My First Mini Montreat as a PYC Leader

Logan is a senior from John Knox Presbyterian Church who has served on PYC for 3 years. Currently she serves as the Moderator for the PYC. After graduation she will be attending Furman University.

This weekend, I got to spend my first Mini-Montreat as a PYC leader. Having never been
involved in this before, I hadn’t realized how much work really goes into the making of this
retreat in order for it all to come together. You don’t realize how many elements there really are
until you are actually in it, but in the end the work is all worth it.

I got to lead a small group, and it was so much fun to be able to influence the weekends
of these kids for the better, and to be able to show them who God truly is. As a leader, you have
to be able to make it fun and interesting while still being able to give them good information , and I feel like our plan for the weekend helped us do that. At the end of the weekend, I asked our group how they felt about the weekend, and not one of them complained about any of it. They said that it was the best weekend they had had in a long time and that there was nothing to complain about. To me, that shows that all of our hard work and dedication to PYC truly pays off and makes a difference in other people’s lives.

When I joined Presbyterian Youth Council three years ago, I had no clue the journey that I was beginning. The people on this council are truly some of the best people I know; I have no clue what my life would look like without these people and I give all glory to God for bringing them all together through PYC. The ministry that PYC provides is an important part of each youth’s life that attends and leads these retreats in our presbytery. Every member of PYC, around 20 people, plays an important role in the planning of these retreats, Mini-Montreat and Bonclarken; there is no way these retreats would happen successfully without each individual contributing. Growing up, I attended these retreats myself and it is crazy to me to think that somehow, I ended up as moderator of all this. I believe that God had complete control of putting me on this council because this has truly been the best three years of my life.

I would encourage youth to at least consider the idea of applying to join PYC. This council has been a hallmark of my entire high school career and I believe that everyone deserves the chance to experience it. There truly is no other group that I would rather be involved with or that I would get as much out of. PYC is much more than a group that plans retreats, it is a family; the best family anyone could ask for.


No Trivial Pursuits

No Trivial Pursuits—CPM, March 22, 2018
by Allen McSween

Scripture:  2 Corinthians 4:1-2, 5-7 (RSV)

“Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. We have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways; we refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to every one’s conscience in the sight of God…. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.  For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.  But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us.”

A number of years ago there was a popular game called Trivial Pursuits. We used to love to play it with our family at the beach. At one point they dubbed me “The Prince of Trivia”– not a very good title for a minister of the Gospel.

I’m not sure how many people still play the game, but trivial pursuits have certainly not gone away in our culture. Back in 1985 Neil Postman wrote a book entitled Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. Things have only gone downhill since then. In an age of Reality television, with a Reality show star playing the role of the President, public discourse has lost virtually all semblance of civility or depth. Everywhere you turn our discourse has been cheapened… including in the church. There, too, it seems that we are fast “amusing ourselves to death.”

Several years ago, when Wain Wesberry was associate pastor at Fourth Presbyterian, he attended the baptism of his nephew whose family attended a well known mega-church here in town. The baptism was not held in the sanctuary. It was held at a neighborhood swimming pool. The minister said a few words about baptism in general and then threw the kid into the pool, saying, “You are baptized.” The folks around the pool applauded and laughed.

Now, I trust that would not happen in any of the congregations we are part of. But sometimes we Presbyterian are not much better. Michael Jinkins, the president of Louisville Presbyterian Seminary, tells of an ordination service that one of his students had attended. In the service the moderator of the ordination commission told a series of jokes, some of which were in very poor taste, and then said to the one being ordained, “Now we have to get on to the boring stuff. I need to ask you these questions.”[i]

Boring stuff”! What he called “the boring stuff” were not just some questions out of the blue. The “boring stuff” was the vows by which the new minister was promising God and God’s people to trust in Jesus Christ as Lord of all and Head of the Church, to accept the Bible as God’s Word, to be instructed and led by the confessions as she leads the church, and to be a friend among her colleagues as she seeks “to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination and love.”

There is nothing trivial or boring about that at all. When we make such vows in the presence of the living God, we almost literally “take our souls in our hands,” as we offer as much of ourselves as we can understand to as much of God as we can comprehend for as long as we are able. Serious stuff!

Several years ago, David Brooks, my favorite Jewish Calvinist, wrote a column  in which he insisted that the time has come for us all to get “a little more serious.” Brooks says that over-against the rising tide of superficiality all around us, “there must be room,” for someone to offer “an aspirational ideal . . . that separates for busy people the things that are enduring from the things that aren’t.”

