St. Michael Church helps Baptist congregation after devastating fire

GARDEN CITY — On a recent Sunday morning, cars packed the lots at St. Michael Church as locals and vacationers attended the morning Masses in the main building.
Behind the church, another set of cars filled the spaces near the Duffy Center. The parish’s multi-purpose building had been decorated inside with bright colors for a Filipino celebration the night before. Now men, women and children sat in rows of chairs while a small choir sang a hymn of praise.
The Rev. Rich McLawhorn, pastor of Garden City Baptist Church, stepped up to a podium set up on the stage and offered a prayer of welcome and thanks.
“God … Each of us without exception is here to give thanks to you for a country where we can worship together, even in this gym,” he said. “And to give thanks for the grace extended to us to allow us to use these facilities to continue to worship you.”
Members of Garden City Baptist have been holding Sunday and Wednesday evening services in the Duffy Center since their worship center and education building were largely destroyed in a fire on June 28. Officials think a lightning strike caused the blaze, which drew more than 60 firefighters from five different Grand Strand departments.
The church, which hosts about 250 people each week during the summer, found a new place to worship before the ashes from the fire had even cooled that morning.
A fire inspector who was on site heard Rev. McLawhorn say he wanted to have a place to hold services that day, even if it meant standing in the parking lot. The inspector, whose son plays in the praise band at the Baptist church, is a parishioner at St. Michael and contacted Father Raymond J. Carlo, the pastor. Father Carlo immediately agreed to open the gymnasium in the Duffy Center to the displaced congregation.
Volunteers set up a sound system and chairs for the Baptists, and they were able to have a worship service just hours after members watched their own church go up in flames.
Father Carlo said he was glad to  help out his neighbors in a time of crisis. The two churches are located less than a half mile from each other, with St. Michael on Cypress Avenue and Garden City Baptist on nearby Pine Street. The priest said it is something of a landmark that the two congregations worked together so well because interaction between Southern Baptists and Catholics is not frequent in South Carolina.
“It’s a great form of ecumenical outreach that we have been able to help them like this,” he said.
He said Garden City Baptist members were all receptive to the idea of worshipping in a Catholic facility, even though some of them had probably never been in a Catholic church before.
“We’ve been extremely thankful to have it. It’s been a God-send,” said Ronald J. Horton. He has been a member of the Baptist church for five years and was volunteering at the nursery July 25.
“It was wonderful to be able to come over the morning of the fire and hold church here. We never missed a beat,” he said. “Attendance has been good and it’s also a good interdenominational outreach.”
Garden City Baptist has also been using classrooms in St. Michael School for Sunday school classes, the nursery and Wednesday night meetings.
The Baptist congregation will be moving into a new temporary facility for worship after Aug. 9 because the gymnasium and classrooms at St. Michael will be needed when school starts again.
Members say they won’t forget how their Catholic neighbors reached out to them during their time of crisis.
“This has truly shown that Jesus Christ is at work here,” Horton said.