By Abe Hardesty/Anderson Independent
Sixty-five stores were open for business in late December at the Anderson Mall.
Only one offered free products.
That store, near the entrance of J.C. Penney and across the hall from Books-A-Million, is the Rejuvenate Church — the newest tenant in the 42-year-old mall.
What seems an unlikely location for a house of worship is one that Anderson County native Jason Wilson considers ideal. From the time it began meeting in homes in the Powdersville area a year ago, Wilson had been looking for an Anderson location, preferably one in an easy-to-find spot that would foster diversity.
The Anderson Mall, he discovered, meets all those criteria.
“The mall is a great place to find a cross-section of the population. Shopping doesn’t discriminate between age, financial status or anything else,” said Wilson, who serves as pastor.
“I knew that if we were located at the storefront of a mall, we’d get all types of people walking past,” Wilson said. “And that’s where I wanted to be.”
The church began meeting at the mall in late September. Its meetings usually draw about 30 “regulars.”
It marks the first full-time ministry for Wilson, a 1996 Wren High graduate who attended college at both Clemson and Troy State of Alabama.
After earning a degree in health sciences at Clemson in 2001, he worked as an employee health coordinator at the AnMed Health System and served as a youth leader at New Image Church in the Powdersville area before making the commitment in 2013 to form a new congregation.
Wilson’s goal is to “create a culture of ultimate diversity.”
He had initially planned to use a school or theater as the meeting place for his new ministry, but came up with the mall idea while shopping last year with his wife, Serena, and two children.
The unusual venue, he said, “puts us light years ahead” of the typical pace of growth for a new congregation.
“We believe that the church is the bridge that connects divides,” Wilson said. “There are very few places that everyone visits, regardless of age, race and socioeconomic status. The mall is that place.”
Wilson, in a post on his website, added that the location gives the new church a chance to reach some shoppers who otherwise might not stop by for congregational meetings or Bible study.
“We’re not convincing people to come to our church; they’re coming to (the mall) to buy their jeans and we get to love them while they do it,” Wilson wrote.
Wilson hopes to add Sunday-morning services in January.
Wilson, 36, felt called to the ministry at age 18, just before his sophomore year of college. He spent the next seven years “dodging” that calling, but said he eventually “realized he couldn’t continue to escape it.”
About two years ago, Wilson made the commitment to form a new church and become senior pastor about two years ago.
“In January 2013, I felt like God was speaking to me,” said Wilson, who announced to close friends at a Christmas party in December 2013 that he felt called to start a new church.
Wilson is well-acquainted with full-time church ministry. His in-laws, Gary and Cindy Cannon, have served more than 20 years as youth pastors at Greenville’s Tremont Avenue Church of God. An uncle serves as a minister in Alabama and his great-grandfather once served as pastor of the McDuffie Street Church of God.
Wilson married the former Serena Cannon in 2001. They have two young children.
The family ties to the ministry offer no guarantees when it comes to starting a new church, Wilson said.
“Starting a new church is the second-most failed business venture — only about 20 percent succeed,” Wilson said in mid-December, as he worked to install a sound system in the mall storefront.
In an effort to reduce expenses, Wilson and others in the group have become do-it-yourselfers to an extent.
“My grandpa was a carpenter. I worked with him a little, but it is not my gift,” Wilson said of the renovation project, which turned into a group effort.
Wilson is a big proponent of teamwork, and often uses the team-building techniques he first came to appreciate as a student of football.
“Football closely resembles life. I call it the ‘godliest’ sport,” Wilson said. “There are a lot of biblical principles involved in football.
“The way a successful church body comes together, with each member fulfilling its roles, and working together as a team, and facing adversity is much the same way a successful football team functions,” Wilson said.
Article taken from Saturday, December 27, 2014 edition of the Anderson Independent
Article By Abe Hardesty/Anderson Independent
Photos By Ken Ruinard/Anderson Independent