That, I would submit, is a prime task for the Church of Jesus Christ in a culture vainly amusing itself to death. We are called to proclaim and to embody enduring realities. That’s our distinctive calling. In an Age of Show Business, there are plenty of comedians who are a lot funnier than we’ll ever be. There are better story-tellers on any Podcast you can name. There are better political prognosticators on MSNBC or Fox. And you can hear better music, from Bach to rock, all over the place. But we in the church have the distinctive task of helping people separate the things that endure from the things that do not.

So the question we must ask, and keep on asking, is the question Dr. John Leith put so insistently throughout his lifetime. “What does the church have to say that no one else can say?” (the subtitle to his book The Reformed Imperative)

So what is it that we alone have?  In the words of Paul, “we have the gospel” and we have it “in earthen vessels.” We have a word of Truth to speak openly. We have a deeply serious response, shaped by centuries of profound reflection, to the serious issues that we and all the world face. In a time like this, we do not need a church that tells us we’re OK. We need a God who redeems our sinfulness. We don’t need a liturgy that entertains us. We need worship that links us to best the church has “thought and believed and confessed” across the centuries. We don’t need moralistic advice urging us to try harder. We need a God who raises us from death to life.

In our quest to appear relevant to a generation nurtured on the Pablum of trivial pursuits, we are in serious danger of trivializing ourselves out of business, right at a time when people are increasingly beginning to wonder whether someone, somewhere, might just have something serious to say about the human predicament.

In his poem “Church Going,” the Anglican agnostic Phillip Larkin tells of visiting an empty church one day, more out of curiosity than anything else. Without sharing the faith of those who had worshipped there across the centuries, he was nevertheless struck by the fact that here was what he calls a “serious house on serious earth.” Such a place, he says, can never be obsolete, “since someone will forever be surprising a hunger in himself to be more serious,” and will therefore gravitate with that hunger “to this ground” in which it is “proper to grow wise in.”

I submit that that is our task and the task of the candidates we seek to nurture—to grow wise in the treasures of the Gospel, entrusted to “earthen vessels” like us, by a serious God on serious earth. That never has been and never will be a trivial pursuit.

[i] Michael Jinkins, “Trivializing the Gospel”
This entire blog is based on Jinkins’ article, including the quotes from Brooks and Larkin. Jinkins is also the author of an excellent resource for pastors new and old, Letters to New Pastors (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2006).

[1] Michael Jinkins, “Trivializing the Gospel”
This entire blog is based on Jinkins’ article, including the quotes from Brooks and Larkin. Jinkins is also the author of an excellent resource for pastors new and old, Letters to New Pastors (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2006).

Lent Reflection


by Alexandra Mauney, member of First Church Greer; Columbia Theological Seminary Student under care of the Committee on Preparation for Ministry in Foothills Presbytery

My alarm clock is generally set to rouse me from my slumber at about 5:30 AM on weekday mornings. This waking time has become one of the cherished patterns of my daily life rhythms this semester: my first destination, naturally, is the coffee maker. I make a single cup of coffee, turn on a lamp, and peer out into the sleepy darkness of campus. I live in one of the seminary campus dorms and my apartment faces out into one of the more heavily trafficked areas of campus. I covet those early morning moments of dark stillness, when no one is stirring and the brilliance of the floodlights casts an eerie glow over all the familiar scenery outside my windows. This stillness grounds me.

Many mornings, I leave the comfort of my apartment and step out into the brilliant darkness, towards my car to go to the gym, or away from campus for a run. One recent morning, as I continued in this familiar pattern, this ordo of my morning life, I set off running during those mysterious minutes between darkness and light, just before sunrise. I set off running, feet pounding pavement, feet pounding pavement, stopped until the traffic light was green, and set out on the pedestrian path along the road. Suddenly I felt on my chest and arms the unmistakable sticky feeling of an unforeseen cobweb – or, as the case may be, the former presence of a cobweb, which had just then been transferred as filmy residue all across the front of my body. I stopped…brushed it off…and continued…feet pounding pavement, feet pounding pavement…

And then…there was another cobweb. And another…and another…and another. It was as if I was the first person to have traversed that path that morning, making me the object of attachment for all the nighttime toil of the Katie Kerr Road spiders. The cobwebs made their new home over the surfaces of my body and clothes, as I modified my morning ordo to accommodate this new addition. Feet pounding pavement… brushing away cobwebs … feet pounding pavement … brushing away cobwebs …      I was hyperaware of how I must have appeared to onlookers beginning their morning commute.

