the sea islands, working with migrant farmers and helping residents in moments of crisis. Volunteers have installed bathrooms and ramps for residents living in poverty.
In recent years, the mission experienced financial hardship and the mission was forced to close. The site was turned over to the United Methodist Church, which has official ownership of the property.
The United Methodist Camps and Retreats Ministries agreed to take over the Rural Mission site in exchange for taking on the mission's $50,000 debt.
Linda Gadson, who served as the mission's executive director for nearly 50 years, said it is painful to see the effort come to an end. But she said seeing the property stay with the church, and not go to a buyer who'd develop it for private or commercial use, is the “answer to my dream."
Gadson said she wants to the site remain accessible to the community, where people can gather for family reunions, youth activities, or use it for space that offers spiritual growth.
“I’m just happy that it will still be available to the people," she said. "That the local people can go down and enjoy the beauty of what God has done."
The S.C. Conference already has two camp sites throughout the state. The Asburry Hills Camps and Retreat Center, located in the mountains of Cleveland, S.C., and Camp Providence at Lake Hartwell in Anderson, welcomed 1,300 campers this summer who participated in zip lining, rock climbing, canoeing and other fun activities while learning about Jesus.
The Lowcountry site would also offer those activities, along with giving campers an opportunity to go crabbing and shrimping, Spriggs said.
“This will not be in any way or fashion a repeat of Rural Mission," Spriggs said.
Spriggs would be open to other uses for the site, as well. He's been in communication with local nonprofits about whether the site could be a hub for their operations.
Spriggs also plans to host a charrette this fall for the community to offer thoughts about what they'd like to see the site become, mentioning possibilities such as a "a day center where folks can simply overlook the water in a Christian environment."
"I really want to give the community an opportunity to provide their thoughts," Spriggs said. "We want them to help vision and dream what this would be.”
Dr. Laurey Harrell, pastor of Johns Island Presbyterian Church, hopes that the site can accommodate mission groups that need an affordable place to say.
Harrell noted that with the closure of Rural Mission and sale of a nearby Baptist church facility that accommodated groups, there's a void of affordable places on the island for overnight accommodations.
"Those options are gone," she said.
The pastor said a conference center on the site where church groups could eat breakfast, dinner, and shower and sleep, would be ideal.
She said the beautiful landscape on Johns Island is a gift and the community should not make the area's facilities so expensive that other people cannot enjoy it.