When flood waters struck Agape Family Outreach in Columbia, congregation members found themselves with no place to worship — until a neighboring church offered some saving grace.
South Beltline Baptist Church already had partnered with neighboring Palmetto Baptist Church before the flood, said Eric Bothur, pastor at South Beltline. The two flocks joined services in the South Beltline building from time to time, and when they heard about Agape’s situation, they brought the third church into the fold.
“We’re just trying to honor each other and respect each other and do what’s best for all three congregations,” Bothur said. “I believe that together, we’re better. By doing things together, we’re going to have a better community and better churches.”
Sunday marked the third service the three churches have held together, and Bothur said the merger could continue for several months. Leonard Williams, pastor at Agape, said the church is applying for help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The past few weeks have been about letting everyone get organized after the flood, the pastors said. Going forward, they hope to blend three distinct worship styles into a service that works for everyone.
Members of the nondenominational Agape say the two Baptist congregations have welcomed them with open arms.
“It’s just remarkable how they have opened their doors to us, for us to come and still have a place to fellowship and worship God,” said Marilyn Roberts, a member of Agape. “This is really what serving the Lord is all about. It’s not about color, it’s not about denomination — it’s about one baptism and one faith.”
Palmetto Baptist likes to kick off each Sunday with a meal, said David Welsford, a leader with the church. South Beltline’s worshipers tend to be a bit older, church members said. And those at Agape like to liven things up, according to their pastor.
“We’re a little bit more upbeat — a little bit noisier,” Williams said with a laugh. “We’re looking forward to share that with them.”
The three groups will continue to meet while Agape regroups from the flood, but some churchgoers aren’t ready to let the newfound fellowship go even then. John Nicholson, a member of South Beltline, said he’d like to see the churches get together after things return to normal.
“I hope something really comes of it and it grows,” Nicholson said. “I hope this is a seed and it will be granted and will grow, because everybody needs it.”