One night, sitting out front of the mission, a bare-chested man came up and pointed to the banner above us. “Christian! Christian! Christian!” he yelled. He moved to the right, and yelled, “1904! 1904! 1904!” He repeated this process once more and then left. Those of us out front looked at each other and smiled, wondering what in the world he was talking about, but, in actuality, he pretty much summed it up.
The Star Gospel Mission has been serving the homeless and near-homeless of the city since 1904, making it the oldest Christian welfare organization in the city. It was founded by Obadiah Dugan, whose family operated the mission for three generations, 84 years, until 1986. Today, the mission is operated by only its fifth director, the Rev. William K. Christian III. The mission has survived its fair share of triumphs and struggles, the most damaging being hurricane Hugo in 1989, that destroyed the original building at 474 Meeting Street and the beach cottage and summer camp located on Sullivan’s Island. It was saved only when funds from a variety of sources began to pour in, and when the frontage property—that now sits directly on Meeting Street—was sold to pay for the new building, tucked behind the Sherwin Williams with a view of the Post and Courier building.
Today, if you showed up at the Star Gospel Mission looking for a place to stay, the first person you’d likely meet is Matthew, our cook, who would ask, “Can I help you?” and then direct you towards the Rev. The Rev, Pastor Christian, would shake your hand, look you in the eyes, and ask you to sit down. He’d ask who you are, where you came from, what your criminal record and background is. The Rev can size you up in just a few sentences. He’d explain the rules. Monday through Friday, you have to be out at 7:30 am and can’t come back until 4 pm. You have to be working. You have to be at the mandatory church service at 8 am Sunday mornings, and you can’t do drugs or drink. You have a weekly chore and have to take turns cleaning the kitchen and the dining room. It costs $90 a week—that covers your rent, your utilities, your dinners and coffee and a bagel in the morning.
Afterwards, Matthew will take you to the back, where there are 22 beds in 9 different cubicles, and give you the sheets to your bed. He’ll show you your locker, and tell you to keep your shoes in order. He’ll show you the showers, and tell you to wear flip flops, and as you walk out he’ll tell you to make sure you turn out the light. That’s pretty much it.
Of course, the richness of the experience is in the lives around you, in the conversations and idiosyncrasies of the men, in the struggles they experience and the stories they tell. Otherwise, it’s just a set of walls with some beds and chairs and a T.V., a kitchen and a bathroom, like where anybody else lives. But this is the Star Gospel Mission, where I live, a place that in the words of The Rev “gives guys a second lease on life,” “a hand up and not a hand out,” and “transforms hearts and lives for Jesus Christ.”
So that’s pretty much it, and has been since 1904.