“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” – 1st Corinthians: Chapter 15, Verse 58
Two walls in Sam Goodwin’s cozy office at Stedfast Christian Center tell visitors a great deal about the pastor of the church on Fairfield Road in north Columbia – even if, for those who don’t know him, the message might seem confusing, even counter-intuitive.
Behind his desk, amid framed photos of his family (five grown children, two grandchildren) and members of his congregation, hangs a large print depicting a muscular arm reaching down to another, as if to lift it up. The image’s title – “He ain’t heavy” – seems fitting for a congregation known for “reaching out” to its surrounding community.
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The opposite wall, on the other hand, celebrates Goodwin’s achievements as a college and amateur athlete and coach. There’s his S.C. State Athletic Hall of Fame plaque; a framed photo of former Dallas Cowboys (and former S.C. State) player Angelo King; a certificate for participation in the 1999 U.S. Senior Games. Dominating the collection is a framed 1968 Columbia Record front page honoring Goodwin as All-Area football coach of the year.
This spiritual-sports duality even extends to his office bathroom. Two caps sit side-by-side atop the toilet tank, one bearing the church’s “SCC” and logo (a tree and a dove), the other S.C. State’s familiar mascot.
Goodwin, wearing an SCSU sweatshirt and looking trim and fit despite a tight crop of gray hair, laughed. “After Jesus,” he said, “I’m a Bulldog.”
For his first 40 years, the Columbia native’s life revolved largely around sports, as a football and basketball standout at Booker T. Washington High and at S.C. State, and then as a coach at three high schools plus S.C. State, Wichita State and, in 1982, South Carolina.
This year, Goodwin will celebrate – along with his 70th birthday and 50th wedding anniversary – 30 years as pastor and co-founder with his wife, Fannie Bland Goodwin, of Stedfast (the name comes from 1st Corinthians, Chapter 15, Verse 58; the spelling, without the “a,” is from the original Greek).
“The Lord has really blessed us,” he said.
Since 1983, when the Goodwins began “Stedfast and Unmovable Ministries Inc.,” conducting worship services in their Northeast Richland living room, the church has been his mission and passion. Still, a lifelong coach doesn’t change his ways – even when his “team” now consists of choirs, congregation and charity.
Family and friends say Goodwin the pastor brings to his work the same drive for excellence, the same demand for discipline, as Goodwin the coach did. He seeks to win souls instead of games, exercising a brand of “muscular Christianity.”
His congregation sees the coach side every week. Though his wife says he has mellowed, standards remain. “If you’re ushering for First Sunday, you wear a suit, or a dress,” Goodwin, a noted sharp dresser, said. “If you don’t, you don’t usher.”
He’s a stickler for punctuality, too. Worshippers who arrive even minutes late for services must wait to be seated, he said.
“He’s been late one time in 30 years (when) there was a wreck on Two Notch Road,” said Cassandra Elliott, a retired speech pathologist, church board member and family friend. “There’s a level of accountability at Stedfast you have to get used to, and some can’t do it.”
His family knows, too, from lifelong experience.
“I think that runs along the lines of a coach and father, where the ‘toughness’ comes from a place of love and understanding potential,” said Valerie Goodwin, at 37 the youngest of the family’s children and Stedfast’s interim board president. “Sometimes, we get complacent if we’re not challenged.
“Growing up, I remember hearing anecdotes about (football team) room checks, running drills, being on time. In some ways, I see parallels; as a coach or leader of a church, there is a dual duty to both inspire and support, and sometimes to discipline.
“The Bible says, sometimes, we’ve got to be put in the right direction.”
‘The power of God working’
In 1982, Sam Goodwin was seeking direction. After nine seasons as a football assistant coach under Willie Jeffries at S.C. State and then at Wichita State, that year he had accepted a job with USC first-year coach Richard Bell. “I was saved (as a Christian) in 1975, but I had no aspirations to be a minister,” he said. “I believed I’d be the second black head coach at a major college (Jeffries was the first).”
But when Bell was fired following the 1982 season, Goodwin – with a year left on his contract – said he felt adrift. “I asked, ‘Lord, why did you bring me to Columbia?’” he said. When USC sent him to a coaches’ convention in Los Angeles, he told Fannie to stay home and pray about their future.
“A week later, we exchanged notes (and) both said I should go into the ministry,” he said.
