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A New Start: Rural Mission Becomes Sea Islands Camp & Retreat Center

24 Sep 2019 12:15 PM | Jen Burch (Administrator)

A South Carolina ministry site is getting a fresh start and a new purpose. On May 31, 2019, ownership of the former Rural Mission property was transferred to South Carolina United Methodist Camps and Retreat Ministries. Arthur Spriggs, Camps and Retreat Director, said the property was deeded to them in exchange for the relief of debt. “No way we were going to be able to afford such property at fair market value,” Spriggs said, noting the Lowcountry property was not only extremely valuable but attracting much interest from local real estate developers. The site is 5 acres in Johns Island, South Carolina, that sits on a two-mile waterway leading out to the Atlantic Ocean, just 2 miles by road away from the Kiawah public beach. Right now, there are about 40 beds with a dining hall, kitchen, and 3 program buildings.

The desire was strong to keep the property in the United Methodist family. Rural Mission has a long history and a special place in the hearts of many South Carolina Methodists. Many pastors received their call to ministry while working there, and its five decades of service to the rural poor on Johns Island has drawn thousands of volunteers in ministry from across the nation.

Spriggs said the site will now be called the Sea Islands Camp and Retreat Center. “Our first priority right now is to get the property secured, then we’ll hold a community meeting, a charrette, which will be a dreaming session of what the property can be,” Spriggs said. “We’ll be inviting community stakeholders, leaders in the area, key folks from the board, the marina folks across the water, etc. It will be a huge planning think-tank session, where we will literally ask the question, ‘What could this place possibly be?’” “We really will take off from that meeting,” he said. “We’re hoping something really cool will come out of it.”

Also this fall, the Camps and Retreat board plans to host a big thank-you celebration for the former Rural Mission staff. Former Rural Mission Director Linda Gadson, who served at the site for 47 years, stated, “I want whatever happens now to be successful.” Gadson noted she is happy the property is staying in the UMC family. “The most important thing for me is the property was not sold from the people. I pray the property will somehow still be available for local people, then when activities take place they are still a part of it—that they can have access even if not ownership, that the connecting link to the past will still always be there.” 

Spriggs said he is excited about the future possibilities of mission, spiritual growth, and renewal that will certainly shape the outreach at the Sea Islands site. He’s also extremely excited about the camps and retreat possibilities the property will allow. He envisions being able to bring in small groups for team building exercises, such as obstacle courses and other group bonding experiences. He said the site is perfect for water activities, too, such as sea kayaking and other programs. “That’s the key thing when we signed up for this—to do all we can to make it sustainable and give it our best shot,” Spriggs said. “We’re excited about that opportunity.”

This article is excerpted from the original by Jessica Brodie, published by the South Carolina Annual Conference Advocate

Photo credit to Matt Brodie, SC Conference Production Coordinator.

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