New hope rises from ‘a church in the woods’

New hope rises from ‘a church in the woods’ – A tiny wooden church is hidden in the woods of southern Hampton County. The curved driveway from Jericho to Collie Roads is covered in oak leaves. The gray, board-and-batten building is surrounded by a metal fence that gives it a very simple appearance.

You might not even know it exists if you don’t look for it.

A simple stone carving above the door says, “My house shall become the house of prayer and for all people.” This is just a glimpse of what lies inside. (New hope rises from ‘a church in the woods’)

The wooden doors of The Church of the Heavenly Rest Episcopal Church will immediately make you feel at home. The outside is starkly contrasted by the wood paneled walls, high beams, and brass candelabra. The sanctuary is glorified by the stained-glass windows. The rising sun behind the altar makes the angel’s beauty shine. For those who lift their gazes, a tiny crown is placed above the doorway. Side windows flood with color and light.

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One window shows a mother and child. It simply says “In loving memory Alice Martin Marshall, who died Nov. 6, 1887 and Elizabeth, who died April 21, 1888.”(New hope rises from ‘a church in the woods’)

New hope rises from 'a church in the woods'

Heavenly Rest was established in 1891 by members of the Martin family to honor Alice and Elizabeth. It was donated to the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina.

The little church served as the place to gather a faithful, small congregation that celebrated Easter, Christmas, Sunday services and funerals for over 100 years.

The organ music became an echo as children and older members moved on to other places. Services were discontinued in 2018. Heavenly Rest was also in danger as the Episcopal Church was experiencing upheaval.

According to Sally Mayse, Southern Deanery, a group of seven churches located in Allendale, Bamberg Hampton, Jasper, Jasper, Beaufort and Hampton counties, both the Marshall family and the Episcopal Church leadership were determined to revitalize the church. The Diocese selected Mayse to serve as liaison.(New hope rises from ‘a church in the woods’)

Together, she and the Heavenly Rest vestry made plans to restore the church back to its original glory.

Next, services were scheduled. Services were not regular but they were periodic. Three services were held so far in 2022, with another scheduled for November 27, at 11 a.m.

Mayse stated, “I decided that we need a mission and a ministry.”(New hope rises from ‘a church in the woods’)

She was looking for a mission that would be of benefit to the region. She was looking for something that would spread the Word. Reading is a better mission than any other.

That led her to walk into the Estill Library whose Branch Manager Joy Yeisley suggested she call Carolyn Fortson, director of the Allendale-Hampton-Jasper Regional Library System.

Fortson said, “That call was an answer to a prayer.”(New hope rises from ‘a church in the woods’)

New hope rises from 'a church in the woods'

The library system’s bookmobile was in constant need of repairs, both to its mechanical components and its body. She said, “I wasn’t sure where the money was going from to finish these repairs.”

Mayse returned the request to Heavenly Rest’s Vestry, who had “generously donated” to the project. She asked the Deanery and the diocesan leadership if they would be willing to participate. They enthusiastically agreed.(New hope rises from ‘a church in the woods’)

Sixty-two thousand dollars was raised for Heavenly Rest by the mission. Today, the mobile library made 10-12 stops throughout the region. Young and old can now borrow DVDs and books, and stretch their minds.

Fortson said, “It was a miracle.”

On October 26, Allendale-Hampton-Jasper library board members and branch managers found their way to the little church in the woods. Tommy Peeples, bookmobile manager, parked the brightly colored mobile unit under the oaks. They got to know the sanctuary’s history and were able to see its future.(New hope rises from ‘a church in the woods’)

They exchanged checks with Mayse and marveled at the two miracles of a 131-year old church and a bookmobile, both receiving new life. Both are now hopeful.