Welcome to the land of Wednesday night church suppers, ornate steeples, the Big Nosh, prayer, and that ubiquitous, cheery salutation: “Have a blessed day!”
If South Carolina is the buckle of the Bible belt, then Columbia is the middle notch, sandwiched between the evangelical Baptist Upstate and the hybrid Lowcountry with its mix of high church Episcopalians, AMEs and Pentecostals.
Newcomers are asked where they are from and to what faith they belong. If there is the slightest waffling, never fear, an invitation to worship or to break bread will be forthcoming.
Southern Baptists dominate but the mix of other Protestant Christian denominations is breathtaking. Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians, African-Methodist Episcopals and black Baptists, among others, found their way here to establish outposts, eventually raising distinctive, architectural gems of churches that dot corners of downtown Columbia.
Roman Catholics and Jews first arrived in Charleston and then migrated west to establish flourishing congregations. In modern times, Muslims have come, adding to a growing interfaith mix. They have introduced the five-times daily call to prayer as well as fragrant foods for Ramadan that had never been tasted before.
Our congregations are the lifeline to the homeless and less fortunate, often the first to volunteer in times of disaster. Their work is evident in places such as the Soup Cellar at Columbia’s Washington Street United Methodist Church, the Transitions center providing homeless services in downtown Columbia and St. Lawrence Place, a ministry of Trinity Cathedral. In West Columbia, Brookland Baptist Church, one of the area’s largest African-American congregations, ministers to prisoners, the homeless, the aged, students and others. The 9,000-strong Bibleway Church of Atlas Road in Lower Richland has an equally impressive listing of ministries.
Sometimes, congregations have served as the conscience of the city and the region, speaking out against video poker and Sunday liquor sales and for the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the dome of the capital.
For many in Columbia, a life lived out in faith seems the best path to take.
Carolyn Click writes about schools, faith and history for The State.