I soon settled into the new rhythms of running and brushing and running and brushing, but the strange feeling, the sticky and clingy map of spiders’ labors, did not disappear, at least not yet. It did not take a giant leap of the imagination to calculate the possibility that dozens of tiny spiders were maybe crawling all around on the surface of

my body, burrowing away in between my shoelaces and in the crevices of my tank top. That wasn’t true, of course, but you know how the mind works. Where there are cobwebs, there are spiders. And so, I turned and headed towards home…  Feet pounding pavement… brushing away cobwebs … feet pounding pavement … brushing away cobwebs…

The staccato rhythm of my morning ordo did not cease until I reached the steps of my apartment building, bypassing my usual post-run rituals of stretches and peanut-butter-on-Eggo-waffles, heading straight for the shower. It was only then, under the steady stream of water, with the lather of the soapsuds, that the cobwebs disappeared from my body. I kept checking to be sure they were really gone- what if those little tiny spiders from my morbid imagination have burrowed themselves into … no, really, Alexandra, they’re gone. The cobwebs are down the drain. Get on with your day.

But they weren’t really gone. Those cobwebs stuck with me for the better part of the day, at least in my mind and in the memory of my body. That sticky feeling, and the fear of the tiny spiders, and the memory of the residue and the running / brushing / running / brushing rhythm … they all stuck with me. I wasn’t quite the same, at least for that day, and the ever-so-slight alteration in my morning ordo was just significant enough to leave me feeling, well, ever-so-slightly altered.

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.”

In Psalm 51, the Psalmist helps us to see just how “cobwebby” our sin can be. The Psalmist writes that his sin is ever before him, ever in front of him, and we can imagine it clinging to him like a spider web, the knowledge and reality of his transgression marking his body with the sticky residue of guilt and sin. We, too, certainly share his experience. The knowledge of our sin, or the knowledge of the sin that is present in the world, clings to us. All it takes is a cursory glance at the day’s newspaper headlines to be covered in the residue of the world’s sin.

Do we not long with the Psalmist for God to wash us – to wash the world – thoroughly of iniquity, to let us hear joy and gladness again, to let the bones that have been crushed rejoice? Just as my encounter with the early morning spider webs prompted me to head straight for the shower, so the Psalmist prays that God would wash him, would blot out that which separates him from God. We pray with the Psalmist that God would look away, that God would hide God’s face from us and wash us from our sin, would turn the shower head on the cobwebs that cling to us so tightly and restore us to a state of joy.

These cobwebs of sin mark the life of faith – attaching themselves to our very bodies – and they cover us all the way to the cross, where we are bound. We walk around brushing aimlessly at the sticky webs until they threaten to drive us mad. They come to bind us in the form of so many things: of our complicity in the violence and evil of the world – white supremacy, the degradation of the earth, the systems that keep poverty in place, apathy for those suffering in our midst – but also of our own doubt and confusion, as we ask with Mary Magdalene at the tomb of her Lord after his mysterious arising, where have they laid my Jesus?, wondering if the Christ to whose cross we have been bound will truly rise to conquer death. (Where there are cobwebs, there are spiders.) These cobwebs mark us deeply and invisibly, altering the ordos of our lives with such subtlety that we sometimes do not even know what’s happening.

Our Lenten journey in these 40 days draws us even more intimately into the perception of those cobwebby sins that bind us to the cross of Christ. Beginning with the heavy awareness of our mortality on Ash Wednesday, we bury our alleluias and put away our joyful postludes and walk with our sticky residued bodies all the way to the stripped altar on Good Friday. We have journeyed with our Lord, and we know that sin deeply marks our lives – we are confused, and sticky, and tired. With the Psalmist, we pray to God, “Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.”

My prayer for myself and for the communities of which I am a part, as we journey toward the stripped altar, is that we might begin to recognize the network of cobwebs that are covering us. I pray that we might offer these revelations of sin to God, who is rich in mercy and is compassionate to forgive, and that we might begin the journey to repentance and restoration. I also pray that as God washes us of our sin, immersing us in the baptismal waters, that we might be moved to action on behalf of those with whom we live and work in community. After all, where there are cobwebs, there are spiders; but where there is water, there is grace. Thanks be to God for this gift of cleansing and renewal.

Psalm 51:1-12
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment. Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me. You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.


Finding Jesus On Both Sides Of The Fence

By Natalie Schwartz (Member of the Seneca Church and participant of the February Border Mission Trip to Frontera de Cristo)

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.” Ephesians 2:13-14

Finding Jesus 1

It was a chilly, rainy Ash Wednesday as I walked along the border wall in Agua Prieta; which even for February was a rare event for the desert city. Our seven member delegation from Foothills Presbytery had been immersed in life on the US-Mexico border for several days and I needed time to pray and reflect. As I walked I stopped and prayed at the murals that adorned the Mexican side of wall. As I walked back to our hotel I noticed that one of the murals was a completely different image depending on your perspective. Just as the murals changed based on our perspective, so do our own thoughts and opinions change when we take the time to see things from different perspectives.

