The dream of a church called can be traced back to October 6, 1997. It was then that a planning group, called the Dream Team and led by Rev. Russell Freeman, began laying the groundwork for the first service of a new congregation. The Dream Team continued to meet in St. Luke’s fellowship hall, and then later in restaurants, and still later in the Academy for Career Excellence, and even the Outpatient Clinic.
Records show that the church was established and held its first worship service on Palm Sunday, April 5, 1998, in the Academy for Career Excellence (known back then as the Career Education Center.) For many years, the church was known as the “church in the box” as it moved from location to location to unpack, hold worship, repack, and then do it all over again the next week.
The name Church of the Palms was officially adopted on September 27, 1998. Bible studies were held, choirs established, and additional families added.
The property on Highway 170 (Okatie Highway) was purchased on January 26, 1999, with the first worship service on the property being an outdoor Easter Sunrise Service on April 4, 1999.
The first worship service at the new Bluffton-Okatie Outpatient Center was held on December 5, 1999. There are many stories of worship held in that lobby area!
The first leadership team meeting was recorded as occurring on March 20, 2000, with a resolution to pursue the construction of a church building adopted on April 17, 2000
Spiritual Formation continued with the first confirmation class received on June 11, 200, and the first worship service held at the Okatie Business Park on January 27, 2001.
Officially United Methodist
Church of the Palms was officially chartered as a congregation of the South Carolina Conference on February 25, 2001. Worship services were held in the warehouse in the Okatie Business Park. Presiding Bishop J. Lawrence McCleskey led the morning worship and delivered the sermon. The membership was 45 families totaling 76 members.
A Capital Funds Campaign for the new church building in April of 2001 obtained pledges for $342,000.
At the 2001 South Carolina Annual Conference, Church of the Palms UM was recognized as a new chartered congregation.
Under the leadership of the founding pastor, Rev. Russell Freeman, growth continued as people sensed a connection to God and a connection to one another in this group of believers. June 2001 was remembered as the time when more space in the leased building was obtained to support the Sunday school and children’s ministries. The first Vacation Bible School by Church of the Palms was held that same June.
By August 2001, worship attendance was 100, and on September 9, a second worship gathering was added at 8:30 am. It was on January 8, 2002, that the United Methodist Women successfully received their charter.
A Permanent Place
After worshiping in many different temporary locations, it was time to put down roots. By May 2000, a Building Committee was established. This team was focused and worked hard to complete the many details necessary to build a church building.
On February 29, 2002, a development permit was issued by the Beaufort County Zoning and Development Administration that allowed work to go forward. In support of these efforts, Congregational Development for the South Carolina Conference issued a $75,000 grant. Further financial support was obtained from Palmetto State Bank in June 2002 in the form of a $1,000,000 construction loan.
On June 9, 2002, a Charge Conference authorized the solicitation of construction bids, which were received by July 15. The official groundbreaking was held on September 15, 2002. On a Sunday afternoon in early December 2002, the building team led the congregation on a tour.
Members inscribed their names and favorite scripture verses, and messages on the interior structural components of the building before the wallboard was installed.
April 20, 2003, marked the first Easter Sunrise Worship service held on the patio of the new building. The Certificate of Occupancy – always a key milestone for a new church building – was received on August 5, 2003. The congregation moved into the new church building on September 7, 2003. A service of Consecration was led by Bishop McCleskey and Rev. Russell Freeman on October 5, 2003.
The church campus allowed for an expansion of ministries and mission, with the first Fall Festival and Pumpkin Patch held on October 11, 2003.
In June 2004, a 15-year mortgage was obtained.
The Early Years
June of 2005 saw the appointment of a new pastor-in-charge – the Rev. Wayne Smith. Growth continued as Church of the Palms adjusted to a new pastor and a new building but remained focused on being faithful to the call of God. By January 2006, a Church Council was in place to provide oversight and leadership.
In May 2006, a carillon was installed and dedicated. It sounds on the hour and half hour to announce the presence of the Church of the Palms to all those in the Okatie area and beyond.
Care of one another and those in the community led to the establishment of Stephen Ministry, with the first Stephen Ministry leader commissioned in January of 2008.
Easter worship of 2008 was attended by a record 218 worshippers. In July 2008, the position of Church Secretary was established to provide more support for the pastor and the expanding missions and ministries. In October, the position of Director of Music was added to bring focus to this area of ministry.
The children of Church of the Palms were excited when an improved and expanded playground was built in the fall of 2008. The now distinguishing palm trees in the patio circle were also added.
In June 2010, the Rev. David Norrell was appointed to serve the Church of the Palms.
In June of 2011, Pastor Pete Berntson was appointed to serve the Church of the Palms and continues to do so.