Goodwin grew up a member of Gilbert Memorial Baptist in Columbia, but while at Wichita he visited non-denominational, evangelical and Pentecostal churches. Once on a trip to Tulsa, he took part in a Kenneth Hagin service, “to see if it was a fake,” he said. “Hagin laid hands on me, and I woke up later. I knew then it was the power of God working.”
In California, he heard a service led by Dr. Frederick K.C. Price, founder of Crenshaw Christian Center and the Fellowship of Inner-City Word of Faith Ministries. “He had a big Afro and a Bible in his hand, preaching and teaching,” Goodwin said. “I thought he was arrogant, and (too) prosperous.” Twenty years later, after attending Gulf Coast Seminary, Goodwin was ordained by Price, later becoming a teacher/trainer of “Evangelism Explosion III International Equipping Ministry.”
Stedfast today has 120-130 members. Most don’t live in the Eau Claire community surrounding the current church, but the congregation, with Goodwin leading, hosts regular giveaways of food, clothing and school supplies to area residents.
The church also owns 12 acres on Clemson Road. “I thought we would have a ministry there,” Goodwin said. In 1991, attempts to establish a sanctuary, as well as a home for unwed mothers and disadvantaged youth, ran into roadblocks from a Richland County zoning board. Soon after clearing that hurdle, Goodwin said, he awoke from a fitful sleep, prayed and decided the church was meant to stay where it remains today.
In its early days, when Stedfast occupied a building on Columbia College Drive, Goodwin says he saw signs that his church was on the right path. “We had no credit,” he said, “so Benjamin Blocker, the head of DSS (and a former S.C. State football player), took me to a furniture store.
“He said, ‘The church needs 300 chairs and I’ll stand for (Goodwin).’ The furniture store owner said, ‘Preacher, when do you want to pick up the chairs?’ That was one of our turning points.”
So, too, was coming to the current sanctuary building, one of three buildings the church owns. The building’s owner, Henry Grant, remembered Goodwin from his Booker T. Washington (BTW), S.C. State and USC stints. “We got a lease with option to buy, and the members worked to fix it up, and we moved into it in 1987,” Goodwin said.
For those who have known Goodwin all his life, it was the culmination of a remarkable spiritual journey that, years earlier, few would’ve seen coming.
Fighting to survive
Goodwin grew up in “the ghetto,” he said in referring to black neighborhoods near USC’s Williams-Brice Stadium in a time of racial segregation. When he was 9, his mother, Annie Bell Goodwin, and father, Belton, got into a fight on a bus trip. “My mom was 6-foot-1, and she was beating up Daddy,” he said. Her husband produced a knife and fought back; Annie wound up in “the black hospital, with 400 stitches,” and died a week later.
When his father disappeared afterward, Goodwin’s oldest brother, Belton Jr., became head of the family of five siblings. “I had to fight from then on to survive,” Goodwin said. Fortunately, three neighborhood women, especially the late Bertha Bolton, stepped in to provide guidance. Years later, Goodwin always sent Bolton souvenirs from his coaching travels.
“My mom became Sam’s surrogate mom,” said Bolton’s oldest daughter, also named Bertha and a classmate of Goodwin. “He would come and have meals with us on a regular basis. Back then, everyone looked out for everyone in the community, but she had a special relationship with a lot of neighborhood kids – what Hillary (Clinton) talked about building a village.”
Goodwin often worked alongside his older brother at a grocery store, sleeping under trucks at the store to unload them early the next morning. Before his junior year in high school, Goodwin, then known as “Sammie,” was small – 5-foot-9, 160 pounds – but he spent that summer living with a family that owned a pig farm. “They told me, eat as much as you want,” and that fall he stood a strapping 6-3, 215.
Goodwin, who says he never lifted weights in high school, went out for football, and one day sacked the varsity quarterback. “You’re strong as Hercules,” the older player said, and the nickname – “Herc” – stuck. Today, “even the (two) grandkids call him ‘Granddaddy Herc,’ ” Fannie Goodwin said.
George Glymph, Goodwin’s classmate who coached at BTW and build a monster basketball tradition at Eau Claire High, tells how Goodwin also became a star in his favorite sport. “In 10th grade he went out for basketball, and he got cut,” Glymph said. “We all picked at him, so that summer he played at the park every day. His junior year, he started at forward on the varsity – and I was on the bench.”
At S.C. State, Goodwin started every football game after “sending three or four guys to the infirmary” the first day of full-pads practice. He was named all-conference at linebacker and offensive line in three of his four seasons, but no NFL team drafted him. So he took a coaching job at Brewer High in Greenwood, earning $3,200 a year, rather than attempt to make it as a free agent. “We had three children by then and if I got hurt, I couldn’t take care of them,” he said.