Several times during our trip I had to see the border through someone else’s lens. In the middle of a barren desert outside of Douglas, AZ we planted a cross marking the location where Jose Luis IBarra Lerma, a young migrant in his 20’s, lost his life crossing the border. As we stood there in the sun and wind, thankful for our water bottles, it was clear how dangerous this rugged, barren land could be. One could not help but think about this young migrant in the desert, was he traveling north to support his family? Was he alone when he died, or was there someone there to comfort him in his final moments? Will his family ever be able to visit the cross that we planted? We each left an offering at the foot of the cross, rosaries, coins, shells, rocks and greenery, little tokens that became signs that Jose Luis was a remembered and loved child of God.

Finding Jesus 2


As I opened myself to look at the border from a different perspective, as a place of encounter, I began to find Jesus everywhere.

  • In the Mennonite couple that care for the graves of six unidentified migrants, in the father carrying the burden of trying to support his family on a maquiladora salary, knowing if he had just stayed and worked in the US longer his family might not be without electricity.
  • In the matriarch of of a large family who she fed us and waited to eat until we were all full.
  • In the Border Patrol agent offering water to the thirsty migrant. In the social worker helping domestic violence victims.
  • In the women that made up DouglaPrieta, a women’s co-op and community garden.


Finding Jesus 3

We all came with our biases, our own opinions, and our own ideas of how Washington should fix “the problems” of border security and Immigration. Instead of walking away with affirmations of our own opinions, simple solutions for major humanitarian issues, and black and white answers, we came home with relationships, questions, and the grace you can only experience through radical hospitality. It was through sharing of meals, laughter and awkwardness as we tried to communicate through language barriers, and the shared passion for living Christ’s Call in our communities that broke down the dividing wall. And when we thought of the border as a place of encounter and opportunity instead of barriers and dividing walls, it washed away the images of militarization, walls, divisions, we encountered generosity, hospitality, and Christian fellowship. The physical wall dividing our two countries still stands, but there is no barrier between our brothers and sisters in Christ.




Finding Jesus 4

Note about pics:

1) A cross attached to the border wall that reads, “As we live, we are all brothers, we are all Migrants”

2) One of the many murals adorning the Mexico side of the U.S. Border wall, showing hands reaching out for one another.

3) A cross erected where Jose Luis, a 20 year migrant, lost his life crossing the border.

4) A mural at the Migrant Shelter of Jesus riding “the beast”, the train heading north across the border with other migrants.

For more information about


Frontera De Cristo trip to the US/Mexico Border

“There are different gifts,
but the same Spirit who gives them.
There are different ways of serving God,
but it is the same Lord who is served.
Each one of us is given a gift by the Spirit,
to use for the common good.
Together we are the body of Christ,
and individually members of the body of Christ.”

Friends, we have eight participants in the February 2018 Frontera De Cristo trip to the US/Mexico Border. They come from across our Presbytery and range from young to old. They left SC on 2/9 to travel to Douglas Arizona for a week of Education and awareness, which focuses on building relationships and understanding across borders. Our group will be reflecting on how to live and out of our biblically and theologically understanding of what it means to be disciples of Jesus Christ when borders divide. They return February 16th.

Please keep them in prayer…

Gracious God, we present our hopes for these specially commissioned travelers. In every age you have chosen servants to speak your word in unique and special and various ways. We thank you for these people whom you have called to serve you. Give them each special gifts to do their special work. Fill them with the Holy Spirit so they may accept all they confront, and be faithful and joyful in their task. Bring them safely home and then let their experience further enrich us so that we, too, may better serve you. Amen.

A Light in the Window

Hazel Sparks, of Clemson, S.C., shares her story of faith, God and how the church shaped her.
By Charmaine Smith

Independent Mail

CLEMSON – At 90 years old, Hazel Sparks still remembers how it felt to walk past Dr. Nelson Bell’s house and see the light on in his study as she headed to breakfast at Montreat High School in North Carolina.

Ms. Hazel, now a Clemson, S.C. resident, grew up in Charlotte. In Charlotte, she first learned about God. But she spent her teenage years roaming around the laurel-ladden pathways of Montreat and that is where she began building on the faith that she learned about in her little pink catechism book.

The world was at war then, she recalls. The families of Japanese diplomats were housed there in those years.

And missionaries who had been serving overseas were returning home to safer surroundings.

One of those missionaries was Dr. Bell. He served as a medical missionary to China. But during the war, he came home to operate a small practice in Black Mountain, and to serve as a pastor where he was needed.

Dr. Bell was father to Ruth Bell Graham, who would later marry the Rev. Billy Graham, and to Virginia Bell, who was one of Ms. Hazel’s close friends.

