Zion church celebrates heritage, new growth

BLYTHEWOOD – A historic Blythewood church will host a Heritage Celebration this Sunday, Oct. 20 and the community is invited to celebrate more than two centuries of history on the site – and a wave of new members that has sparked a rebirth.

“Small as this church is, we are growing,” says Gale Coston, a retired college professor and an active member at Zion United Methodist Church. Members of the original Zion Methodist Church first held services on the site in a log structure more than two centuries ago, in the late 1790s.

“I think a number of people are like my wife and I.  We were tired of the over-commitment to committees and all of the non-religious functions of the church. We wanted a smaller congregation where the emphasis was on the religious services, and we wanted to be able to get to know our fellow churchgoers,” Coston said.

“I think that is the case with all of our new members. A lot of the new members are older, and I think we were all looking for the same thing.”

The current building, located at 1150 Zion Church road, is a white country church with a large cemetery, indicative of a large, active congregation through the decades. It was built in the late 1800s. The simple furnishings inside the one-room structure include traditional hymnals and well-worn pews. One of the original gas lamps, now electrified, hangs from the ceiling.

A portrait of Jesus hangs on the wall behind the pulpit. The congregation, which typically has 25-30 in attendance on a Sunday morning, is led by a progressive young pastor, Scott Matthews. A graduate of the University of South Carolina Law School, Matthews is an attorney at the South Carolina Attorney General’s office. He is currently attending a course of study at Duke Divinity School. He will be in attendance at the Heritage Celebration with his wife Michelle and daughter Charlotte.

Coston says current church members sent special invitations to all of the former members who are living, inviting them to Sunday’s celebration – a homecoming that will include lunch after 11 a.m. service.

Cathy Jamieson, Columbia District Superintendent at the South Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church, said Zion is one of several churches that have recently sought to recognize their past and chart an intentional course for their future.

Coston says Zion and several similar area churches are experiencing the same trend.

“We’re growing among a particular demographic with a fond appreciation for our rootsy simplicity,” Coston said.

These churches are all experiencing a similar kind of “different” growth, he says: These country churches, all with a traditional feel, are increasingly being chosen by older adults as their new church home in contrast with a church-growth paradigm focused on attracting families seeking bands, fund raisers, recreation and other entertainment oriented components.