Posted: Thursday, June 17, 2010 3:01 pm
The Messenger, June 17, 2010
Soli Deo Gloria: For the Glory of God Alone
Ministry & Missions: The Life
of John L. Girardeau, Part 2
By CAMILLE KENDALL
Special to The Messenger
John Lafayette Girardeau accepted a call to minister at Anson Street Mission in Charleston, S.C., in 1855. This small church was an outreach of Charleston’s Second Presbyterian Church, designed to minister specifically to the city’s black community. A handful of both black and white members of Second Presbyterian attended Anson Street, providing leadership and education to new members.
Shortly after his arrival, Girardeau realized that the development of the small church would be restricted by its status as a “mission” church. With the approval of Second Presbyterian Church and of Charleston Presbytery, the Anson Street Mission became an independent work, with an initial roll of 36 black members.
Girardeau poured himself enthusiastically into this new labor. He possessed both a tender heart and a keen theological mind, and he encouraged study and intellectual development in his congregants. In contrast to Charles Finney’s philosophy of emotionally-driven, method-induced revival, Girardeau believed that a true understanding of Scripture, guided by the Holy Spirit’s influence, was the power for real reformation and revival.
The young church grew quickly from 36 to 600 registered members, and by 1860 had an average Sunday morning attendance of over 1500. It is amazing to consider that the largest congregation meeting in pre-Civil War Charleston, perhaps in all of South Carolina, was a predominantly black, Reformed, Calvinistic church pastored by a white minister! When one of Girardeau’s congregants was asked by another black man why he attended a church with a white pastor, the fellow replied, “Yas, he [sic] face is white, but he heart is black.” (Preachers with Power, Douglas Kelly, 1992)
Increasing attendance required a larger building: the congregation built the largest church edifice in Charleston. Moving into their new facility, they changed their name from Anson Street Mission to Zion Church. Girardeau organized Zion Church on a small group ministry basis. Small groups of about 50 members met together for religious training, ministry and evangelistic outreach. As a group grew, it would train leadership to split off and form new small groups.
With the outbreak of the Civil War, Girardeau enlisted as a chaplain in the Confederate army. After the war, he returned in September of 1865 to resume his ministry at Zion Church. The church’s building, however, was occupied by the Freedman’s Bureau under U.S. occupation forces. Girardeau held services at his boyhood church, Second Presbyterian Church, where members of five different Presbyterian churches — both black and white — gathered to worship.
Finally, in 1867, the large Zion Church building was returned to the congregation. Girardeau continued serving his beloved Zion Church for 10 more years, before eventually leaving to teach at Columbia Theological Seminary.
Although offered positions at prestigious white churches, Girardeau turned them down. He felt called to serve the black residents of coastal South Carolina. This was not a short stint of missionary service – it was his life, the living out of his love for Christ. He invested himself in the people God placed around him, and the Lord richly blessed his labor. Zion Church of Charleston, S.C., flourished and prospered under his ministry, even through the difficult years of the Civil War and Reconstruction, eventually ministering in turn to the white church that had organized the original mission.
Charleston was basically John Girardeau’s home town. Girardeau saw a need in his community and devoted himself to meeting that need, day in and day out, year after year. How does that challenge us today? Maybe you are living in Union City or South Fulton or a tiny community called Frog Level — that is your mission field.
Maybe you are a stay-at-home mom, or a clerk at Wal-Mart or a crew member at Kohler or Goodyear — this is where you are called to proclaim the gospel.
Pack your bags for Mexico if you wish, but the mission field is as close as your next door neighbor. Don’t make ministry and missions a short-term endeavor — consider John Girardeau’s example, and make them your life.
Editor’s note: Camille Kendall attends Grace Community Church (www.graceunioncity.com), where she is learning the implications of God’s sovereign grace in her life.