CLOVER -- The room that serves as the church sanctuary is the same place where the broke and broken eat, where the roofless sleep, where the hopeless dare to dream. Monday morning Rev. Sam Thompson and his wife Annie woke with the expectation of another week in that room of trying to figure out how to keep New Beginnings Baptist Church and its homeless shelter, and weekday soup kitchen, and all the rest the couple offers, afloat.
Except, the past few days, Annie Thompson's 65-year-old left palm kept itching. Scratches, lotion, nothing helped. Anybody who has an old granny who created success and family from humble beginnings through dreams and hard work -- my kids' great-grandmother is 86 -- knows an itchy palm means money is coming. Some donations had come in the past few days, but not like Monday morning.
This turned into some itch.
Monday the Thompsons came to the church and found a bunch of banking bigshots in the gravel and dirt parking lot. Soon afterward they held one of those big checks the size of a piece of plywood, just like you see when somebody wins the lottery.
This check was made out to them. But this was no game of chance. An even 10 grand, delivered by Wachovia for one simple reason: Sam and Annie Thompson help people.
Help is all they do.
Wachovia held for the second year a contest for Thanksgiving called, "Who Would You Thank?," in which customers write in about who deserves a pat on the back. More than 4,000 people from around the country wrote in. Elizabeth Hartley of Lake Wylie penned the winning letter, writing that the Thompsons deserve thanks because the couple offers all and never ask for thanks or receive any compensation.
The Thompsons -- married 47 years if it is Annie talking or 48 years if it is Sam talking -- just clothe, and feed, and minister to, the poorest among us.
In 13 years at that church he created, Sam Thompson pushing 73 years old has never been paid.
"Miss Annie" never has, either.
"It must be God," said Miss Annie. "This was a shocker."
"Couldn't be anything else but God," said the man known to all as "Pastor Sam."
Two of the couple's four children were around Monday. Candace and Sam Jr., talked about how their parents have taken in people, fed strangers, all of their lives.
"This is recognition not just for the ministry, but for the lives they lived," Candace Thompson said.
Also in that church/shelter/lunchroom Monday after all the cameras left were people who live and eat there because that is all they have. Each shared in the joy of the people who help them winning something unexpected, and deserved.
All sat at the same table as the Thompsons. There are no status lines at this church. Just food, and roofs, and hope.
The Thompsons never had money for their ministries. They started with a dozen ideas and a dream. They now have the shelter, the five-days a week feeding called "God's Kitchen," and more.
"Hard work and faith do incredible things," said Pastor Sam.
Sam said 10 percent off the top goes to the church, then he might next month take his wife to St. Louis and maybe Florida. Not too far or too much, though, because more work must be done in Clover.
Like Thursday. Thanksgiving. Area people of all colors and denominations will arrive around 8 to fry turkeys and fellowship. A tradition on this little street in the shadow of a long-dead mill. Everybody who comes later can eat. No one gets turned away.
Because at New Beginnings, the grace starts fresh with every morning, even those mornings without an itchy palm or a big check.
To donate to any of New Beginnings Baptist Church ministries, call 222-0711, 222-0305, or (704) 239-7546.