Editor’s Note: The Bluffton Sun was first published in January 1998. As we celebrate our 20th anniversary in 2018, we want to look at the past 20 years of history and changes around town. This is the fourth in a series of articles about the changes we’ve all seen. Join us as we revisit the past 20 years.

In 1998, when the Bluffton Sun newspaper was founded, congregations of local organized religions were beginning to swell in numbers, much like the community’s population itself.

Consider that Bluffton annexed the 20,662-acre Palmetto Bluff 20 years ago, and the town’s population in 2000 was 1,275. Now, the Town of Bluffton encompasses 54 square miles from its original 1 square-mile Old Town, and today’s population is 21,085.

The roots for a few local churches trace back to the mid-1800s. Some have changed names and denominations and relocated from their original sites. Churches formed in the 20th century matured in size, services and outreach programs.

For historical perspective, the Greek revival-style Bluffton Methodist Episcopal Church on Boundary Street was built in 1853 and is Old Town’s oldest church building.

The Methodist congregation sold the building in 1874 to the newly formed African Methodist Episcopal Church overseen by former slaves. It is now known as Campbell Chapel African Methodist Episcopal (AME).

Building on the Church of the Cross at the south end of Calhoun Street, alongside the May River, began in 1854 to seat 600 parishioners. Services on “The Bluff” of the May River were first held in the 1830s.

Both the historic edifices survived intact when the Union army assaulted Bluffton during the Civil War in 1863.

These days some churches, like the Live Oak Christian Church, don’t have a permanent facility or chapel but hold regular worship services at the Bluffton School of Dance. It appears nearly every church has its own web page and-or social media presence, and many offer their weekend services and sermons online for viewing.

Two things have remained historically untouched: The steadfast commitment to the original church missions and beliefs, and common fellowship among parishioners.

In Bluffton, there are 33 Christian and non-denominational churches, according to churchangel.com, and no synagogues, although the Temple Oseh Shalom holds its services at the Lowcountry Presbyterian Church on Simmonsville Road. There is one Jehovah’s Witness temple, on Bluffton Road.

Locally, 39.1 percent of residents are affiliated with a religion, according to Sperling’s Best Places. Catholicism reports 10.5 percent of that total, and Baptists 8.1 percent.

The others are “other Christians” 6.6 percent, Presbyterians 3.4 percent, Methodists 3.3 percent, Episcopalians 3.3 percent, Pentecostals 1.4 percent, Lutheran 1.1 percent, LDS 0.9 percent and Jewish 0.4 percent. Eastern and Islam religions are unreported.

Peeking into the time capsule from events in the 1990s:

  • The Church of the Cross on Calhoun Street opened its Buckwalter campus in 1998 and added a faith-based school, welcoming seven first graders that first year. Four-hundred students in preschool through eighth grade now attend. This Anglican church has grown from a mission to a parish, and the number of its parishioners has grown 20-fold in the past two decades.
  • Lowcountry Presbyterian Church, which held its first service in 1993 in a rented room, now has 450 members. Since 2000, they have been gathering at their sanctuary on 9 acres on Simmonsville Road.
  • Lowcountry Community Church, which began as a 41-member bible study group in 1994 on Hilton Head, broke ground for its current facility in 2002 on Buckwalter Parkway. Three years earlier, new (and current) pastor Jeff Cranston began reaching out to the Bluffton community for fellowship. Today, there are more than 2,000 nondenominational church members. The church recently dedicated its 750-seat state-of-the-art worship center.
  • St. Andrew Catholic Church purchased a 63-acre site on U.S. 278 from Union Camp Corp. in 1995 to build a new parish campus. Bishop David Thompson of Charleston decreed that the parish would receive a new name – St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church – when the new church was constructed and blessed two years later. The parish has grown its membership by more than 7,000 people.

More recently:

  • The Campbell Chapel American Methodist Episcopal Church, which outgrew the original building built in 1853, built a new church next door in 2004. It’s seeking to have the original building ordained on the National Registry of Historic Places.
  • The property on the corner of Allen and Boundary streets in Old Town, where the parsonage of the former Bluffton Methodist Episcopal Church was located, was deeded to the Bluffton United Methodist Church. It underwent a major building expansion in 2015 that doubled the sanctuary seating capacity. Also built was a music suite for all of the church’s choirs.
  • The historic chapel on Pritchard Street for the St. John Baptist Church hopes to erect a historical marker at the site of the extant sanctuary, citing its strong relationship in Gullah culture.
  • The Bluffton campus of St. Andrew-By-The-Sea renovated space in a building on Persimmon Street in 2016 and plans to move to a permanent facility on Buckwalter Parkway, where it owns 10 acres.

Lowcountry resident Dean Rowland is a veteran senior editor and freelance writer.