Sunday marked a special day for a local congregation that started off as a church plant in a home almost 20 years ago with nine attendees.
Founding pastor the Rev. Marion Zeigler spoke earlier this week on Salt and Light Church celebrating 17 years as a local worship body on Sunday and also paying off its mortgage at 360 Miller Road with a note-burning celebration. Zeigler is a bi-vocational pastor who also works as a financial representative with Northwestern Mutual Life.
Zeigler said Salt and Light's first service took place on Feb. 17, 2002, in the family room of his Sumter home. The church's mission at the time was to reach the "unchurched" in Sumter.
Two years later, the church bought its first and only building on Miller Road from Plaza Church of Christ, which moved to 1402 Camden Highway (U.S. 521). In purchasing the facility, Salt and Light paid about 10 percent up front for the property and borrowed $300,000 in a 20-year mortgage, he said.
Salt and Light is a member of the Southern Baptist Convention and affiliated with the South Carolina convention, "even though we don't look like a lot of those other churches," Zeigler admits.
Six months after its startup, church leadership started a Christian-based 12-step recovery program called Celebrate Recovery in the fall of 2002 to further help the church with the hurting and "unchurched" people that it was reaching.
"We learned about Celebrate Recovery, and that was a way other than our church that could also assist us in meeting the needs that people had - in addition to growing spiritually," Zeigler said. "For example, a drug addict has a lot more issues to deal with than his spiritual life. He may not have a home to live in, or his wife has left him, or his children are mad at him. All those things are stuff to deal with."
Often through the church meeting individuals' needs, people have come to know Jesus Christ, he said.
Through the years, some things have changed at Salt and Light, but many have stayed the same, according to Zeigler.
The church now has three pastors: himself as team leader/pastor, Rodney Howard as the teaching pastor and Clay Weeks as the worship leader/pastor.
Salt and Light's mission has slightly changed through the years with more of an emphasis on discipleship now.
"We not only want to get people introduced to Jesus," Zeigler said, "but to get them to become disciples who will make more disciples of Christ."
Today, the church has about 85 members.
One of them is Carolyn Arnemann, a teacher at Sumter High School.
With a master's degree in discipleship ministries from Liberty University, she moved to Sumter to be a part of Salt and Light in March 2014 and help its discipleship ministry, she said.
Arnemann said the "community" at the church is what attracted her initially.
"A lot of churches have the greeting time," Arnemann said, "but I can remember that first Sunday, it was me, my sister and my brother-in-law, who had moved to Sumter in 2013. They had the greeting time at the beginning of the service, and my sister and I looked at each other and said, 'They have community.' It was part of what all three of us were looking for - just a place that loved each other and cared about each other. And that's Salt and Light."
Looking back, Zeigler said, he never imagined the church would be able to pay off its 20-year loan in 15 years.
"No, our prayer was that we wouldn't miss a payment," Zeigler said. "We were doing good to pay off a 20-year loan, we thought. It was just a blessing that it got paid off early."
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