Andrew Dys

Minister's new church opens doors to those tormented by alcohol and drugs

Pastor Arnie McManus stands in front of his church, New Birth Baptist Church on Annafrel Street in Rock Hill. McManus used to run the ministry at Keystone, a drug and alcohol rehab facility in Rock Hill.
Pastor Arnie McManus stands in front of his church, New Birth Baptist Church on Annafrel Street in Rock Hill. McManus used to run the ministry at Keystone, a drug and alcohol rehab facility in Rock Hill.

I asked the Baptist preacher with the graying crew cut and the sparkling eyes, the Rev. Arnie McManus, what he did before stepping up to the wooden pulpit that he built.

"I was a drunk," McManus said.

He drove a truck, too, but the booze was his cross.

But the Rock Hill man, 50, found Jesus Christ and has been preaching for eight years. He ran the ministry at Keystone, where area alcoholics and drug addicts try to get clean.

Then, something tugged him to start a church, under the flag of the York Baptist Association, called New Birth Baptist Church. A church for those people he was before, whom he preached to at Keystone. Society's drinkers and dopers, who succeeded or failed at sobriety. People with not just no nice car to get to church in, but maybe no car and no suit to wear.

"A lot of these people were in churches before, but some felt looked down upon and isolated," McManus said. "I wanted a place without judgment. Less religion, more about a relationship with Christ."

The church started in McManus' mother's living room, then moved to a building behind her house. Baptisms next to the loveseat, or done without incense but a smell of lawn mower grease.

But McManus wanted more. His wife of 30 years, Angie, was working second shift like always so he could do what he did for almost nothing.

Mike Wallace of the York Baptist Association helped McManus find a building at Annafrel and Spring streets, in the heart of the old Industrial Mill village. Right smack in the middle of the people McManus said he wants to find and help.

"You go to where the people need you, not the other way around," McManus said.

One couple who came to New River were Burrell "Junior" Blanton and his wife, Rhonda.

"I'm a former drug addict," said Junior Blanton, 63. "There's an excitement here. It's not about what you wear or drive. Can't drive a new Cadillac into heaven anyway."

Rhonda Blanton said she has always been a religious person, but now, she is a Christian person. There is a difference, she said.

"This is an opportunity to serve," she said.

There are 26 members so far. None are anything but white. I asked McManus how he would get people from other races and ethnicities into his church and he said plainly, "We are depending on God to send them."

Open arms, open hearts and minds, open doors.

There will be a prayer walk around the neighborhood March 29. A soup kitchen is planned. Members of Tega Cay Baptist are helping today to fix up the building, and four churches help financially. The association is behind the effort, Wallace said.

McManus is working on recruiting a music minister and others to volunteer. He doesn't care if the people who work at the church or attend the church are white, black or brown, rich as Midas or poor as Jesus was.

The church's credo is found in the book of Matthew, Chapter 25, he said. The one that says when the hungry are fed, the prisoners visited, all that caters to the broke and broken, will God's work be done.

"Jesus chose to be with sinners," McManus said. "He came to save, not to condemn."

New Birth is starting out in this new building that has had other churches before -- just a few Sundays of services so far, no staff, no deacons, no committees, not even Sunday School yet -- with a mission to build a multi-racial, multi-ethnic church.

While other Baptist churches have mixes of races and nationalities, none under the York Baptist association started with a mission to be that way, Wallace said.

New Birth truly is a new birth. A brand new church aimed at those who need a fresh start in all areas.

"We want to tear down racial barriers in church," McManus said. "Send me the alcoholics. Send me the drug addicts. Send me any color. Send 'em."