Small church gift shops are a form of evangelization

Miscellany/Christina Lee Knauss: Patricia Newell (left) gets help selecting a new Bible from Jean Sanborn, a volunteer who is the book buyer for the gift shop at Our Lady Star of the Sea Church in North Myrtle Beach.

NORTH MYRTLE BEACH—Patricia Newell went shopping for a new Bible after morning Mass at Our Lady Star of the Sea Church on a recent weekday morning.

She didn’t have to go out in the cold or hunt for hours online because she found what she needed at the church’s gift and book shop.

Our Lady Star of the Sea is one of five parishes around the state that runs a gift shop stocked with books, Bibles, statues, prayer cards, jewelry and other items that are often hard to find. 

The salespeople at these shops are dedicated volunteers who say they offer a much needed ministry, helping people find authentic Catholic items in areas where Catholic shops are few and far between. The closest ones to North Myrtle Beach, for instance, are in Charleston or Wilmington, N.C. 

The North Myrtle Beach shop is staffed by members of the ladies’ guild. 

Originally, it operated in a small corner of the church narthex, but its popularity and the congregation grew, and a decade ago it moved to a much larger space with spacious display shelves and plenty of room for browsing. 

Our Lady Star of the Sea Church’s gift shop sells many items, including gifts for Lent, which begins this year on Feb. 26.

The volunteers spend as much time as possible helping customers find exactly the right item.

Jean Sanborn, who is in charge of buying books for the shop, asked Newell what she was looking for in Scripture study and then helped her find a Bible that suited her best. 

Ann Alexander, merchandise buyer, said many people come in looking for gifts for first Holy Communion, confirmation, weddings and baptisms. 

Prayer cards and medals of specific saints are also very popular, she said, especially St. Michael, St. Benedict, and St. Peregrine, who is the patron saint of cancer patients. The store also stocks jewelry, prayer cards and medals for police and firemen, plus all branches of the armed forces, and athletes. 

One of the most popular items is the St. Joseph “house-selling kit,” which consists of a St. Joseph statue and instructions on how to place it near a home for sale. Tradition says the saint’s intervention will help a home sell faster.

“You can buy some of these things online but then you can’t always be sure of what you’re getting,” Alexander said. “A lot of people like to be able to personally hold a medal, a prayer card or a statue before they buy it, and visiting a store like this gives them the chance.”

The store at Our Lady Star of the Sea Church is open from 8:30 to noon Monday-Friday and before and after Mass on weekends. 

Three other parishes along the Grand Strand offer shopping opportunities as well. Gift shops are run on the weekends before and after Masses at St. Andrew Church in Myrtle Beach, St. Michael Church in Murrells Inlet and Precious Blood of Christ Church on Pawleys Island. 

The only parish gift shop not on the coast is at St. Mary Help of Christians Church in Aiken. Since late 2018, parishioner Mike Enloe has been on hand before and after Masses each weekend to run the store there. He said he is proud of the large amount of stock that the St. Mary’s store carries in a space “packed to the ceiling” with everything from Bibles, scapulars and medals to a large selection of Byzantine icons. 

“We’ve never had a Catholic store in Aiken before, and people would have to drive to Augusta or Columbia to find what we offer,” Enloe said. “I’m glad to be there to help people get what they need to further their faith.” 

Jean Sanborn in North Myrtle Beach said that the gift shops’ work “is really a form of evangelization.”

“Every book we sell is helping to get the word of God out to people who want and need it,” she said. “Many times, these items help people not only sustain their faith but to share it with others.”