CLEMSON – A church in Clemson is putting the focus on loving the local community through diversity and acceptance.
Peace Congregational Church, which began six years ago, is the only United Church of Christ church in the Upstate, and Pastor Susie Smith said its goal is to ultimately love people.
“The congregation itself is made of people old and young. We all come from different races and backgrounds,” Smith said. “Some of our members have been in other churches and left because they were discouraged with what was happening in those denominations. You can find a tremendous amount of diversity in our church.”
Smith said Peace Church is “open and affirming church open to all people.”
“We have based our covenants for membership, not so much on believing in Jesus, but following the ways of Jesus,” Smith said. “Our covenants are based on the values we think Jesus modeled during his life. Those values are of radical love realizing the interconnectedness of our lives with all creation.”
Smith said the churches’ goal is to provide a community of hope for people who have not found it other places.
“We’re very involved in the community in many different ways,” Smith said. “We’ve been active with Habitat for Humanity and Clemson Community Cares, which provides help for rent, utilities, food or whatever people need.
“We’ve been involved with trying to facilitate discussion between folks of different races and different religions,” she said.
The church shares space with Unitarian Universalists Fellowship of Clemson.
“That really comes from an environmental justice commitment,” Smith said. “We don’t want to leave a footprint in the earth when we don’t have to. We try to incorporate that with everything we do as a church.”
The church’s commitment to accepting others takes shape in several of its ministries, Smith said.
“We have been very committed and involved with the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender community in a number of ways,” Smith said. “We have a group for teenagers who are LBGT or questioning and they meet one Sunday night a month to talk about the issues concerning them.”
Smith said she has met several people whose lives were in danger because no one would accept them.
“We’ve had people in our community that were at the point of being suicidal because they were LBGT,” Smith said. “They really felt like there was no place for them, especially in the religious world. We have literally been able to help peoples lives from killing themselves. Most of those people have made a very wonderful contribution to our church in turn.”
Smith said the church’s progressive theology has been just as important as its ministry to the LBGT community.
We do not see the Bible as the literal infallible word of God,” Smith said. “We very much use the Bible as our text of worship, but we put it in context. You might find the same biblical text preached in some very different ways in other churches.”
The Peace Church pastor said other churches with opposing viewpoints are not failing, but says her church wants to offer an alternative.
“Many of the churches in our area have not been accepting of those who are LBGT,” Smith said. “They would say ‘love the sinner, but not the sin.’ Where we believe you are born the way you are born, they would see it as a choice. That’s a different understanding of scripture than we have.
“I don’t want to say others are wrong and we’re right,” she said. “We just provide an alternative. A different view of scripture and a different view of some of the crucial issues in our time.”