Ninety years after his grandfather organized the creation of First Presbyterian Church of Myrtle Beach, Rev. John Brearley is helping to unify the church onto a new, larger campus.
The church first purchased the 19 acres of land along Robert Grissom Parkway between 38th and 44th avenues in 2001 with plans to build a facility that would replace the longtime building downtown on North Kings Highway.
After finishing phase one of the new project in 2008, however, the recession hit and further construction was delayed indefinitely, splitting church activities between the two campuses.
Mary Gene Singleton, who joined First Presbyterian with her husband Joey shortly after their wedding in 1983, said she feared she would not get to see the new church building finished in her lifetime.
“It was not that I believed it would never happen,” she said. “I just wasn’t sure I’d ever get to enjoy it.”
Singleton’s worries made the July 27 raising of the steeple onto the new sanctuary all the more special, she said.
“The steeple on top really makes it a church,” she said, “where we’ll all come together for worship.”
Brearley said the dream to move onto the new campus, about a decade later than originally planned, should be complete by the end of this year.
The reverend was hired five years ago after spending 17 years as a pastor in Greenville, he said.
Brearley said he never thought he’d leave Greenville, but when the opportunity arrived to serve the church his grandfather, Cecil Brearley, had helped begin in 1928, he and his family made the move.
At a time when many churches in South Carolina and nationally are seeing declining membership, First Presbyterian is preparing to make its move to accommodate its growing congregation.
The sanctuary on North Kings Highway had enough space for 550 worshipers, but the new building will accommodate up to 800, Brearley said.
“Our goal is not to be the largest church,” he said. “It’s just to be faithful, but more and more people are coming and enjoying that message.”
Singleton recalled that the congregation was sitting at about 400 members when she joined, but it now has more than 1,600.
Beverly Jones, who joined the church with her husband Jack more than two years ago, said she was drawn to First Presbyterian because it offered lots of opportunities for worship and volunteering.
Brearley noted that the church offers multiple styles of worship in different settings as it works to reach everyone.
Services have become more casual, inviting people to come as they are and will be accepted for who they are, he said.
“The message (of the church) has not changed,” Brearley said. “But the medium and how we offer (that message) to people has changed considerably.”
Jones and Singleton both agreed that what they’re most looking forward to with the completed campus is having all church members together under one roof.
“This isn’t just a structure,” Jones said. “It’s people, welcoming the spirit, together.”
David Weissman: @WeissmanMBO; 843-626-0305