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LHPC welcomes D’Alessio as first female pastor

Posted: February 28, 2014 2:01 p.m.
Updated: March 3, 2014 5:00 a.m.
Haley Atkinson/C-I

LHPC’s lakeside worship area at Windward Point off Lake Wateree. For many years, the church has offered 9 a.m. worship services at the site between June and September. It also offers a 7 a.m. Easter sunrise service, followed by a breakfast and another worship service at the church.

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Mary D. D’Alessio recently joined Liberty Hill Presbyterian Church (LHPC) as its pastor, becoming the first woman to lead the historic church. Originally from Conway, D’Alessio received her B.A. in English from Notre Dame de Namur in Belmont, Calif., and attended Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga.

She met her husband, Dave, originally from Rhode Island, while working in Myrtle Beach.

“My husband and I met while working at First Presbyterian Church in Myrtle Beach,” D’Alessio said. “We were both co-associate pastors. Our first churches were in Pennsylvania. We’ve been doing this for 20 years.”

The D’Alessios have one daughter, Hope Elizabeth, who is attending college in Texas.

As pastor of LHPC, D’Alessio joins one of the most historic churches in the area. She said LHPC has members from the towns of Lancaster, Kershaw, Camden, Heath Springs, and even Charlotte and other surrounding areas.

According to information provided by LHPC, the history of the church begins in the early 19th century, when a number of people from Liberty Hill attended church services in the Old School House or at Tolerant Chapel and Beaver Creek Presbyterian Church. In 1851, the group organized as the Liberty Hill Presbyterian Church with a membership of 10 men and 16 women.

The first church building was erected in 1852; the present building was built in 1880 using many timbers from the original. The sanctuary organ, a single manual instrument with six stops, was built in 1820 under the name of James Jackson, New York.

Originally it was given to Bethesda Presbyterian Church in Camden, soon after that church was built. LHPC purchased the organ from Bethesda in 1907 for $200. It was fully restored and rededicated on March 17, 1996. There is only one known remaining James Jackson organ. Built in 1834, it also is a single manual instrument, but has only three stops. That organ is located in St. John’s Episcopal Church in Ellicottville, N.Y.

D’Alessio explained that traditionally “Presbyterians do things decently and in order.” As a joke, she added that Presbyterians are sometimes “called the frozen chosen.”

“It’s a wonderful denomination, very involved,” D’Alessio said. “One thing that distinguishes the Presbyterian church is that our form of government is the model that the government of the United States was based on. We are representative. At the top there’s the general assembly which is like Congress and each congregation according to size gets so many votes -- just like states. It’s a really cool system. The Presbyterian church is very mission-minded.”

D’Alessio said LHPC is part of the Providence presbytery and that one of its focuses is the Dimes for Hunger project which dates back to 1978.

She also said there are many branches of Presbyterianism “just like there are with Baptists or any other denomination” and that LHPC is part of the PC (USA) branch.

The PC (USA) branch of Presbyterianism is, arguably, one of the more accepting. D’Alessio said the PC (USA) branch ordains women, where some branches of Presbyterianism do not. That’s not all.

“The church did vote two years ago to ordain practicing homosexuals which has caused other splits since then,” she said. “That’s caused splits in the Episcopal church in America, calling forth the Anglican mission in America and calling forth churches that were formerly Episcopalian to become Anglican.

“We live in a changing world. Last Sunday, in my message, (I said) look at Jesus. His bottom line was love. Love God. Do you remember when everyone was getting so upset because he was healing people on the Sabbath. That was the law, not to work on the Sabbath. But Jesus said, ‘Here’s a person in need. Are we not going to heal him today because this is the Sabbath?’ Jesus said he didn’t come to throw the law away, but to fulfill it. There were times when Jesus himself changed the law to love a person.”

D’Alessio added that Jesus wasn’t upset if his disciples hands weren’t clean or their clothes weren’t perfect.

“The most important thing is that we sit at a table together and fellowship together and love each other,” she said.

D’Alessio said her walk with God has taught her not to judge others.

“People are called to pay attention to how we are living rather than how others are living.”

She said she thinks the congregation at LHPC is “really neat” because while they may not agree on everything, they welcome all who want to “worship God and love Jesus … it’s like come on, let’s all play together, let’s worship together.”

LHPC has approximately 165 active members.

“Across the boards, there’s been a drop in participation and attendance in Christian churches,” D’Alessio said. “The general mindset is shifting to fear of making a commitment, not wanting to give up control. My big thing is how do we, as a body of Christ, create a space and a place to meet with God? If people can meet with God and be transformed and forgiven, they’re going to be there. You can’t keep them away.

“In 20 years, I’ve learned you don’t have to know everything. God has a great sense of humor and God has perfect timing.”

LPHC offers two services each Sunday, one at 9 a.m. and one at 11 a.m. In the months of June through September, the church sponsors a 9 a.m. service at its lakeside worship site located at Windward Ponte off Lake Wateree.

D’Alessio said the lakeside services are non-denominational and very informal; everyone is welcomed and invited to attend.

“People come in on their boats, wearing swimsuits … this is a very loving congregation,” she said.

LHPC will celebrate a Fat Pancake Supper Tuesday on night, along with an Ash Wednesday Communion Service on Wednesday evening. On Easter Sunday, the church sponsors a 7 a.m. sunrise service at the lakeside site, followed by a breakfast at 8 a.m. at the church and a worship service at 11 a.m. in the church’s sanctuary.


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