“When I could see a light on in his office, you knew he was up and he was praying,” Ms. Hazel said. “He was praying for his world, for the girls at Montreat. It was important for me to know that he was praying for us.”

It was there at Montreat that she met with Ms. Mary P. Lord, one of the piano teachers at the school, and talked over questions that she had about God and Scripture and the world. It was at Montreat where she learned the importance of worshipping with the community every week. And it was there where she made her profession of faith, at 14 years old.

“There, in the classrooms at Montreat, we learned to see God in history, in literature, in science – in every subject we took,” Ms. Hazel said. “Those teachers, they really loved us. And that shaped us.”

She learned about God’s constancy from those teachers at Montreat. God was with her when she was 12 years old and her daddy died. God was with her at Montreat when she, and others there adjusted to the worries and fears of war.

“There have been hard places in my life,” Ms. Hazel said. “But I never blamed God – and that is because of what I received at Montreat.”

It was her time in Charlotte, though, that helped her gain the skills she would need to later become a Sunday School teacher herself. For 36 years, she taught Sunday school. And she was a preschool teacher at Fort Hill Presbyterian Church in Clemson for 21 years.

“I taught children or youth all of my married life,” Ms. Hazel said. “And Buddy and I were married for 61 years.”

As a child, at Myers Park Presbyterian Church, she memorized the questions and answers in her little pink catechism book. To this day, she still has that book. Her name is written at the top and its pages are taped together. And it lays next to her great-grandfather, C.W. McCoy’s Bible.

And she can still recite its contents.

“God tells us over and over again in the Psalms to put his words upon our hearts,” Ms. Hazel said. “There may be a time when you don’t have a Bible. The war taught us that. It is easier to live by something that is in your heart than something that is written on a page.”

In her childhood Sunday School class, Ms. Hazel learned what she believed and why. And memorization of key Scriptures and those catechism questions were an important part of her learning.

Another key part of her Sunday School class were the relationships built there. She can still remember her teacher hosting the church’s children at her home. She has fond memories of painting nativity sets at Christmas and going on Easter egg hunts.

“She had a big kitchen,” Ms. Hazel said. “She invited us to a candy pull. It was great fun. That was a way that she showed us Christian fellowship. Because that meant so much to me, I liked to have children in my home too, when I began teaching Sunday School.”

Her role as a Sunday School teacher was not contained to the classroom. Ms. Hazel spent time going to ballparks and piano recitals for her students. Ms. Hazel also modeled Sunday School classroom after the lessons she learned at Myers Park Presbyterian Church.

Key elements to her teaching was memorization, and making sure children knew they were loved.

She expected children to memorize Scripture and those catechism questions.

“I think it is important that children to know what they believe,” Ms. Hazel said. “If they can remember statistics and football plays, why not God’s word?”

The most important thing she wanted every child to know: They are a child of God, loved by God.

That is the refrain in the song that her daughter, Beth Batson, wrote for her that is now played for every child that is baptized at Fort Hill Presbyterian Church in Clemson, where Ms. Hazel is a member now.

These days, Ms. Hazel does not teach young children. But she is still teaching.

These days, for the past nine years, she has hosted Fort Hill Presbyterian Church’s prayer shawl ministry, and she also opens up her home for a monthly Bible study group.

She said that after all this time, she is still learning.

“Even at 90, this decaying body is still growing spiritually,” Ms. Hazel said. “I have found that I don’t have to know all the answers. I just have to know where to look for some of those answers.”

And, if you ride by her home early in the morning, you will likely find a light on in her window. It has become something that her neighbors notice, and will look for, she said.

“That’s my witness. I don’t have to preach or teach,” Ms. Hazel said. When they see my light on, they know. They know I am praying.”

Charmaine Smith-Miles is a pastoral intern at First Presbyterian Church in Anderson, S.C., and is in the process of seeking ordination within the Presbyterian Church (USA). She is a new mother, and also on the journey of answering a call to ministry, after spending 16 years as a journalist for a newspaper in her hometown of Anderson. A native of Tennessee, she loves sharing stories, especially the Gospel story and the stories we carry within ourselves.




Created for a Purpose

Teenager, Phillip Storie, tells of his family, his church and the work of serving others has shaped his faith.
By Charmaine Smith-Miles

ANDERSON, S.C. – There was a time when physical pain threatened to drown out God’s voice in 18-year-old Phillip Storie’s life. But a life spent surrounded by his church family, and serving others spoke louder than the pain.

Just before he graduated high school, Storie preached before the congregation of First Presbyterian Church in Anderson, S.C., where he grew up, and told of a painful part of his past.
At 15, Storie was diagnosed with a congenital abnormality in his bone structure, which was causing the bones in his chest to push in on his heart. Without the intervention of surgeons, the pressure would kill him.