After two seasons at Brewer, he was hired in 1967 as an assistant at BTW, and the following year was named head coach. That fall, the Yellow Jackets went undefeated to win the black schools’ state championship. “Eau Claire was undefeated in the white schools, and (coach) Jimmy Satterfield and I wanted to play, but the superintendents said there was a danger of violence,” Goodwin said.
When Jeffries came offering an assistant’s job in 1973, Goodwin asked his principal about rumors about BTW closing. “I said, ‘If you tell me we’re not going to close, I’ll stay. If not, I’m leaving,’” Goodwin recalled. “(The principal) said, ‘Give me your resignation.’ I got out one year ahead of the closing.”
Goodwin laughed. “The Lord worked things out,” he said.
Rebounding from cancer
His chiseled physique and amazing strength have always been a source of pride for Goodwin. One reason Jeffries wanted to hire him in 1973 was that “Hercules” persona. “He was always a physical, workout guy, concerned about strength, and that’s what we needed,” Jeffries said.
“That (first) year we played Alcorn, who were monsters then, and they pushed us off the ball. Sam said no team would ever do that again, not be stronger than us.”
Even into his 60s, Goodwin’s basketball ability against younger players was legendary around Columbia. “He went to get a physical a few years ago,” said Jimmy Collins, a former USC basketball player who barnstormed with Goodwin in the 1980s, “and the doctor couldn’t believe his body.”
So when that body betrayed him – when he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma bone cancer in 2008 – Goodwin took it hard. “George (Glymph) and I constantly had to take him out, buy him lunch or dinner, because he wasn’t eating, losing weight,” said Willie Pratt, a lifelong friend. “I think he thought he was dying.”
Said Fannie, “Herc was always a health fanatic, always ate right, lifted weights. He figured if he did all he was supposed to, nothing would happen to his body. When he got (cancer), it was like someone knocked him off his feet. I mean, he’s Hercules.”
But after undergoing chemotherapy and battling depression for several months, “he went to the Bible,” Fannie said. “He read the healing Scriptures, made a healing tape for when he goes to bed. He started eating, gaining weight back and never got off track.”
Goodwin’s cancer returned four months ago, but he said he is skipping chemo this time. “He’s determined to keep his body in shape, keep the cancer in remission,” his wife said, though Goodwin gripes that his weight-lifting workouts now are restricted by doctors to about 135 pounds. “That’s like this,” he said, picking up a notebook.
During his early rounds of treatment, Goodwin sometimes had to skip a church function, a situation he hated. Now, approaching 70, he acknowledges the prospect of retirement. “If I feel I’m not effective, it’ll be time to get out,” he said. “I won’t say how long, but I’ll (know when to) give it up.”
Goodwin said he has two potential successors picked out. Fleming McClinton, 59, of Round Top Baptist Church in Blythewood, played football under Goodwin at BTW. “I learned a lot from him then, and even today he mentors me,” McClinton said. “We meet once a month, talk about life.”
McClinton says he would “have to pray about” following Goodwin. “He’s the founder of the church, and it was based around his family and then grew.” But he said he owes Goodwin a lot, especially “him coming out of our neighborhood, and telling me I can accomplish a lot in my life as well.”
McClinton paused. “I love the brother,” he said.
The other candidate is Jerome Goodwin, 51, Sam’s nephew – Belton Jr.’s son – and pastor of Camden’s Mount Zion Baptist. “I bothered him about letting me help out (when Sam was taking chemo),” he said. “If he called, said ‘I need you to take over,’ my next call would be to my church to let them know I was moving.”
Jerome Goodwin served as a BTW ball boy at age 6. He also worked at Eau Claire when, from 2000-04, Sam had a brief stint as the Shamrocks’ volunteer head coach. So he’s seen both – the coach and the pastor – even if, he admits, it’s sometimes hard to separate the two. Not that he would want to.
“He’s been a great inspiration,” said Jerome, whose father, Sam and youngest brother Leon all battled cancer around the same time. “When the three brothers were diagnosed, I called my father, said, ‘I can’t believe God would let my father get cancer just after he got saved.’ Five minutes later, Sam was at my house, telling me, ‘Calm down, it’ll all be fine.’
“I thought, ‘OK, Sam Goodwin is here.’ And I dried my tears.”