By Jon Clater
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” 1 Peter 1:3-5
Our church began in the 1930s to serve the thriving Poe Mill village, and for the past five decades have occupied our current building on Poinsett Highway just across from the mill village. To fully answer the question of why our church is in Poe Mill, you need an understanding of what Poe Mill is. The Poe Mill community is an area right outside the Greenville, SC city limits named after a textile mill that is no longer in operation.
In the 1960s, Greenville was known as the textile capital of the world, and the Mill named after F. W. Poe was one of the most lucrative in the area. Poe Mill had a long, successful history and operated from 1896-1977. In its hay day, Poe Mill had a prime location sitting very near the main line of the Southern Railroad and right off the well-traveled Buncombe Road. The houses surrounding the Mill were built for mill-employed families to rent at a very reasonable rate. These were simple, but well built houses that provided a convenient location for many of the mill employees. Life around in the mill village was determined by the operation of the mill. They woke up by a whistle at the mill, they ate when the mill employees ate, and they slept only when the mill was closed for the night. In 1947, after World War 2, the mill was sold to a mercantile firm from St. Louis. The new owners sold off the homes in the neighborhood to give families the opportunity to own a home. Several years later it was sold for the last time to Burlington Industries who ran it until the 1970s when foreign competition for textiles rose. Poe Mill, like many other American-owned textile mills, could not compete with the prices the foreign companies were able to offer, and was forced to close its doors in 1977. Nearly 30 years later in 2003 the vacant mill building was consumed by fire, leaving only the two iconic smoke stacks to remind the neighborhood of what was once there.
Since the mill closed, the neighborhood has fallen upon many economic and social hardships. Many families have struggled to find work, and many of the problems that come with a low income area have had devastating effects on the neighborhood. Opioid drug abuse has been on the rise in Greenville County and has extended to the Downtown and as well as the Poe Mill neighborhood. Multiple generations have now lived in poverty, hunger, and homelessness. This is the neighborhood where Griggs Memorial Baptist Church ministers.
Our area is drastically different since our founding over 80 years ago. As the neighborhood has changed over time, what has kept us here? Maybe it would have been easier to locate to a higher income area. Maybe it would have been easier if we moved to a more churched area where poverty, hunger, and drugs weren't the problems facing us daily. We have stayed for a simple reason: we see hope in Poe Mill.
The Gospel is truly on the move in Poe Mill. Our church’s motto is, “Worship Jesus, Revitalize the church, and Reach the Neighborhood.” So it is in our very fabric to be a church that is reaching the neighborhood God has called us to. We are constant beneficiaries of the boundless mercies of God, so it is our passion to share those mercies to all people. Jesus said it so perfectly when he answered the Pharisees that were judging Him for eating with sinners, “They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Mark 2:17). As a church we know from our own lives that Jesus saves sinners, because we are all sinners. We were all sick, in need of the Physician. It is our mission to share the message of the Great Physician to Poe Mill.
Our church has been in Poe Mill from the day it was founded, and we intend to stay there because through Jesus, we bring hope of his resurrection to Poe Mill. (1 Peter 1:3-5)
This is our mission, because where Jesus is, there is healing. Where Jesus is, there is hope.
Jon Clater serves as a Ministry Associate at Griggs, and is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree with a focus on communications and Bible. Follow him on Twitter at @jonathan_clater.