Among the greatest gifts God has bestowed onto mankind are the beauty and spirituality of nature. We must be stewards of this wonderous landscape. Cherish it, tend to it, protect its bounty, and take from it only what we need and leave the rest for future benefit.
The Brothers at Mepkin Abbey have been following the recent discussion about a possible new development up the river from us at Gippy Plantation on the southern edge of Moncks Corner. This undeveloped property on the northwestern bank of the Cooper River is the gateway into the Cooper River Historic District — considered by some to be the “Crucible of Civilization in America.”
Since the establishment of the Cooper River Historic District in the 1990s, Mepkin Abbey, a Trappist monastery at the confluence of the two forks of the Cooper River, has strived to serve the community by bringing people to the table in the name of conservation. Our 3,132-acre home was once the estate of several historic families including Sir John Colleton, Henry Laurens, and the well-known publisher, Henry Luce. It was the Luces who, in 1949, donated the property to the Trappist Order, and we became the stewards of Mepkin. It is here that we have served, worshiped, and toiled in what we believe to be one of the most spiritual and beautiful landscapes in the Lowcountry.
While our monastic life typically lends itself to quiet spiritual contemplation, from time to time, the Brothers at Mepkin Abbey have stepped forward to offer a safe space for the community to discuss difficult topics. A few years ago, my predecessor as spiritual leader of Mepkin, Father Stanislaus Gumula penned a similar piece sharing how we have strived to create unity around the protection of the natural treasures of Berkeley County, and I wish to recap some of that history.
In the 1990s, the late former abbot of Mepkin, Father Francis Kline partnered with his long-time colleague and friend, the late Strachan Donnelley, then director of the Center for Humans and Nature to initiate a series of meetings called the “Cooper River Forum.” This effort was to bring together all of the community interests in order to create a common vision this part of Berkeley County.
Since these meetings, conflicts have risen on occasion and threats to the natural landscape have appeared to divide the community. But we at Mepkin have seen how positive solutions can be reached and compromises agreed upon by stakeholders merely by slowing down and coming back to the table together. We hope that a similar solution can be achieved at Gippy.
We as stewards of the land felt compelled in 2006 to place the abbey under a conservation easement. Several of our neighbors heeded this call and similarly protected a vast portion of the Cooper River Historic District for future generations to enjoy.
Covering Gippy with houses will increase drainage issues on nearby residences, cripple traffic congestion on the iconic Old Highway 52, and destroy the natural beauty at the gateway to the Cooper River Historic District. This does not demonstrate good stewardship of the Cooper River.
Like Mepkin, Middleburg, Medway, Mulberry, and all of the other historic plantations along the Cooper River, Gippy has immense ecological, historic, and cultural wealth that deserves a plan that is reflective of its significance and relationship with the Cooper River Historic District.
Berkeley County is experiencing incredible growth pressure, and real estate speculation is threatening to destroy the place that so many of us consider near and dear to our hearts. At Mepkin, we believe that there is an opportunity for the leaders of Berkeley County and Moncks Corner to work together with citizens and stakeholders to develop a plan for Gippy that protects and celebrates its natural and cultural significance.
Ultimately, we must work together to establish a tool at the county level that provides resources to protect our significant and valuable natural resources and guides development toward areas where growth can be better supported.
Let us work together to find a positive outcome for Gippy that benefits the entire community and creates something new for Berkeley County: community conversation about growth and a long-term solution to protect the lands that we all believe are worth saving.
Father Joseph Tedesco is the fifth leader of Mepkin Abbey.