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NEWS | Sept. 24, 2021

Holy City Tour

By Josh Mayes, 628th ABW Historian and Mindy Morris, 628th ABW EO Director Joint Base Charleston Air Base Wing

On September 14, 2021, Chaplain Joel Kornegay and Historian Josh Mayes combined expertise and competencies to provide Joint Base Charleston an opportunity to visit five historic churches in the 'Holy City' – downtown Charleston. 

It was ideal weather for the ten JB Charleston teammates who ventured on the 2.8-mile walking tour. In the beginning, Mayes dispelled the myth the Holy City's moniker for Charleston was based on religious tolerance. Instead, he explained the name was "popularized in the 1930s in an obituary. The English settled South Carolina in Charles Towne Landing to be proprietary – a money maker." 

By law, no one could build anything taller than the tallest church steeple. 

In 1680, "Oyster Point" was settled. But, Mayes explained, "they brought all the religious strife from England that started in the 1500s when Henry the VIII cast aside the Catholic Church for the Protestant faith. Anglican men made the rules of the colony, and all other residents had restrictions – it was a complex social setup." The 1500s was also when King Louis banned Protestants in France, which led the Huguenots to the area as refugees. By the 1800s, Charleston boasted the largest Jewish population in the country. 

The group first visited St Philips Church, built in the 1830s. At that time, the church ran orphanages, schools, and social programs instead of the government. The church burned in 1835 and was rebuilt; however, the gates are still from the original building. Their two gravesites are divided into people "from Charleston" and everyone else. The congregation has around 1200 members and still serves the community and abroad today. The docent explained the cultural context of the Revolutionary War and Civil War to decisions made by church leaders today: "our intentions are always good, but it doesn't always play out right." 

The second church was St. Michael's, built in 1680. Nestled in the "four corners of law" – the state law, city hall, federal post office and court, and God's law. The docent, Jeffrey Moll, shared, "every day a shadow of our steeple falls on all the other buildings." In the 1700s, Charles Towne was growing, which led to the congregation separating into two. The building stands by "divine intervention;" it survived a 545-day bombardment, hurricanes, and a 7.3 magnitude earthquake in 1886. It houses one of five colonial organs to come from England. President George Washington and General Robert E. Lee worshipped there. 

The group fellowshipped at 5 Churches restaurant, which started as a church, and left feeling refreshed and ready to see the following three churches. 

Next came the Unitarian church; their church was a little over 200 years old and coincidentally had over 200 members. Their church is a bit of an anomaly. As the guide explained, "most Unitarian churches are not as formalized in their architecture." Their graveyard was "controlled chaos" as they believed their bodies went back to the earth. Unfortunately, they still have vandalism from time to time due to their open acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community. 

Next on the list was St. John the Baptist Cathedral, infused with meaning in every architectural detail. For example, the number 12 represented the apostles in many places. In addition, there were stars on the ceiling representing the promise to Abraham for his descendants. 

Finally, the group visited the French Huguenot Church, built in 1687. One of the pastors is a retired Air Force Chief of Chaplains. The congregation has both people who have ancestors affiliated with the church since it began and people simply interested in the French Protestant services. Their building follows the Calvinistic style of faith – it has meager decorations and is direct in focus on their mission. As the retired Air Force Chief of Chaplains shared, "it kind of looks like a base church." There have been twenty-two former Presidents of Huguenot descent.

All these churches had active congregations and missions. The guides were full of information about the history of the church, area and full of passion living their set of values that have persisted over centuries. Hopefully, you can join the next tour.