Carolina Forest forms new Catholic community

Miscellany/Christina Lee Knauss: Father David Nerbun, who was assigned to form the new Carolina Forest Catholic Community in the Myrtle Beach deanery, speaks with a Massgoer after the inaugural service July 26.

MYRTLE BEACH—A new Catholic community is off to a good start in the rapidly growing Carolina Forest area of Horry County, overcoming challenges including an ongoing pandemic and a recent visit from Hurricane Isaias. 

The Catholic Community at Carolina Forest meets at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School. Father David Nerbun celebrated their inaugural Mass on July 26. 

Father Nerbun said forming the new community was one of the future plans that Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone discussed with him when he first was assigned to the Myrtle Beach deanery two years ago. He currently is priest-in-residence at St. James Church in Conway and also is the first Catholic chaplain at Coastal Carolina University.

The diocese purchased land in the Carolina Forest area more than 20 years ago, anticipating an eventual need for a new parish. 

The need is now a reality. Since it first opened in the late 1990s, Carolina Forest has become one of the fastest growing communities in the Carolinas. The 2010 census showed a population of 21,000, and some estimates say it has nearly doubled in the ensuing decade, with new housing developments and apartment complexes springing up every few months. Like many communities on the coast, the area is attracting a mix of retirees and young couples and families moving to the area for work.

“We first started seriously talking about doing this in the summer of 2019, but those plans were put on hold, and then the diocese let me know back in June that they wanted me to start pushing forward with the new community,” Father Nerbun said. “I had a few meetings with people who were interested in helping with this new ministry, and then we arranged to meet at the school and started a Facebook page.” 

With limited publicity and only a few weeks to plan, Father Nerbun said he would have been happy if 60 people showed up for the first Mass. Instead, 92 people filled the seats, and that grew to 110 for the second Sunday liturgy on Aug. 2. The group will begin holding weekly Sunday Mass on Aug. 16 at 5 p.m., in addition to the 11 a.m. service. 

COVID-19 precautions make planning a challenge. Worshipers sit on single seats or benches spread out around the foyer and hallways of the school in order to maintain proper social distancing. Seats are also set up inside the adjacent school chapel and outside, with doors propped open so people can hear the Mass. Masks are required, temperature checks are done at the door and hand sanitizer is available. 

Deacon Jim Hinnerschitz, who is based at St. James, and his wife Tami are helping the new community get off the ground. The couple moved from New York 12 years ago and quickly realized that the area needed its own Catholic presence. 

 “It seemed like every time we had work done on the house we would meet people who say they ‘used to be Catholic’ [and now weren’t] because they couldn’t find a church they liked or had just stopped going to Mass because of different reasons,” Mrs. Hinnershitz said. 

“We thought it was really necessary to offer something new people in the area could come and try. I also thought we really needed a community in the Carolina Forest area, especially with the Catholic high school being here,” she added. This is something that has been tugging on my heart for a long time.” 

The couple is part of a growing list of volunteers who help set up for Mass, serve as lectors, play music and are planning religious education classes. A weekday Thursday Mass began Aug. 5 and they have plans to expand prayer and worship opportunities in the coming weeks. 

“It’s exciting to see this take off the way it is,” Father Nerbun said. “In a time that has been depressing for many people, a new beginning like this is a very happy occasion.” 

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