“It hurt just to breathe,” Storie said.

He was only half-way through his high school career. When he first heard the news, he was angry and scared. So he prayed.

Prayers helped him to make it moment to moment. But it was the tangible acts from others that helped affirm for him that God was listening to his prayers – that he was not alone.

“Despite the fear and pain, I never felt alone,” Storie said, in his sermon to his church family. “God was always with me, and much like the bars supporting my chest, God, this congregation and my faith support me every single day. When we can’t hear God and feel abandoned, our cloud of witnesses speak loud enough to drown out our fear and suffering.”

In his family, Storie’s ‘cloud of witnesses’ started with his grandparents – in particular his paternal grandmother, Margaret Storie, and his maternal great-grandmother, Helen Trussler.

Margaret Storie was a real confidant to Storie as he was growing up. And Helen Trussler gave him a family Bible that dates to 1894, giving him some idea as to how deep his family’s faith goes.

His parents, Andrea and Jonathan, built upon that foundation in him and his older brother, Matthew, by sharing stories with them of mission trip experiences and taking them along on such trips as soon as they were old enough.

“My family loves to serve,” Storie said.

As a young boy, he went with his mother to Camp Buc, which served as an outdoor ministry of the Foothills Presbytery in the Upstate of South Carolina. She was part of the committee that helped oversee the camp, and went to camp there during the summers.

“I saw God there so much,” Storie said. “I really learned to appreciate the environment at Camp Buc. That’s why I am interested in studying renewable energy. I want to work with a company that is trying to serve the world.”

At Camp Buc, he learned to love God’s creation. And in confirmation classes at church, he learned to delve deeper into those stories from God that he’d heard all of his life. He remembers learning from one of his church mentors, David Burriss, who helped him “see different parts” of his faith.

Then, when he was in middle school, he remembers his parents going on a mission trip to Wilmington, N.C. On that mission trip, Storie’s parents found out about another mission opportunity. They learned of Matthew 28, a charity that First Presbyterian Church has partnered with in serving the people of Bohoc, Haiti.

As soon as his parents went, they fell in love with the people of Bohoc, Haiti.

“The stories that mom and dad brought back shaped me,” Storie said. “My mom loved Haiti. She loved working with the children there. She has said that she would be happy to work for Matthew 28 in Haiti, in one of the poorest countries in the world. That has always been powerful to me. She would give up her safety and security to help others.”

So as soon as he could, Storie was doing the same thing: stepping out of his own comfortable place to serve others.

He started off close to home by going to Asheville and Charlotte, N.C., in middle school. And then went to New Orleans, where he helped rebuild someone’s house that was ravaged by a hurricane, and to a Navajo Indian Reservation in Arizona.

In New Orleans, Storie said he felt like he’d really made a difference in someone else’s life.

And in Arizona, he saw what unquenchable joy looked like.

“The people there are in such a dark place,” Phillip said. “But they are so thankful, so grateful. That just blew my mind. As a kid, I used to see God as a giver. Now, I see God all around me in the world.”

This summer, after he graduated from T.L. Hanna High School in Anderson, S.C., he spent three weeks in Mexico, serving the people of Agua Prieta through the Presbyterian mission, Frontera de Christo.

He tutored some of the town’s children in math, taught English to those who wanted to learn, worshipped with the people who are part of a drug rehabilitation ministry there, and helped in their community garden.
And he’s not done.

He plans on going back to Agua Prieta, and next summer he is going to Nicaragua as a freshman engineering student at Clemson University. In Nicaragua, he and other engineering students will go to a village where they will build a well so the people there will have access to clean water.

He’s not done, he said, because each time he serves God’s people, he learns something new. Each time, his faith is deepened.

In New Orleans, Storie said felt like he’d really made a difference in someone else’s life.
In Mexico, Storie said he experienced authentic hospitality. “The community is so tightly knit. They rely on each other so much,” Storie said. “They genuinely wanted to welcome me. They want to love you.” Storie said. New Orleans, Storie said he felt like he’d really made a difference in someone else’s life.

And in Arizona, he saw what unquenchable joy looked like.

“The people there are in such a dark place,” Phillip said. “But they are so thankful, so grateful. That just blew my mind. As a kid, I used to see God as a giver. Now, I see God all around me in the world. I don’t understand why so many bad things happen in the world. But I still believe. I still have faith.

“And because of that faith, I know that we are here to live and celebrate the Good News together.”

Finding Miracles

Anderson woman tells of how God helped her, her husband through cancer.

By Charmaine Smith

ANDERSON, S.C. — Jane Gray Suggs’s face beams as she shows off the picture of her late husband, Forest DeWitt Suggs, Jr.

