Religion

Pastor says goodbye to Upstate megachurch, and Columbia congregation leaves with him

Pastor Ron Carpenter Jr., who founded Redemption church a quarter-century ago, leads a service at the flagship campus in Greenville.
Pastor Ron Carpenter Jr., who founded Redemption church a quarter-century ago, leads a service at the flagship campus in Greenville. NYT

The pastor of a South Carolina megachurch has stepped down to bring his ministry out West, while the Upstate church he is leaving is being rebranded for the new pastor.

Redemption church founder Ron Carpenter Jr. held his final service in the Greenville church Sunday, while introducing the new pastor, John Gray.

Along with a new pastor, comes a new name, as Redemption will become Relentless under Gray's leadership. Relentless has a countdown clock on its website, promoting Gray, who was a pastor at Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Texas.

Osteen is expected to be in attendance at the Greenville church for the June 3 service, according to wspa.com.

But time in Greenville has expired for Carpenter. In December 2017, he announced that he is taking over Jubilee Christian Center in San Jose, Calif., where he will replace the retiring pastor Dick Bernal.

"This weekend has been very meaningful. It's been brutal in a lot of ways ... because of the people we love so much and love so dearly," Carpenter said on Facebook, where Redemption can continue to connect with parishioners across the U.S. "We've been doing a lot of goodbyes this weekend, so it's been emotionally exhausting."

In addition to saying goodbyes, Carpenter also took time to introduce Gray to his new congregation.

There was even a ceremonial gesture, when Carpenter gave a key to Gray that unlocks every door in the 250,000-square-foot building, greenvilleonline.com reported.

"Pray for Pastor John and (his wife) Aventer as they take on leadership in what I believe is one of the greatest churches in America," Carpenter said on Facebook.

Carpenter founded Redemption “in 1991 with three members and a passion for breaking down the walls of racism, crossing cultural lines, and changing poverty mindsets in their community as well as around the world,” Redemption’s website said.

In spite of Carpenter’s move, everything is expected to remain the same at Redemption Columbia, where Tony and LaShea Colson serve as campus pastors. The only real change for Redemption Columbia will be that it is no longer affiliated with the church in Greenville. But it will remain a part of Ron Carpenter Ministries.

“We support Pastor Ron and believe in his vision,” Tony Colson said in December. “We’re looking forward to whatever God has in store for Columbia.”

There won’t be a tangible effect caused by Carpenter’s move West, according to Tony Colson. Redemption Columbia was already simulcasting Carpenter’s services via the internet from Greenville. That will remain the same when he takes over Jubilee Christian Center in San Jose.

“They do live praise, worship and announcements in Columbia. When it’s time to preach, the screen comes down,” said Joe Hayes, the director of advertising, media and marketing for Ron Carpenter Ministries.

For members of the Greenville congregation, Gray said he is planning on sticking around.

"We don't treat ministry as a career move," he said, greenvilleonline.com reported. "We treat it as a calling. We intend to stay. We are going to watch God in this community."

Gray is the star of a reality TV show on Oprah Winfrey's OWN Network which is set to continue shooting in Greenville, according to wspa.com. The episode that aired May 5 featured both Gray and Carpenter.

This is the second Upstate megachurch that is undergoing a significant change of leadership that has satellite campuses across South Carolina, including the Midlands. NewSpring Church ousted its pastor, Perry Noble in 2016 because of alcohol and family issues.

Noble recently returned to the pulpit with Second Chance Church, which he broadcasts to worshipers on Facebook.

NewSpring is the state’s largest church, with more than 30,000 members in 17 cities in South Carolina, including three in the Midlands.

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