Friday, March 7, 2014
Churches in communities as established as Summerville always have some history, with some congregations more rooted in the past than others.
Many congregations have a deep sense of connection to national or international overarching groups or denominations of which they are a part.
Summerville’s houses of worship are no exception, and, in terms of historical significance, several of the local churches are important to the local, state, and ecclesiastical history of this area.
Summerville Presbyterian Church (SPC) may be the most prominent of the local churches in terms of colonial and post-colonial roots.
In the late 17th-century, there arrived in Dorchester, Massachusetts, a group of English Protestants who strongly believed in the local governance of their churches rather than the overarching administration of the Church of England. The group decided to move south and carried the name Dorchester with them, which also in time became the name of the county.
In 1696, the first “meeting house” was built by the future Presbyterian congregation at the township of Dorchester. Due to English law, the group could not be formally constituted as a church because its denomination was not Anglican.
The departure of the British Crown after the Revolutionary War made it possible for this congregational group to constitute as a “church,” and much of the religious intolerance imported into the Lowcountry from Europe would become dampened after the British exit.
The free practice of religion would become much easier for many Protestants in Summerville and in America in general by the 1780’s, including for the future SPC.
Eventually, in 1831, after a colorful history that includes a burning by the British and an attempted rebuilding of the “White Meeting House” and the entire town of Dorchester, a church building was erected in Summerville to accommodate members of the group living nearer to “Flowertown” than Dorchester.
The Summerville structure was also used for those who found it favorable to attend a certain location based on the seasons. Summerville prospered as did the church that would eventually be known as Summerville Presbyterian Church.
SPC and many local Summerville churches have enjoyed great success since some of the greater calamities like the Civil War and the earthquake of 1886 have passed.
Dr. Mike Shelton, current minister of the church, confirms that prosperity and tolerance have been the rule for SPC and other churches in Summerville, and that the sort of antipathy among religious factions evident during colonial times is not a common part of the experience of his parishioners today.
Churches in the Summerville locale frequently cooperate and celebrate their holidays and other events together, creating a sense of warmth and fellowship.
This collegial spirit might not exist without SPC and other pioneer churches “having stuck it out” in the early years, resisting the colonial yoke, and starting a rudimentary ecumenical process after the defeat of the British Empire.
The parishioners at Summerville Presbyterian Church should be credited for living their chosen way, having fought hard to maintain the existence of their church and blazing a trail for the groups that would follow in the Summerville area.