It is a picture that holds a favorite memory. That’s because it is a memory that almost did not happen.

In the photo, Forest’s tall, lean body is bent over and his hand is stretched out to take his wife’s hand. Just before the photo was taken, Forest made the winding climb down to the entrance of the tomb, believed to be Jesus’s resting place after he was crucified on the cross. And at that very moment, they were standing in the tomb’s doorway.

And they both are smiling for the camera.

To Ms. Jane Gray, the picture is proof of a miracle. Because just four years earlier, her husband was told that a cancer was taking over his body and there was nothing else that doctors could do.

“I think those miracles are everywhere,” Ms. Jane Gray said. “We are just too busy, sometimes, to see them.”

A member of First Presbyterian Church in Anderson, S.C., Ms. Jane Gray is an 84-year-old retired math teacher, whose father and husband worked in textiles and then accounting. She and her husband, who were both born in South Carolina, raised three sons together. And Ms. Jane Gray said she cannot “remember a time” when she did not have faith in Christ.

It is what helped them both through careers, raising a family, their marriage and two cancer diagnoses. When she tells the story now, Ms. Jane Gray speaks of how faith gave them strength, and is still her guide today.

In 2014, just 11 days short of their 60th wedding anniversary, Mr. Forest died at the age of 86. He lived nearly 10 years after doctors at Duke University’s hospital told he and Ms. Jane Gray that the metastatic melanoma cancer, which had invaded his lungs and his brain, was taking over and they were out of options to fight it.

This particular chapter in the couple’s life is one example, Ms. Jane Gray said, of how she has seen God work in her life.

Because in the moment that a doctor told them the dreaded news, she remembers feeling compelled to speak up.

“I remember walking into that room, and there were a lot of doctors there, looking at their feet,” Ms. Jane Gray said. “The doctor said, ‘Mr. Suggs, there is nothing left that we can do.’ And all of a sudden, I stood up and said, ‘Do something. Send us somewhere.’ The words were out before I even realized what I had said.”

But those words saved her beloved husband’s life.

Her words led to further discussion with the doctor, and a long-shot chance at sending Mr. Forest to another team of doctors – at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, a teaching affiliate of Harvard University’s Medical School.

There, at the Boston-based hospital, Mr. Forest was accepted into a medical treatment trial. He was the last patient to be accepted into the experimental treatment, Ms. Jane Gray said.

“When he got the infusions, he could see the tumors shrink and then disappear,” Ms. Jane Gray said. “It was amazing. There really were miracles everywhere we turned. And in 2006, when I was diagnosed with cancer, I would not have made it through without God holding my hand through it.”

Ms. Jane Gray said that God, and the community that God has surrounded her with has helped her throughout her life – especially the tough moments.

She said she has learned to pray differently and to place her trust in God as she watched her husband battle cancer, and then she also struggled with the disease. It has not been easy, she admitted, to let go.

But it was that faith, she said, that helped her through eventually seeing her husband’s health fail him.

In the years that followed, as Ms. Jane Gray adjusted to living alone, she began to consider downsizing. She said she went with her friend and fellow church member, Patsy Pickens, when Ms. Patsy signed up to live in a local independent living facility.

That visit prompted Ms. Jane Gray to begin making the same decision, she said.

She said she knew she would need to let go of the home that she and her husband had built 12 years earlier.

“When you become isolated, you lose a lot of ground,” Ms. Jane Gray said. “I loved our house. But those are just things. And I need the energy I get from being around other people. The Holy Spirit has been, and still is, the head of my life. And God helped me to see that this was the next step for me.”

So in February 2017, she moved from her home to a small one-room cottage at an independent living facility in Anderson. There are several members of her church family who are her neighbors at the home.

And Ms. Jane Gray, a very social person, said she is not alone here. Every day, she is able to share meals with other friends.


“For us Presbyterians, we believe in predestination. And what does that mean? Well, just look back on your life and you will see how God has worked in your life,” Ms. Jane Gray said. “God has been very busy in my life. I have had to put my trust in the Holy Spirit, and I have learned to say, ‘If it be thy holy will…’”

Charmaine Smith-Miles is a pastoral intern at First Presbyterian Church in Anderson, S.C., and is in the process of seeking ordination within the Presbyterian Church (USA). She is a new mother, and also on the journey of answering a call to ministry, after spending 16 years as a journalist for a newspaper in her hometown of Anderson. A native of Tennessee, she loves sharing stories, especially the Gospel story and the stories we carry within ourselves.


This article was first published in the Presbyterian Outlook on August 8, 2017.


