Church seeks to expand its reach

Bishop Eric Gailliard walked slowly as he showed a visitor around his church's new campus in Rock Hill on a recent afternoon.

As he pointed out each area -- the future after-school center, an outdoor basketball court, a room full of clothes for the needy -- Gailliard didn't seem to be in much of a rush. But that's not because he doesn't have plenty to keep him occupied.

Six months after beating out a bevy of local groups to acquire the former Girls' Home facility on South Jones Avenue, Bishop's Redeeming Life Ministries is trying to expand its reach.

A food pantry and clothing ministry have started, soon to be followed by an after-school program that will open with 50 children. A summer camp for two dozen youngsters wrapped up earlier this month.

Still, the church faces challenges in fulfilling the vision Gailliard, 48, has for it. Membership stands at 39 people, up from 30 at the time of the move.

While the campus affords lots of space for different activities, it also sits tucked away on a quiet street off Black Street east of downtown. Few cars drive past, and many people don't know what's here.

It's a challenge that confronts other small, start-up churches around town, including Taking the City Ministries, which opened this summer in an empty nursing home on India Hook Road. For both, the size of the campus far outpaces the number of people using it. But Gailliard seems unfazed.

He points out that he founded Redeeming Life 10 years ago in his family's house and later held Sunday services in a shelter at Cherry Park.

"In my best plans, I couldn't have built this," he said. "We started the ministry out of my living room. What I need to do is be faithful, and everything will come."

The first priority is adding members and recruiting more people to attend seminars offered on weeknights, such as "Knowing Your Legal Rights." Gailliard is hoping word of mouth will help do that.

Homeless shelter wanted site

When Redeeming Life bought the 3-acre site, several church and social service groups wanted the property, which includes a main building, house and mobile classrooms. Local advocates for the homeless had hoped to turn it into The Haven, which would have become York County's only permanent shelter for homeless men.

The property went on the market soon after the Girls' Home closed in December. In explaining its choice, the Girls' Home board said it was required to sell to another nonprofit organization. The Haven applied for that status but had not yet earned it. Shelter supporters are now looking for other locations.

"This is our destiny," Gailliard said. "Their destiny will unfold for them."

The question many asked at the time is how a little-known church with 30 members came up with $80,000 to meet the asking price. The answer is that a North Carolina pastor picked up much of the bill.

Bishop Robert Taylor of Statesville, N.C., provided money as he builds a network of churches with similar goals across the Southeast. Taylor leads Fellowship Tabernacle Church and is affiliated with T.D. Jakes, the well-known Dallas pastor.

His network of churches is part of a Christian group called the International Covenant Ministries Fellowship.

Gailliard's mom, Catherine, works full-time as the church mother, helping out with paperwork and programming.

"It will come together," she said. "We're not hoping. We're positive. God works everything out. I know what he can do, and he's going to do this."