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Churches: Anglican worship blends Celtic style and plantation setting

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

The Church in the Suitcase has found a home in the live oaks.

Even though renovations at the former Carriage House restaurant at Litchfield Plantation have provided modern amenities, The Abbey at Pawleys Island invokes an ancient Celtic mission style of worship, according to the Rt. Rev. Chuck Murphy, church rector. The marsh, live oaks and spacious grounds invite quite retrospection.

The Abbey has been holding services in its new home for a month. Murphy takes no credit for the formation of the church. It began, he said, when the congregation at All Saints Church decided to leave the Anglican Mission in America in 2012.

A group of about 150 people gathered in the restaurant at Caledonia Golf and Fish Club under the leadership of the Rev. Stu Boehmig, who became associate rector at The Abbey. The people decided to form a new church and voted to ask Murphy to think and pray about being their rector.

“I had a day job,” Murphy said. He was executive director of the Anglican Mission in America and had overseen the planting of 260 churches in 12 years. Retirement was just 13 months away.

Murphy became rector of All Saints in 1982. “I knew a lot of these guys back in my previous life,” he said, “and they knew me. A lot of these people loved being part of a church-planting society and leaving it caused a serious uproar.”

Murphy said he saw the hand of God at work, assembling a team of people wanting to plant a new church. “That’s what I had been head of for a dozen years,” he said. “I thought it was a great irony that I led the whole thing and had never planted a church.”

The Abbey started off in a most inconvenient manner, meeting at Pawleys Island Community Church Sunday afternoons at 4:30. Martha Lachicotte brought the chalice, the candles and communion bread and wine in a suitcase that she rolled into the church for services.

The Church in the Suitcase became The Abbey, Murphy said, because he sensed resistance to the words “Anglican” and even “church” from young people. “We came up with The Abbey because it has an ancient heritage and a Celtic missionary society kind of model that is sort of Anglican and is a church. There’s so much controversy in the Anglican world. People not attracted to a church might be attracted to The Abbey.”

The congregation bought property on Petigru Drive from Waccamaw Landscaping and held services in a former nursery before the Carriage House at Litchfield Plantation became available after a foreclosure. The congregation paid $1.4 million for the property and spent $1.2 million on the 3,700-square-foot sanctuary and about $500,000 to remodel the restaurant.

The irony is not lost on Murphy that parishioners turn on All Saints Road to approach The Abbey. “It all seemed to fit together,” he said. “The building is at 46 Gathering Lane, so it’s a gathering at The Abbey. Kind of fascinating. I see God’s hand moving through all of it. It caught us all by surprise. I’m actually having fun. Thank you, Lord.”

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