Bohoc, Haiti

By Jennifer G. Stewart, First Anderson Presbyterian Church

As we drive through the large, rusted gates of the Matthew 28 Orphanage a part of me feels like I am coming home even though I am in a foreign land. The sounds of children laughing and calling our names in the orphanage are music to my heart.  This is my 5th trip to Bohoc, Haiti with First Presbyterian Church, Anderson.   We, as a church, have made an intentional decision to commit to  a long term partnership with Matthew 28 (orphanage, feeding centers, and school.)  This partnership has benefitted ALL of us. I cannot even begin to put into words the impact this mission and its people have had on my spiritual well-being.  While short term mission trips fill an immediate need, I have become a believer of making a commitment to serve for an extended time in the same place because of the relationships built and a deeper understanding of the mission at hand.

When we go to Bohoc, we all have ‘our jobs to do.’  For me, that includes serving as a pharmacist for our medical team when we travel to feeding centers/medical clinics, as a worker-bee to our educational team training the Haitian teachers at the School of Eternal Hope, and spending lots of time playing games, dancing, singing, and sharing hugs with the children of the Matthew 28 Orphanage and the School of Eternal Hope.  In the midst of all of the work we are doing we find the opportunity to share the love of Jesus with the people we interact with.  After each child is seen by a member of our medical team, I have the gift of being able to pray over that child in their native language.  The line that they often repeated back to me was, “Bondye renmen ou”  (God loves you.)

The people of Bohoc live a very simple life.  With unreliable power, no such thing as hot water or indoor plumbing, and very limited funds; relationships are key.   People care about one another and they look out for each other.   Their faith is as strong as their backs. (You can’t believe how much they can carry on their heads and backs!)  They lean in to God for strength, comfort and guidance.  The older youth teach the younger children scripture.  The women hum hymns while they cook and wash clothes.  Listening to the children sing praise songs in their native language of Creole is one of the most powerful, spirit-filled sounds I have ever, in my entire life, had the privilege of hearing.

If you have ever been on a mission trip, you understand the statement, “You just can’t explain what happens to your soul on a mission trip.”  Never have there been truer words when it comes to my time spent in Haiti.   Those who know me well know that my yearly trip to Haiti is soul-filling for me.  I reconnect with God through the dark eyes and bright smiles of the orphans.  I find a sense of inner peace in the quiet of the dirt roads we travel each day.  I long for the evening devotions the mission team shares each night…thought provoking and honest, with no need to rush or hurry.  My cup overflows as we sing and play and enjoy the simple things in life with the children…having God serve as our common thread.

One of the struggles, after spending time in Haiti, is transitioning from 3rd world back to 1st world living.  We are very blessed; we know that already. But when I spend time with people who have next to nothing, yet are joy-filled, I am embarrassed at how much ‘stuff’ matters to us.  It makes me nauseous to think about how much food and clean water we waste.  It makes me angry at how easy it is for us to forget to thank our true Provider for all we have.  It makes me sad that there is so much stuff we think we need that we forget all we really need is to love and feel loved. You just can’t fully explain this to people who haven’t experienced it.  I can, however, use my experiences to shape the conversations I have with my own children and those around me.    Let me encourage you to look for your chance to step out of your comfort zone and allow God to use you as a messenger of His love.  You do, however, need to know that “it may ruin your life. If you open yourself fully to serving God first in your life it will change you so profoundly that you are ruined in your ability to return to your normal life and enjoy it in the same ways because your eyes have been opened to how others live.”

Every time I leave Bohoc to come back to the states, I leave a larger part of my heart in Haiti. I don’t tell the kids goodbye, instead I say, “See you later.”  I will return again next year.   As we land in the Atlanta airport, I know I am coming home to my family and friends, but I feel a bit like I am entering a foreign land.

More than 130 youth and their adult leaders gathered…

By Dana Waters

On World Communion Sunday, more than 130 youth and their adult leaders from 5 Foothills congregations gathered at Fort Hill Church in Clemson to play games, share a meal, pray, and assemble PDA hygiene kits for people affected by hurricanes and other natural disasters. We then closed out our time together with a worship service led by Fort Hill’s youth band, Johnny & the Tulips.
In a world that seems desperate to tell us just how different we are from each other, how much better off we would be without “those people,” here in the Fellowship Hall of our church, these young people stood together as one.
And as I reflect back on that evening, I am reminded of the chorus of the very first song we sang together:
Lean on me, when you’re not strong
 And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
‘Til I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on
– “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers


I give thanks for my sisters and brothers in Christ, especially the young people from Central, FPC Anderson, Easley, and Pickens Presbyterian. They have given me a new understanding of what Paul meant when he wrote,

            “There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is
there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus
(Galatians  3:28).”
Today, let’s celebrate the unity we share in Christ Jesus. That is a gift that we may well have to lean on in the days to come.