LAKE WYLIE — Later this month, a Fort Mill-based worship service for adults with special needs will celebrate its fifth birthday with lots of smiles and lots of praise – just the way Beth Austin would have wanted.
Austin, a Lake Wylie resident and co-founder of Grace Community United Methodist Church’s “Forever Friends” monthly service, died Wednesday after a four-year battle with cancer. She was 60.
Her pastor, the Rev. Randall Madsen, said Austin fought the cancer “valiantly ... without a complaint.”
Austin helped start the “Forever Friends” worship service as a way to ensure that people with special needs had accessibility to church.
At an early age, Austin’s oldest son, Bert, was diagnosed with a seizure disorder and developmental delays.
One of Austin’s callings in life, Madsen said, was to increase awareness and acceptance for those with special needs – people like her son.
A man with an “incredible spirit,” Bert inspired his mother’s work, the pastor said.
Austin also created an education program called “Awareness: The Key to Friendships,” aimed at school-age students.
More than 260 schools in South Carolina use the program, which has reached more than 100,000 students and teachers. Major corporations also have adopted Austin’s program, and it is used worldwide.
Austin’s “Forever Friends” worship service is well attended by adults with special needs living in York, Chester and Lancaster counties, Madsen said.
The 90-minute service is loud, fun and joyous, he said.
Austin’s faith in Jesus Christ, he said, was obvious.
“She’d say, ‘Just praise God all the way to the hospital,’ ” Madsen said. “And that says a lot about living with true faith.”
Her funeral on Sunday, he said, will be a “celebration service.”
Austin is survived by her husband of 40 years, Al, and her sons, Bert and Pat.
Beth and Al met as young children in a church nursery in Gastonia, N.C., Madsen said, adding that “they were each others’ only sweethearts.”
Pat Austin and his wife, Candice, recently had a baby, Madsen said, and one of Austin’s “greatest blessings” was to hold the boy, Brayden, at his recent christening.
Anna Douglas • 803-329-4068