Which came first—the chicken or the church plant? For Pete and Renee Roman, the two were hatched together.
“Our first official service for The Village Church at St. George was under some oak trees on our farm,” Pete said. “We started at eight in the morning because it was summer, and we needed to meet before it got unbearably hot.”
After serving in Bulgaria for seven years, in 2017 the Romans returned to South Carolina with their three daughters. Their plan was to make a go of small-scale farming alongside his parents and to plant a rural church in St. George, a community about 50 miles northwest of Charleston.
“One thing that intrigued us in Bulgaria,” Pete said, “is that while it was hard to make connections in the city, when we’d travel with visiting teams to the villages it was easy to talk to people and build relationships.”
The Romans believe those same principles apply in rural America, and set out to create a warm, relational, community church environment. They started inviting neighbors to join them for a Sunday evening Bible study, but soon realized that small-town traditions are hard to break.
“We discovered that in the South, church happens at 10 o’clock on Sunday mornings,” he said. “Even though we had over 20 people who regularly attended our evening Bible study, they all had other churches they went to on Sunday mornings.”
When COVID hit and everyone pivoted to online church, it soon became evident that their home group had dissolved.
“We had three people attending, and two of us were related,” laughed Renee.
They decided to try hosting an in-person service but hold it outdoors to comply with COVID restrictions. People started coming right away—many of whom had been starved for relationships over the months and were seeking community. The church now has about 32 regular attenders, including several children and youth. Most of the attendees are previously unchurched or travel from other communities in the area.
Renee says there is one young family with two little boys that has been a highlight on their journey.
“The wife started coming to our home group, but the husband was a paramedic so could not make it on Sundays,” she said. “She was really introverted and quiet, and as time went by she came less and less often.”
The Romans continued to see her around town and would always greet her warmly. Then one morning the entire family showed up. The husband had quit his job as an EMT and opened a tire shop, which freed him to come to church.
By this time, winter had arrived and the outdoor service had moved indoors.
Wood stove worship service
“It was the middle of winter, and was getting cold,” Renee said. “We had started meeting in the room where we process chickens, huddled around a wood stove.”
The setting did not deter the young family.
“Once they started coming again, they were all in,” Renee said. “God had been working the whole time. The husband now invites the customers at his store to come to church—and has become quite the evangelist. We have even held our Sunday service at his tire shop.”
Pete added that “it has been exciting to see the hunger that he and several others have to know more. We have a group of five or six guys who meet regularly together for coffee. God just keeps opening doors.”
As they laid the groundwork for the church, Pete contacted the EPC’s then-Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic and talked to Bucky Hunsicker, who was serving as missional executive director.
“He told us they had been praying for someone to spark a rural church planting movement,” Pete said, noting that Hunsicker’s response mirrored his and Renee’s ministry vision.
“We want to be a small, intentional church that reflects the community we live in,” he said.
Renee said they have “an amazing group of people” who are hungry for the gospel and to learn the Bible, and who have a heart for the community and serving.
“Yet they are normal, messed-up sinners like the rest of us,” she said.
“The people who are coming are not looking for stellar preaching and amazing music—they are coming because it’s a family and community, and they are getting the truth,” Pete added.
The Romans live by a motto adopted from the life of 18th century Moravian reformer Nikolaus Ludwig, count von Zinzendorf.
“His most famous quote is ‘preach the gospel, die, and be forgotten,’” Pete said. “I’ve heard leaders on the mission field talk about their legacy and how they want to be remembered. But if our church stays the size it is … if no one ever knows the name Pete Roman … that’s fine with me. I just want to be faithful to God, preach the gospel, and let the Holy Spirit do His work.”
by Kiki Schleiff Cherry